Learning how to fix a toxic relationship can be tricky because it takes a while for people to understand and accept that they’re in one. It takes a while for them to spot a toxic relationship and understand the psychology of staying in a bad relationship. By then, the relationship dynamics become ripe and a lot of damage is done.
To bounce back from this abyss and handle a toxic relationship, you need the drive to make it work at all costs. To fix a toxic relationship with a boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse, you need the will to do the work it takes to remove toxicity or bitterness from your bond. Even then, the ability to deal with a toxic relationship and make it functional isn’t easy. Nor will it happen overnight.
Handling a toxic person or living in a marriage can be really tough. But before you pledge yourself to this cause, let’s take a moment to understand how to notice a toxic relationship. We spoke to counselor Neelam Vats (certified CBT and NLP practitioner), who has over two decades of experience helping children, adolescents and adults cope with issues related to depression, anxiety, interpersonal relationship and career concerns, about the signs and ways to handle a toxic relationship.
Warning Signs Of A Toxic Relationship
The word toxic is used to describe a relationship where the dynamics are skewed to the extent that either one or both partners start feeling emotionally and mentally sapped out. In the majority of cases, toxic relationships are marked by power play and dominance. This means that there is one toxic partner whose overbearing and self-centered attitude starts to take a toll on the other.
In some rare cases, however, toxicity in a relationship can be a two-way street. It is also possible that one of the partners had an inherent toxic tendency. Doing this unhealthy dance with them has caused the other partner to imbibe some of the toxicity.
Either way, being in a toxic relationship is an unpleasant and draining experience that can take a toll on your physical and mental health. So, if you feel that the negatives in your relationship far outweigh the positives, pay attention to these warning signs of a toxic relationship. Once you know it is a toxic relationship, you can figure out your next course of action.
- Hostile communication: Communication is key to a successful partnership. According to Neelam, “Yelling, using hurtful phrases, throwing or breaking things, giving their partner the silent treatment, or engaging in blame-shifting are some of the signs of bad communication in a relationship.” If you are not communicating well with your partner, your equation or bond is probably a toxic one
- Controlling behavior: Such behavior usually stems from lack of trust or a need for control. Says Neelam, “If your partner is always telling you what, according to them, is the right thing to do, threatening you, trying to exercise power over your life, asking for access to your personal devices, know that they’re trying to control you and that it’s a sign of a toxic relationship
- Frequent lying: According to Neelam, partners in a toxic relationship resort to dishonesty. They frequently lie about their whereabouts, the people they meet, or things they do. It could be because they’re worried how the toxic partner might react if told the truth or they may not want to spend time with them
- Constant stress: In a toxic relationship, partners are always under stress, especially the one at the receiving end of the toxicity, explains Neelam. They always feel drained out and exhausted. They are constantly on the edge about trivial issues or no issues at all. Outside challenges related to family, work, or friends could also cause stress within the relationship
- Ignoring yourself and your needs: A major sign of a toxic relationship is when you ignore yourself and your needs. If you forget to take care of yourself, it’s an indication that your relationship is affecting your emotional and physical health. If you’re going against your wishes and always doing what your partner wants, neglect your health, sacrifice your alone time, know that it’s a sign of toxicity
The toxic relationships psychology is hard to decipher. Some people become too controlling, interfering and have no sense of boundaries and all this can stem from childhood experiences. Having toxic parents as a child might mean that you will be caught in a cycle of toxic relationships all your life. If you think your relationship despite all its flaws deserves a fair shot at survival, you should definitely go ahead. But, before you do that, let’s understand if it is possible for a toxic person to change.
Related Reading: 6 Harmless Mistakes In A Relationship That Are Actually Harmful
Can A Toxic Person Change?
If you identify with these warning signs of a toxic relationship, it’s natural to wonder – can a toxic relationship be fixed? And more importantly, ‘Can a toxic person change?’ Because there is no hope of fixing the relationship if the source of toxicity is unwilling to make amends. If you want to fix a toxic relationship with a boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse, both partners have to be willing to put in the effort required to fix it.
The short answer to these questions is, yes. However, it is not always an easy road. Whether or not a toxic person can change depends on a host of factors. To begin with, both partners have to be willing to turn over a new leaf and figure out ways to handle a toxic relationship. In doing so, the greater onus falls on the toxic partner.
If they are open to do the work, share in the effort, you can work alongside them and make progress one step at a time. However, getting a toxic person to face their unhealthy behavior patterns and accept their flaws is often the most challenging part of the process. It needs strategic and consistent effort from the other partner. This can be an exhausting experience.
The answer to ‘can a toxic person change’ also depends on another crucial factor – whether they’re an inherently good person or not. If your partner has developed certain toxic tendencies overtime to cope with trying circumstances, the likelihood of them reversing course is promising. However, if the person is an abuser and emotional harassment or violence is commonplace in your relationship, the chances that they will make amends are fewer.
In addition to this, psychopathic tendencies or addiction can practically eliminate any hope for making progress. Once you spot a toxic relationship, you must assess your situation dispassionately and take a call on whether you want to work at fixing the toxic relationship or prioritizing your safety.
12 Tips On How To Fix A Toxic Relationship
There’s not much you can do to fix a toxic relationship after breaking up. There might not be any point either. Toxic relationships take hold when people find themselves stuck in harmful relational cycles. Consequently, a dysfunctional dynamic takes hold. The good news is that these dynamics can be mended with conscious effort, patience, time, and understanding the psychology of staying in a bad relationship.
The only prerequisite is that both partners – the one who displays toxic tendencies as well as the one who puts up with it – have to be willing to accept responsibility for their part in making the relationship toxic. The willingness to change stems from this acceptance. If you and your partner have done some soul-searching and feel ready to make the effort to change for the better and improve and strengthen your relationship, these 12 tips will help you in your endeavor:
1. Assess if an unhealthy relationship can be saved
Once you know it is a toxic relationship, the first step should be to assess can an unhealthy relationship be saved? The answer to this question depends on your circumstances. Toxicity in relationships can exist in varying degrees. Besides, some are toxic from the beginning and others develop this tendency over time.
You need to reflect and be honest with yourself about whether there is scope to remove toxicity from the relationship. Ask yourself, is it worth staying in a toxic relationship? If yes, you must discuss it with your partner and gauge their willingness to make a change. In case you’re both on board, you can begin to make small changes every day.
Taking responsibility for your actions, fostering honest open and improved communication, working on your flaws and reviving your connection are some areas that need work. It helps to work with a therapist or counselor to make sure your efforts are steered in the right direction. But if you’re suffering abuse in any form, your relationship is too toxic to be salvaged. You need to focus on finding the right help to leave such a relationship and not stay and try to make it work.
2. Take a break
Once you’ve decided how to fix a toxic relationship with a boyfriend or girlfriend, walking away from your partner for a while is one of the best courses of action. We agree it sounds paradoxical. But hear us out.
Neelam explains, “Revisit what you want and what your boundaries are. Heal yourself. Once you’re in a healthy space mentally, you’ll be able to make sound decisions and handle a toxic relationship better.” When you have been living with a toxic partner, your judgment becomes clouded and your self-esteem bruised. This time apart will allow you to work on yourself and figure out what you want from your relationship.
It will bring you to the realization that it is possible to live without your toxic partner. That realization can be empowering and liberating. That’s exactly what you need to deal with a toxic relationship and change it for the better. Then you can make an informed decision if you want to leave or stay on and transform your relationship from toxic to healthy.
Related Reading: 11 Lessons People Learnt From Failed Relationships
3. How to fix a toxic relationship? Learn the ABCD
No, we’re not asking you to go back to school. We’re asking you to revisit the basics of your relationship dynamics. In most toxic relationships, these manifest as accusations, blame, criticism and demand – ABCD.
If these elements are predominant in your relationship, make your partner also take notice. Then, make a conscientious effort to check these tendencies. For instance, when you’re tempted to accuse your partner of something or vice-versa, stop and reflect on your actions. Before either of you makes demands, assess whether they are just.
Over time, you will learn to check these tendencies in their tracks. When you work together as a team to target a common relationship problem, it helps you reconnect with each other.
4. Be assertive to deal with a toxic relationship
Says Neelam, “The ability and decision to assert yourself are way healthier than engaging in passive aggressive behavior that usually causes a lot of damage between partners. Eventually, the partnership spirals out of control and turns into a toxic relationship. Practice being assertive and see what it brings to your life.”
When you’re living with a toxic partner, their overbearing attitude towers over you to such an extent that your opinions, needs and desires are essentially obliterated. To build a healthy relationship dynamic, you must rediscover your voice and assert yourself. Let go of the habit of walking on eggshells around your SO or being scared of their angry outburst. Holding yourself back from expressing how you feel will only make you resent your partner. This, in turn, will make the relationship more toxic.
Your partner may not even be aware of the fact that their behavior is making you feel slighted or invisible. So, conquer your fears and express these concerns honestly. Ask your partner to reflect on their behavior and its impact on you. Only then can you begin to re-establish an equal partnership in your relationship.
5. Become more visible
This is essentially an extension of being assertive. A toxic relationship often becomes so lopsided that the entire focus is on one partner. While the other seems to exist only to please them and play by their whims and fancies. To make a relationship less toxic, you need to reclaim your space in the relationship.
Make your wants, desires and expectations more visible. Neelam explains, “In most toxic relationships, the focus is usually on one person, which can leave you feeling neglected and unheard. Being more visible not only reclaims your space but also establishes a healthy dynamic. It may also make the toxic person realize his wrongdoing.”
You need to become more assertive. Initially your partner would resent this move but if they also want to fix the issues in the relationship they would gradually realize that you need to assert your individuality too. This is a good way to handle a toxic relationship.
6. Trust yourself to counter toxic relationships psychology
If you look at toxic relationships psychology, manipulation, control and dominance emerge as prevalent themes. By constantly criticizing, gaslighting or stonewalling you, your partner may have gained such control over your mind that you no longer trust yourself. Neelam recommends rising above manipulation and mind games.
Let go of the tendency to seek their validation of your opinions. Follow your gut feeling and stand your ground when you believe in something. The only way to deal with a toxic relationship effectively is to disarm your partner of their toxicity. Not giving them importance would result in a spurt in their anger but when they realize that they cannot penetrate the wall you have built and you are emotionally unaffected, they would gradually step back.
Neelam explains, “Pick your battles. Avoid investing yourself emotionally. You may offer a listening ear but be careful with how much attention you give. It is hard being the bigger person because our natural instinct, when we feel attacked, is to defend ourselves. However, don’t let everything that the toxic person does get a rise out of you. Even if it hurts, try to stay calm or walk away if you can’t.”
Related Reading: 9 Tips To Build Harmonious Relationships
7. Have uncomfortable conversations
Being vulnerable in front of a partner who thrives on toxic behavior can be hard. Similarly, the fear of angry outburst or stonewalling can inhibit you from discussing certain uncomfortable topics. But you cannot go on sweeping things under the rug if you want to remove toxicity from a relationship.
Says Neelam, “In order to restart your struggling love, you will need to start taking some emotional risks. You can begin by engaging in a crucial conversation, bringing up the truths that you have been withholding from your partner. Stay in dialogue even when it is uncomfortable and scary. Having constructive and difficult conversations is key to fixing a toxic relationship.”
When you expect your partner to be honest and forthcoming, you have to be willing to do the same. That involves laying your heart bare about all the trauma the relationship has caused you. As well as discussing how you see your present situation and future prospects. These may not be the easiest things to say or hear. But they need to be said and heard.
8. Stop the lies
Lying is another recurrent theme in almost every dysfunctional, toxic relationship. It is not only the toxic partner who hides behind the cloak of lies but also the other partner who resorts to lying to avoid confrontation or tense situations.
Let’s say, your partner disapproves of you hanging out with a certain friend. So, you make-up a work-related excuse to go have lunch with your friend. Or your partner had asked you to drop off the dry cleaning but it’s still lying in your car. To avoid hearing, “Oh, you’re good for nothing”, you simply say that the shop was closed.
These small little lies and cover-ups can seem harmless but they get in the way of rebuilding trust. Without trust, you cannot get a relationship or partner to stop being toxic. According to Neelam, to fix a toxic relationship, you need to “avoid engaging in other toxic behaviors as this will only bring more negativity in your life.”
9. Focus on conflict resolution
Where there is toxicity, there is bound to be conflict rooted in differences of opinion, anger, resentment and hurt. You cannot overcome toxicity without crossing the hurdle of conflict resolution. In a toxic relationship, the arguments and fights often get really ugly and have an adverse effect on both partners.
Explore effective strategies to get to the root of your problems and weed them out to build a future together. It is not easy to fix a toxic relationship after breaking up but if you have an earnest desire to make things better, you will find the way. You have to evolve a strategy to disengage when a situation like this arises. With time, you would develop your toxic relationship coping mechanism.
10. Understand the triggers
A toxic person is likely to have a troubled history. Perhaps, they grew up around toxic parents. Or had a troubled relationship with their siblings. Maybe one of their past relationships was toxic and that tendency rubbed off on them. Or they’ve developed these traits as a defense mechanism to counter bullying.
Understanding the toxic relationships psychology in general, and your partner’s specific triggers can give you a lot of clarity. This clarity will enable you to handle your relationship better. By operating from a place of empathy rather than blame, you can succeed in getting a partner to stop being toxic. This is the best way to handle a toxic relationship.
Related Reading: How To Avoid Self-Sabotaging Relationships?
11. Shun the victim mentality
Yes, you have been the victim of a lot of unpleasantness and negativity. But if you internalize the victim mentality, you will be forever caught in the rut of misery. Besides, seeing yourself as the victim means admitting to helplessness in making your circumstances better. How can you fix a toxic relationship when you can’t even take responsibility for your emotional state?
Besides, remember, the choice to stay or leave is always yours to make. By choosing to stay, you have become a partner in a toxic relationship rather than a victim. This may come across as harsh but you need to hear it to realize that the power to choose always rests with you. Now that you’ve chosen to understand how an unhealthy relationship can be saved, not seeing yourself as a victim is crucial for progress.
12. How to fix a toxic relationship? Get help
Your relationship may have become riddled with problems that you find yourself constantly wondering is it worth staying in a toxic relationship. With such rampant dysfunction and complicated equations, removing toxicity from a relationship on your own may not be feasible. The process may take a lot longer than it should. You may also end up doing more harm than good.
Neelam recommends seeking therapy. She says, “Therapy can help you get better. Both individual and couples therapy allow for you to learn additional ways to manage expectations and other issues in the relationship. Psychotherapy helps clients handle a toxic relationship. Cognitive Behavior Therapy can help improve the bond you share with your partner.”
If you’re stuck in a similar situation and looking for trained counselors to help you resolve these issues, Bonobology’s panel of experienced and licensed therapists is only a click away.
Now that you know how to fix a toxic relationship, it’s time to grab this bull by its horns and rein it in. While your desire to work on a relationship so fraught with issues is commendable, you must bear in mind that no love can take precedence over your well-being.
If things don’t work out despite your best effort, leaving is always a choice. One that you must make without any guilt or remorse.
You are constantly manipulated, controlled, gaslighted, stonewalled and emotionally abused in a toxic relationship. You do not feel any kind of love and care but you feel you are still in the relationship just out of habit.
To survive in a toxic relationship you have to assert yourself but disengage when a conflict starts. You have to make your boundaries clear and if, need be, opt for counselling.
Counseling can help heal a toxic relationship. Therapists use different techniques to help you understand issues and figure out ways to handle them. But not everyone goes for therapy or takes steps to deal with a toxic relationship. In that case, they leave the relationship.
A toxic person can change. If the reasons for their toxicity, which mostly stem from their childhood issues, are addressed, then they can change. But it’s not an easy road. It can take a long time to get rid of behavior patterns formed at an early age.