Coping with a toxic relationship can be frustrating, but you aren’t alone! Toxic relationships come in many forms, including family relationships, friendships, and romantic relationships. The first step to fixing a toxic relationship is to focus on yourself, as the only person you can change is you! Then, work with the other person to improve communication and break toxic patterns. Finally, you can work on rebuilding your relationship.
Focusing on yourself
1.) Avoid trying to “fix” the other person.
Its tempting to want to fix the other person, especially if you care about them. However, you can’t change another person’s thoughts or behaviors, and trying will only make the situation worse. Instead, focus on yourself.
- Trying to change the other person will frustrate both you and them.Learning to control your reactions to the other person and to support your own emotions will have a bigger impact toward fixing your relationship.
2.) Reach out to trusted friends and family for support.
Talk to them about what you’re going through. Share your struggles and concerns so that they don’t build up inside of you. They may offer advice, which you can choose to take or ignore.Choose people who won’t judge you, your actions, or the other person.Don’t try to turn people against the other person, as this won’t improve your situation. Instead, just try to get relief for your feelings.
- When you feel ready, ask those you trust to point out their observations on the situation so you can gain an outside perspective on the relationship and how you can change your own behavior for the better. For example, they may point out that you trust their harmful statements about you more than your own thoughts about yourself.
3.) Develop your own interests, hobbies, and goals.
People in a toxic relationship often feel that they can’t be who they are, and may rely on the other person to fulfill certain needs. The best way to overcome that is to learn how to fulfill your own needs by focusing on what makes you happy. You’ll also improve your self-esteem, which will help you break the toxic cycle.
- Working on yourself will help you be a better, more stable partner. Even if the other person doesn’t change, your relationship will still improve.
- For example, you might enroll in a class, join a recreational sports team, or try out a new hobby that interests you.
4.) Journal to work through your thoughts.
Journaling is a great way to work through what’s bothering you. It can help you better understand your problems and uncover potential solutions. Write about how you’re feeling and the struggles that you encounter in your relationship.
- You can use a paper journal or keep a digital journal. For example, you might install the Google Docs app on your phone so that you can write from any device.
- If you you’re artistic, you could try art journaling rather than just writing your thoughts.
Communicating More Effectively
1.) Keep the lines of communication open.
When you feel that your relationship is toxic, you might naturally pull away. However, this won’t help you fix your issues. Your partner needs to know exactly what you want in your relationship; otherwise, they won’t be able to give it to you. Make a point to talk to the person. Approach them first, or be the first to pick up the phone.
» Tell them the changes you hope to see, as they can’t read your mind. You might say, “I want us to spend more quality time alone together so I feel like our relationship is fully committed.
»”Be honest and assertive when telling them what you want. Don’t shut down or stop advocating for your needs because you’re afraid of how they will react or are worried they’ll feel bad. Your feelings matter, too.
» Consider opening multiple lines of communication. For example, texting, calling, and emailing are all options for helping you talk more often.
» Unlessss your personal safety is at risk, don’t walk away from them. This shuts down the lines of communication.
2.) Don’t engage in mind games.
Toxic relationships often involve mind games, and it’s hard to break that habit. You may think that mind games are the only way to get your needs met, but they actually make things worse. It’s better to be honest with your partner about what you want. Here are toxic mind games that you should avoid:
» Keeping score of chores, sacrifices, unmet needs, etc.
» Being passive-aggressive by dropping hints instead of openly communicating your needs.
» Tellinging your partner that everything is okay, even though it’s not.
3). Tell them how you feel, using “I” statements.
No one can read your mind, no matter how well they know you. The only way they’ll know how you feel is if you tell them. Share your feelings as you experience them, rather than holding them back. Don’t bottle up your feelings, as this ensures that you’ll eventually blow up.
» You could say, “I feel like you don’t want me to go out with my friends, but I need time with the girls.
» Be honest with your partner
4.) Listen to their perspective.
The other person also needs to feel heard. It’s possible that they see things in a completely different way from you. It’s important to understand how each of you feel about the situation.
» Make eye contact while they talk to you. Nod or make acknowledging comments so they know that you’re listening.
» In a toxic relationship, you may feel that the other person’s perspective is flawed, perhaps due to a narcissistic personality or extreme neediness. However, denying their feelings won’t help. The only way to fix things is to understand where they’re coming from.
» Ask them to tell you what they need in your relationship. Just as you have unmet needs, they may, as well.
5.) Watch their nonverbal signals – and yours.
Nonverbal signals can say just as much as words. You can understand them better by watching their body movements, and you can monitor your own to make sure that you don’t send the wrong message. Here are some things to watch for:
» Avoiding eye contact can mean that they’re not listening to you. Be sure to maintain eye contact to show you’re interested.
» Folding your arms across your chest means you’re defensive or closed off. Notice if they do this and try to put them at ease, and avoid doing it yourself.
» Getting loud and aggressive can mean that you’re feeling angry or unheard. If your partner does this, tell them that you’re listening and encourage them to calm down. If you start getting loud, take a few deep breaths to calm down.
» If they turn away from you, it could mean they’re closed off to you. Ask them to open the lines of communication. Similarly, don’t turn away from your partner while you’re talking.
6.) Keep your emotions in check.
Although your emotions are important, expressing them at the wrong time can make the situation worse. Don’t let your emotions control you when you’re communicating with the person. Stay calm throughout your conversation so that both of you can be heard.
» You can express your emotions afterwards by talking to a friend, journaling, or discussing them with your therapist.
» If you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed with emotion, take a deep breath and count to 10 before you respond.
7.) Avoid bringing up the past, if you’re tempted.
The past belongs behind you. If you want to fix the relationship, you need to focus on repairing the present and building a better future. Bringing up past grievances will keep you stuck in unhealthy patterns.
» It’s possible for your relationship to improve, but that won’t happen if you refuse to let go of the past. Constantly bringing up past mistakes tells the other person that nothing they do will matter.
» If you need help overcoming past issues, it’s best to work with a therapist.
Breaking Toxic Patterns
1.) Look for behavior patterns that cause conflicts.
If you know the pattern, then you can avoid it in the future. In some cases, you and the other person can work together to break the pattern. However, they may refuse to acknowledge the problem. In that case, you can learn to step away.
» For example, you may become upset when the other person dismisses your feelings. This might cause you to lash out to feel heard, which in turn causes a fight that leaves you both upset. Knowing this behavior pattern can help you make better choices moving forward.
2.) Recognize what triggers you to become upset.
If you know your triggers, you can learn to better cope with them. Look at your patterns in the past to uncover what makes you react. You can also ask yourself questions like these:
» Why does my mom make me so mad?
» Why do I get so upset about my partner going out without me?
» What keeps me in this relationship?
» What does my partner do that upsets me so much?
» What about this do I find so upsetting?
3.) Learn the other person’s emotional triggers.
Just as you have things that upset you, the other person will, as well. It’s likely that you’re both triggering each other whenever there’s a conflict. Pay attention to what happens just before they get upset. You can also directly ask them to help you understand what triggered their upset feelings.
» You could ask, “I noticed that you just became angry. Can you tell me why you feel that way?
» “If your partner is behaving in an abusive manner, step away from the situation. Nothing that you do justifies another person’s abusive behavior.
4.) Take responsibility for managing your own emotions.
Even if the other person continues to trigger you, it’s possible to not react. You can control your own emotions. While you might feel frustrated at first, you’ll feel better in the long run.
» When you feel yourself becoming upset, take a few cleansing breaths. You may also want to visualize yourself calming down, which can help you manage your stress. Afterwards, engage in a relaxing activity that helps you release the negative emotions, such as talking to a friend, taking a bath, or journaling.
» Remind yourself that you can’t change the other person, but you can change your reaction to them. You refusing to emotionally react is for your benefit, not theirs.
5.) Respect the efforts the other person makes, regardless of outcome.
Of course you want your relationship to be healthy, but it will take time to see improvements. Instead of looking at outcomes, celebrate the efforts you’re both putting into it.
» For example, thank your partner for respecting your decision to go out with friends, even if they weren’t happy about it. Similarly, give your mom credit for making it through a phone call without criticizing you.
» Say, “I can tell that you’re really working hard to show me how much you care about me. I want you to know that I see that and really appreciate you.”
6.) Set and maintain boundaries moving forward.
Boundaries help you protect yourself and your emotions. Having boundaries tells the other person what you will and won’t tolerate from them. Tell the person your boundaries in clear terms, as well as what will happen if your boundaries are crossed.
» For example, you might set a boundary that you won’t tolerate name calling from your mom. Say, “Mom, I’m not going to stay on the phone with you if you call me rude names. The next time that happens, I’m hanging up.
» ”Similarly, you might set a boundary with your partner that you won’t answer the phone while you’re out with friends. You could say, “During girls night, I’m going to put my phone on silent. If you try to call, I won’t answer.”
Rebuilding Your Relationship
1.) Avoid negative behaviors that can harm your relationship.
You can’t control your partner, but you can make sure your own behaviors are positive. Here are four problematic behaviors to avoid:
» Criticizing your partner
» Having contempt for your partner
» Being defensive
» Withdrawing from them to avoid conflict.
2.) Make your relationship a priority.
Your relationship has to be important to you if you expect it to improve. Let the other person know that you’re committed to working on it, and ask them to participate, as well. Schedule time to spend together so that you can improve your relationship, and stick to that schedule.
» For example, you can commit to calling your mom once a week and spending 2 hours together every weekend.
» As another example, you could schedule a date night with your partner and commit to talking about your feelings every night.
» In some cases, toxic relationships may be consuming all of your time, so keep in mind that your relationship doesn’t have to be your only priority. Your career, family, friends, and goals can also be priorities.
3.) Be respectful toward each other.
Respect is important for any relationship, so you both need to act and speak with respect. Without respect, you can’t have a healthy partnership. Although you can’t control what the other person does, you can do your part to be respectful:
» Don’t engage in name calling.
» Avoid raising your voice to them.
» Don’t criticize them or belittle their feelings or interests.
4.) Take a break if the other person refuses to improve your relationship.
If the other person continues to behave in a toxic manner, you might need to walk away, at least for awhile. No matter what you try, it’s impossible to change another person. In some cases, it’s in your best interest to end the relationship.
» Depending on the type of relationship, it’s sometimes impossible to end it. For example, it’s hard to leave behind a toxic relative. However, you can take a break from them and then enforce your boundaries when you’re ready to talk again.