A lot of people get into relationships thinking that the relationship will make them happy. However, the sad truth is that there are a lot of unhealthy relationships out there.
You may have experienced or are currently be in a toxic relationship with a friend, relative, or partner which may have brought you to this article ‘How to fix a toxic relationship’.
The word ‘toxic’ usually describes things that have the potential to harm you. Some examples of toxic things may be hard drugs, excessive amounts of alcohol, or smoking. You get the idea.
Friendships can also end up being toxic. According to a survey, 8 out of 10 people endure toxicity within their friendships. 84% out of 74% say they’ve had a toxic friend at some point in their lives.
If you find yourself in such a situation, the most important thing to remember is to focus on yourself because the only person you can change is you. You cannot fix the other person, but you can work with them to improve communication and break toxic and negative patterns of behavior.
The truth is that fixing a toxic relationship can be tough at times, but it is possible.
What Is A Toxic Relationship?
Relationships can be hard work, at times. Fights may become regular, and rough patches are not uncommon. Still, there are signs that you can look for to figure out if you’re in a toxic relationship as opposed to just a rough patch.
These signs include:
1. One Person Constantly Gives, While The Other Person Takes
Toxic relationships tend to be very one-sided. Often you have the narcissist/people pleaser dynamic occurring, where the ‘people pleaser’ gives so much of themselves to the narcissist. Such a relationship is lopsided and incredibly unhealthy.
Gaslighting is when one person manipulates the other person to a point where they question their sanity, perception, reality, or memory. This psychological abuse is common in unhealthy relationships.
For example, perhaps you’ve agreed with your partner to go and visit the Art Museum on Sunday. But when you bring up the conversation, the other person says, “I never said I wanted to go to the Art Museum. I don’t even like the museum.” It leaves the other person completely questioning themselves.
3. Lack Of Personal Responsibility
Constant blame games and your partners inability to take responsibility are also signs of an unhealthy relationship. If one person is always blaming the other for anything and everything, then that’s a sign of a toxic relationship.
In most instances, both parties are to blame for the issues in the relationship. Therefore, playing a victim of the other person’s behavior is counterproductive and leads to an unhealthy relationship.
4. Lack Of Trust
Toxic relationships often suffer from a lack of trust.
It can be that neither trusts the other, or it can be one-sided. Either way, the lack of trust can lead to a toxic relationship.
Trust is the foundation of any relationship, and without it, a relationship may not work. A lack of trust can result in one or both parties constantly trying to catch the other one out, which is unhealthy for either party.
5. Walking On Eggshells
You may feel that you constantly have to weigh your words in some relationships because you are unsure when you may accidentally say something that can set the other person off. You feel that you have to tip-toe around the person to avoid making them angry or upset.
There are many ways that disrespect can show up in a relationship. It can be verbal, for example, “you’re stupid – why don’t you ever understand what I am saying”, or “you’re such a failure, the day you accomplish anything will be a miracle”. Or, it can be emotional, for example, “I don’t love you anymore”, “who would want to marry you?”
Disrespect can also be physical; for instance, the other person may lay a hand on you when they are upset.
7. Poor Communication
Poor communication can also show up in many forms within an unhealthy relationship. It could be expressed through total withdrawal, or it can be in the form of name-calling, yelling, or screaming (which is ineffective).
Most people think that toxic relationships are, to some degree, abusive, argumentative, or intense. However, they can also be stagnant and avoidant.
If one person withdraws from the relationship and avoids engaging with the other person, it can turn toxic.
9. Controlling Behavior
Controlling behavior tends to be more common in romantic relationships.
You find that one partner doesn’t want the other one to go out with their friends, see their family, or do certain things without their consent. They can even control what they wear, eat, or even their movements.
Any kind of controlling behavior is a red flag that a relationship is unhealthy.
10. Constant Criticism
Constant criticism is another sign of a toxic relationship. This occurs when either one or both people within the relationship constantly criticize anything or everything about the other person, whether it is their looks, intelligence, weight, education, or job.
11. Low Self Esteem And Self Worth
All the points mentioned above eventually lead to someone having a low self esteem and self worth.
When you are constantly being criticized, disrespected, controlled, blamed, and put down for your efforts, you will end up experiencing low levels of self esteem and self worth. Relationships should make you feel great about yourself.
Dr. Lillian Glass, a psychology and communication expert who wrote the book ‘Toxic People’, defines toxic relationships as “A relationship where two people don’t support each other. When there’s conflict, one seeks to undermine the other. Also, there’s competition, disrespect, and lack of cohesiveness.”
Do Toxic Relationships Ever Get Better?
Most people in toxic relationships ask, ‘Can a toxic relationship become healthy?’ ‘Do toxic relationships ever get better?’
But first things first, you need to ask yourself if the relationship was ever healthy in the first place. If the relationship was never healthy to begin with it may be difficult to change things.
Love should feel good and should not leave you feeling insecure about yourself.
However, if you do want to make things better, then the good news is that it is possible to fix a toxic relationship and make it healthy once again or possibly for the first time.
There are a couple of things that you need to consider before working on the relationship. They include:
- The process of turning a toxic relationship into a better one only works when both parties consciously try to make things better. Try to communicate to your partner in regards to the need to work on your relationship together. If they are open to working on the relationship, share the steps in this guide and work on them together. If they are not, you can take the initiative on your own and be consistent. Your partner may notice your progress and be motivated to change as well.
- The second thing you need to consider is the character of the other person. If you’ve experienced physical abuse from them or if they are mentally unstable or have psychopathic tendencies, then it would be better to seek professional help and prioritize your safety instead.
How To Fix A Toxic Relationship
As you focus on making a toxic relationship work, bear in mind that mending a relationship is a process that needs time, consistent care, and effort to fix.
As you begin to apply the ideas in this article, remember that you can’t fix the relationship overnight. Give it time.
1. Cut Off Contact For A While
Your first move should be to take a break from the toxic relationship.
Mind you, we are not saying that you break up. But it would help if you took a 3-4 weeks break from each other.
If you’re married or live together, you can opt to visit your parents for a while or stay with a friend. You can also go for a solo vacation for a couple of weeks.
Minimizing contact gives you and your partner some time away from each other. This is great because you can use that time to reflect on your relationship and think about when things started going south.
It may also make your partner miss you and realize how much value you have in each other’s lives. It may remove the negative influence and bring the focus back on love and affection. As the saying goes, “absence makes the heart grow stronger.”
2. Identify The Problems
You can’t fix what you don’t recognize. That being said, it will help if you engaged with your partner to find out what problems you’re facing in the relationship. If they don’t want to participate, you can write them down and try to share with them when they are ready.
At this point, your aim should be to identify the problems in the relationship and the patterns. Relationship patterns usually take this turn:
Person 1 says or does something.
Person 2 then responds in a certain way.
Person 1 reacts in a certain way.
Person 2 responds back again.
And it goes on and on.
In every relationship, there are good patterns and bad ones. Once you understand these patterns, you can identify the problem.
In the case of negative patterns, the easiest way to break the cycle is to change your part in the equation, for example, you can stop reacting negatively to weaken and change the pattern.
3. Engage In Self-Reflection
As indicated earlier, blame games are characteristic of a toxic relationship. However, both parties need to be mature enough to avoid placing blame on the other person and look deep within themselves to see what changes they need to make.
If there’s no desire or motivation to change from either party, then the relationship is sadly going nowhere.
4. Accept That You’re At Fault Too
It is important to understand and identify your mistakes that may have also contributed to the toxic relationship. Whatever caused the relationship to turn toxic is the fault of both parties.
You can fix at least half the issues by accepting your own faults and taking responsibility. Besides, it’s easier to fix yourself than to fix your partner.
By taking responsibility for your own actions and letting go of the other party’s expectations, you open yourself up to understanding your partner better and what you need to do to fix your relationship.
5. Often The Problem Is Not The Real Problem
There are two ways of looking at this.
The Indicators Of Life:
Oftentimes the apparent situation that we think is the problem is a symptom of something deeper that needs to be resolved.
It’s common to see people get into fights about trivial matters, and many people tend to hold on to that “problem” to blame the other person or justify their own position. However, the superficial issue is only an indicator of something deeper.
Pain is the symptom not the cause:
Consider this, when someone experiences a headache, their first response may be to take a painkiller. Therefore, we consider the pain as the problem and try to fix it with a painkiller.
After a while, the pain comes back, and the person takes another painkiller. The person continues to take the painkillers again and again to ward off the pain. However, the pain may be a symptom of a deeper issue.
For instance, the person may be experiencing the pain because they have injured themselves or because they are stressed and are carrying tension in their neck. The person may be so engrossed in their daily affairs that they fail to realize that their lifestyle is triggering the pain.
Similarly, the challenges we experience in our relationships are often a symptom of something deeper. Our apparent problems may be indicators trying to alert us to change something within us first.
Take it as feedback and quickly begin looking at areas that you need to change. For example, is the problem due to deeper insecurities or a character weakness? Is it a lack of vision or purpose in life that’s constantly affecting your mental and emotional state?
6. Focus on Yourself
In every toxic relationship, most people are tempted to fix the other person.
If you’ve tried that before, then you’ll already understand that it almost always doesn’t work. Instead, you should focus on yourself, as trying to change the other person will frustrate you and yourself.
You will have a bigger impact by learning to control your reactions to the other person and support your own emotions in the relationship.
7. Stop Trying To Be A Savior
A savior is someone who is always taking responsibility for their partner’s feelings even when it’s their partner’s fault. We all have expectations in a relationship, and there are instances when our partner will not meet all of our expectations.
Having said that, it’s your responsibility to meet every expectation your partner may have from you.
Therefore, if they feel hurt or unloved because their expectations were not met, you’ll remember that it’s not your fault. Feeling guilty or taking the blame will not make you feel better in the long term.
Just remember that it’s not your job to save the relationship, you both need to want to make things work.
8. Seek Professional Help
Most times, people cannot figure out the root cause of a toxic relationship and how their behaviors have led to the relationship’s toxicity. In such a case, it is beneficial to get a therapist who can help each partner work on their problems, while also helping the relationship improve through couple’s therapy.
9. Talk It Out
Communication is a key ingredient to a successful and healthy relationship. If you want to solve any issues between you and your partner, then you should talk about things that have hurt you. Be open with your partner and talk about life, love, passions, and everything that’s on your mind.
Effective communication can give your relationship the restart that it needs. You may feel vulnerable talking about your deepest emotions and thoughts. But in the end, it will be worth it.
Talk to your partner when you feel uncomfortable, which will help them understand exactly where you stand. Talk about the challenging things and let your partner know how much you love them.
10. Use the I-Language
Utilizing the I-Language is your tool against defensive communication.
Instead of starting a conversation with “you always,” you start by saying, “I get upset when you..”
The I-language is a language of responsibility. It explains to your partner how you feel without blaming them. It also helps to ensure that they don’t feel attacked when you are discussing issues that need to be resolved.
11. You can Reach Out To Trusted Friends & Family For Support
You can reach out to trusted friends or family members who won’t judge you and tell them what you’re going through.
When you share with your support network, make sure to avoid turning the people you share with against the other person, as it won’t help heal the relationship.
When you identify the friend or family member you want to help you, ask them to observe the situation and give you some ideas on how you can improve the relationship.
For example, a friend may point out that you’re quick to form opinions about your partner without allowing them to explain the situation.
12. Learn To Become Emotionally Independent
Emotional independence basically means that you’re in charge of your emotional state and take responsibility for it. Its opposite (emotional dependence) means that your happiness, confidence, and sense of fulfillment is dependent on another person.
If you’re emotionally dependent on the other person, it fuels the toxic relationship. For instance, if you blame the other person for your miserable state, it means that you’re emotionally dependent. Furthermore, you’ll have a victim mentality.
Emotional independence is how you win the battle in a toxic relationship. Developing this life skill requires you to practice letting go. You can also rewire your thinking by writing down the thoughts and beliefs that make you emotionally dependent.
For example, “I need people to feel good about me, so that I can feel better about myself,” or “I need things to go my way, so that I can feel that I have control over my life.”
You should work towards replacing the automatic negative thoughts with adaptive statements. It also helps to practice self-compassion.
13. Seek To Understand
You should try not to take things personally and seek to understand the other person’s position.
The other person may be dealing with things in their own life that they are not able to properly express. Instead of making quick assumptions or jumping to conclusions, it is important to hear them out.
You can ask them, “Why are you behaving like this?” or “Why are you angry?” You can ask them in an understanding and sincere tone. “You seem a bit stressed today. Is there something that’s bothering you?”
If they don’t want to discuss it or need some time in peace, then respect their need and give them space.
14. Stop Using Sarcastic/Toxic Language
Sometimes the best way to save a relationship is to watch how we talk. A lot of relationships get destroyed because of bitter, toxic, sarcastic language.
Stop using sarcasm or any toxic language patterns as soon as possible, if you want to make your relationship healthy.
You can avoid sarcasm by promoting direct and considerate communication. It is also important to consider the implications or consequences of what you’re about to say before you say it.
15. Develop Your Own Interests, Hobbies And Goals
Most people in toxic relationships tend to depend on their partner to fulfill certain needs. The best way to overcome this issue is to learn how to fulfill your own needs by focussing on what makes you happy.
You can also break the toxic cycle by working on your self-esteem.
Working on yourself will make you a more stable partner. The other person may not change, but your relationship will improve. For example., You may enrol in a class or try out a new hobby that interests you.
16. Journal As You Work On Improving The Relationship And Yourself
Journaling is a great way to uncover what’s bothering you. It will help you better understand your problems and identify potential solutions. Write down your feelings and the struggles you encounter in the relationship.
You can keep a digital journal or a paper journal. If you’re artistic, you can try writing or drawing instead of journaling.
17. Develop Coping Skills To Help You Manage The Situation
This point goes hand in hand with developing emotional independence. Remember that you can’t change how the other person reacts, but you can control how you react.
Choose coping skills that will help you feel better and improve your interactions with the other person. You can try:
- Meditation or prayer
- A bubble bath
- Going for a walk
- Breathing exercises
- Going out with friends
- Spend time with your pet
18. Be Patient
It takes time to fix a toxic relationship. Therefore, as you endeavor on this journey, note that you won’t change your partner in a day. So, be patient, understanding, and open.
You and your partner will have to work together to actively rebuild the relationship. So, trust in the process and have faith in your love.
There’s a reason why the two of you connected in the first place, so avoid all the negativity and make it easier for your partner to come back to the person they originally fell in love with.
19. Avoid Being Passive Aggressive
Passive aggression is just as bad as sarcasm. This behavior is a silent killer for any relationship and should be avoided at all costs.
A person becomes passive-aggressive because of a lack of communication in a relationship.
If you have complaints or reservations about the other person, learn to communicate it in a calm, respectful, and civilized way. Look for the right time to present the issue and calmly converse with the other person.
Always focus on having healthy communication with the other person. This is communication where both of you can have a peaceful discussion concerning an uncomfortable issue with the intent of understanding the other person’s point of view and finding a solution.
20. Practice Self-Care
Practicing self-care will help you become a better person.
In most instances, when people are going through a difficult time in their relationship, they tend to let go of themselves. Don’t let this be the case for you.
Work towards creating a daily routine that helps you take better care of yourself. One of the ways that you practice self-care is to take some timeout when you need it.
How To Break Toxic Patterns
Some of us find ourselves in a vicious cycle of toxic relationships. It may start out nice at first, but it ends up having the same toxic patterns as the previous relationships we have been in.
However, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Maybe you’ve experienced this. Maybe you keep dating the same type of person. Or perhaps you keep finding friends who take advantage of you or bring out the worst in you instead of the best.
You keep ending up in a pattern of engaging with the same types of people, who only end up hurting you.
But there’s a way to break the cycle. You need to:
1. Forgive Yourself
We play a huge role in the development of toxic relationships. And while it takes time for the relationship to turn toxic, the pattern finally rears its ugly head, and we are left wondering what’s wrong with us.
How did we allow this to happen again? We must not be destined for better things. We deserve this.
That kind of self-talk won’t help you work on the relationship or build yourself up. Instead, it robs you of all power and hope.
Understand that you’re not to blame. Our subconscious mind controls so much of what we do, and we often don’t challenge our subconscious beliefs until we are buried in emotional garbage.
You didn’t ask for a toxic relationship; you found yourself in one. So forgive yourself and forgive all the times you’ve ended up in a relationship that wasn’t healthy, that caused you to feel hurt, unworthy, or unnoticed.
It’s only after you forgive yourself that you can take steps towards creating new patterns.
2. Understand How The Patterns Start
Once you’ve forgiven yourself, take time to identify the signs, symptoms, or traits that lead to the pattern. What are the telltale warning signs that you missed before but can now easily identify?
What behaviors have these relationships bought out in you, time and time again? What about those relationships trigger the behaviors you see in you?
A lot of times, we end up in relationships that seem familiar to us, like a story we know too well. We easily take our part in the story and expect different results.
However, if you want to break the cycle, you have to understand where the pattern comes from and find ways to break it.
3. Identify The Warning Signs
Take time to look at some warning signs that you may have overlooked in the past, so that you can quickly identify them when they show up again.
Is it that you wanted love so badly that you keep ending up with people who want to control you? Do the relationships feel so amazing and intense at first, only for you to end up in the same old pattern of verbal abuse?
If you identify the warning signs, you won’t get trapped as easily next time.
4. Clarify How You Really Want To Feel
What kind of relationship are you truly hoping for? You can describe it in detail in your journal. Most importantly, what does it feel like?
Focus less on a person’s physique or what they do for a living and instead focus on who they are as a person and how that person should treat you.
If you dig deep, you may realize that what you really want in a relationship is things such as; peace, support and companionship. Clarify what you are looking for in a partner and how you want to feel when you are with them.
5. Move Forward
Don’t be afraid of moving on and getting into a new relationship. At the end of the day, life is all about making mistakes and learning from them. Therefore, take the lessons you’ve learned and trust that you’ll make the right decisions as you move on with your life.
How Do I Rebuild My Life After Being In A Toxic Relationship?
It can be very difficult to bounce back if the other person refuses to work on the relationship. However, if that happens, you should give yourself time to heal.
In some relationships, coming to the realization that you need to let go and walk away is the hard part. If you’ve already gone through this part, then you’ve already won half the battle, and you’re almost there.
Now you can finally concentrate on yourself and detox from the toxic relationship.
1. Love Yourself
Toxic relationships sadly have a way of denying you self-love and appreciation. This can drain your self-esteem and make you feel unworthy.
This is the time to rediscover yourself and remember what makes you remarkable. Be your own cheerleader and challenge yourself by taking up new hobbies and activities.
2. Get To Know Yourself
Be aware of your emotions and feel them instead of burying them. You can do this by practicing mindfulness.
Rather than bottling up your emotions, acknowledge them and purify yourself from them. Look for ways to release your emotions in a liberating and healthy way, such as meditation, listening to music, journaling, or spending time with loved ones.
3. Free Yourself
Completely sever ties with the toxic person. At the moment, it may seem impossible if not unbearable.
You may not be able to picture yourself without that relationship, but you can, and you will get through it. Besides, letting go doesn’t mean giving up, it simply means moving on.
Allowing the person to linger in your life will drag you back to the same toxic patterns that made you realize you needed change in the first place. Think of it this way; you were fine before they came, and you’ll be fine long after they’re gone.
4. Help Yourself
If you feel that you’re struggling to move on from a toxic relationship, you can seek help from a therapist or professional. They will help you target specific problems and come up with solutions based on the situation.
There’s always a way out and someone who’s willing to help. So, don’t lose hope.
The Bottom Line
Trying to fix a toxic relationship is no easy feat. It takes time, a lot of patience and perseverance.
It is possible to have a healthy relationship. All you have to do is change your strategy and open your mind to new ways of reacting to situations.
Avoid jumping to conclusions. Instead, become a possibility thinker and look for ways that you can improve the relationship. Think to yourself, “What options do I have?”
Lastly, surround yourself with people who have a positive impact on you. Know your priorities and make smart choices.
If it works out, great. If it doesn’t, then don’t blame yourself. Simply remove yourself from the unhealthy relationship with the understanding that you deserve better.