We have books on marriage and love giving us a context of how things should be. But when it comes to actually handling the nitty-gritty of real-life relationships, we often find ourselves at a loss. When things start to go awry, one has no idea about how to fix a toxic relationship.
But what do we mean by that term? A toxic relationship is one that constitutes psychological and even physical abuse that many people endure all their life. It is important to know that it doesn’t have to be that way. You can opt for affordable counseling and learn to heal and get on a better path. Relationships are like a lifelong trial-and-error project, and if you are like most normal people, then you too might be doing a few things wrong in handling them.
All of us worship the popular notion of romantic love and there lies the problem. It’s a problem because the popular notion of ‘romantic love’ comes with many unhealthy relationship habits that were culturally ingrained into us. You don’t realize it but they are normalized to a detrimental extent.
We’re talking about all this and more with counseling psychologist Gopa Khan (Master’s in Counseling Psychology, M.Ed), who specializes in marriage & family counseling. She’s here to shed some light on the myriad facets of toxic relationships and the ways in which you can heal from them.
What Is A Toxic Relationship?
You know the irrational love that we were told is normal and endearing? The kind of love that makes us break the vase into the wall in a fit of angry tears; that says it’s okay to manipulate the partner because they don’t align with your idea of what is right. The very first step of healing from a toxic relationship is dismantling this idea in its entirety.
Gopa explains, “We romanticize everything. Jealousy, anger, blackmail, blame-games…but these always damage a relationship. There are no two ways about it. The dynamics of abuse can be difficult to grasp in certain situations, but it is your responsibility to identify them and work on them.”
Because of such age-old conditioning, more often than not, we tend to behave in ugly ways in the relationship thinking that they are normal or romantic. In reality, these may be killing the partnership bit by bit. Because of this entrenched thought process, one completely loses sight of the good qualities of a healthy relationship.
In order to explain a toxic relationship, we have to explain a healthy relationship first. In a healthy relationship, there is sharing and caring, and a sense of well-being and happiness in the other partner’s achievements. There is communication on an equal footing, understanding and the willingness to handle differences amicably. You thrive in a healthy relationship and experience positive emotions. But in a toxic relationship? Let’s take a look at the signs…
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Signs Of A Toxic Relationship
Gopa says, “Abuse characterizes toxic relationships. There are many forms of abuse; the most visible is domestic/physical abuse. You also have emotional or psychological abuse which is harder to discern. Some kinds of toxic relationships develop when an individual is dating an addict. In all cases, you’ve got a few tell-tale signs that are relationship red flags in a manner of speaking.”
Here are 5 signs of a toxic relationship that can help you analyze your situation better. One or more may be applicable in your relationship:
- Physical or verbal abuse: This is done by a partner to establish control and power. There is use of brute force to get one’s way in a situation. Fights and arguments often escalate and lead to bodily harm for one partner.
- Absence of boundaries: A lack of healthy relationship boundaries that are vital for the smooth functioning of a shared life between two people.
- Gaslighting: Manipulating a partner to invalidate their experiences or feelings. This is commonly known as ‘guilt-tripping’ or ’emotional blackmail.’
- Controlling behavior: Severe control issues that manifest themselves in the form of jealousy. One partner places restrictions on the other in different spheres of life.
- Narcissistic tendencies: Narcissism in one or both partners, which leads to a very shallow connection and/or causes friction constantly.
- Absence of open conversations: A lack of communication in the relationship because of ego-driven decisions.
Can Toxic Relationships Be Healed?
Anything is possible under the sun. And healing from a toxic relationship is possible. The mountain is a rocky one to scale and both partners have to put in a lot of work. Usually, one more than the other.
As Gopa elaborates, “Since we factor in abuse, it is generally one partner that suffers because of the other. The individual who is in pain decides to step up and seek help or heal. In such a situation, you can heal if the toxic spouse/partner is ready to take accountability for their actions. If there is cognizance that things are going wrong, then surviving a toxic relationship is possible.”
So, we have our first step: Acknowledging the problem. The second is backing up the cognitive realization with actions. Couple’s therapy and individual efforts can help you and your partner heal from toxic relationships. As Art Williams wisely said, “I’m not telling you it is going to be easy — I am telling you it is going to be worth it.”
There are a few strategies (look at them as toxic relationship advice) that will help you along the way. Implement them in your life with professional help or independently. I am certain that they’re just what you need.
5 Ways To Fix A Toxic Relationship
Sometimes both partners start doing things that lead to them being toxic in a relationship. They end up being aggressive toward each other, bring up old issues in a fight and try to achieve dominance in the relationship by seeking vengeance at the slightest opportunity. Here are the top 5 most common signs of a toxic relationship that you must avoid at all costs:
1. How can you begin healing from a toxic relationship? Stop keeping score
Okay, so he acted like an insensitive little moron at your friend’s birthday party 3 years back, but was it really that big a life-shattering event that you have to remind him of it every week? Perhaps he happens to come across one of your online conversations which showcases the subtle signs of flirting. He’s got dirt on you too.
Do you see the problem? Keeping score in relationships makes every argument a battle that you try to win by digging up past mistakes. If you’re trying to figure out how to fix a toxic relationship, end this irrational habit. Rise above these petty calculations to do the serious work that a connection demands.
To avoid toxicity, step back
Here are a few strategies to stop fighting with your partner. Keeping score is a very unhealthy habit; it can be avoided with a little mindfulness from your end.
- Take a step back: One person has to exercise wisdom. If your partner is making personal attacks or recounting past episodes, resist falling into the trap. A few deep breaths and some distance can work wonders.
- Refocus on the present: Turn your partner’s attention to other things. When someone keeps score, they are essentially focusing on the past. Bring your partner’s attention to the issue at hand.
- Stop bringing up past issues: As valid as those attacks may sound in your mind, they are quite unnecessary and unfair.
Related Reading: Here’s How To Stop Constant Arguing In A Relationship
2. Stop emotional blackmailing – Toxic relationship advice
What are the other signs of a toxic relationship? Emotional blackmail is a big one. And a dangerous one too. If you are someone who tends to look at every relationship problem as a commitment crisis and bringing in unnecessary drama, then you must take a good look at what you are doing to your partner.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t communicate negative thoughts or concerns to them, but don’t resort to emotional blackmailing as a counter to every little criticism and complaint. Express honestly why you are feeling upset, but do so without judgment and threats.
Gopa talks about the dark side of blackmailing, “Threatening your partner is never a solution and always an indicator of emotional baggage on your end. It also suggests a desire to control things to an unhealthy extent. Sentences that go like – if you don’t do xyz, I will do abc, have never helped anyone. You are no exception either.”
How to stop emotionally blackmailing your partner?
Responding to gaslighting or manipulation is always a tricky patch to navigate. But here are a few things that might help:
- Don’t control your partner: It is unfair to curb your partner’s feelings and freedom by always telling them how emotionally upset you are because of something they did. Understand the implications of your actions fully.
- Think critically: On the other hand, if you are the one being emotionally blackmailed, don’t play into the manipulative tactics of your partner. Nine times out of ten, manipulation is disguised as romance.
- Communicate clearly: There is always a pattern in emotional blackmail that you need to gauge. Address this pattern with an open conversation. You can seek a professional’s help as an intervention too.
3. Stop holding your partner responsible for your emotional state
So, you have had a pathetic day at work and all you want to do is come back home and cuddle with your partner. But they have made plans with their friends and have gone out for the evening. You did not exactly tell your partner what you were expecting or feeling. Yet, you assumed that they will magically read your state of mind and be super-sympathetic to fix your mood.
Fixing a toxic relationship requires you to know that your partner is not responsible for how you feel all the time and vice versa. It’s a classic example of being in a codependent relationship which is far from a healthy couple dynamic. Be independent and self-sufficient.
Own up to your feelings for fixing a toxic relationship
How to fix a toxic relationship? By knowing that healthy individuals make a healthy relationship. You are responsible for your own well-being, and by extension, the relationship’s. Here’s what you could do:
- Introspect: Instead of blaming your partner, ask yourself why you are feeling that way. Take accountability for your emotions and situation.
- Be self-sufficient: Accept that depending on your partner for all your emotional needs is a sign of a toxic relationship. You have to cope with life’s problems head-on. People can lend support, but no one can fight your battles for you.
- Find a means of release: Have your own emotional outlets. Hit the gym, play a sport, and maintain social connections outside your romantic relationship.
Related Reading: 9 Signs You Are The Problem In Your Relationship
4. Can you fix a toxic relationship? Yes… Stop associating jealousy with love
If you are trying to justify your jealousy as love, then you are definitely being toxic in a relationship. It’s time you start acting like a grown-up and realize that jealousy is really not that cute after all. Gopa says, “It is normal to feel jealous, but it is not okay to translate that feeling into controlling actions. Jealousy is a surefire sign of insecurity in the relationship. You should not feel the need to monitor your partner’s interactions.”
When your partner talks to, smiles at, touches lightly or even sneezes at any person of the opposite sex and you lash out at them to control their behavior, it doesn’t show the intensity of your love. It just makes you a crazy person who doesn’t have enough trust in the relationship and likes to invite unnecessary fights to manipulate the other half.
Don’t let jealousy kill a relationship
Trust issues can kill a connection that means the world to you. It is important to understand the gravity of unhealthy jealousy and the harm it can cause:
- Acknowledge the truth: If you cannot control your own jealousy, then you are controlling your partner with it. It’s a harsh truth bomb, but best you accept it right away.
- Jealousy is toxic: A jealous partner will only push away the other partner and make the relationship toxic. Jealousy might seem endearing in the early stages, but it becomes a menace really fast.
- Work on those trust issues: Build trust and security with your partner. If you feel the need for professional assistance, reach out to a mental health professional. Surviving a toxic relationship is a challenging affair.
5. Stop compensating relationship problems with materialistic happiness
If you’re wondering how to fix a toxic relationship, know that retail therapy is not an answer. If you tend to make up for a nasty fight by indulging in a shopping extravaganza or taking an expensive trip together, then you must stop it right now. In the real world, real relationship problems cannot be compensated with superficial pleasures.
Sure, an over-the-top gift makes us happy – for like 10 minutes. If it’s a big solitaire. then maybe an hour. But then? Sweeping the real issue under the rug doesn’t make the problem go away. Talk it out, instead. Deal with the problem and work toward rebuilding the relationship. Your best friend in this department will be communication.
Gopa explains, “The first thing a counselor or psychotherapist sees is the couple’s communication pattern. Because communication is so crucial… When you’re surviving a toxic relationship, you have to opt to listen to your partner. Patience, honesty, and some undivided attention are what you need. Communication problems are the bane really.”
Confront the issues with your patner
Team work makes the dream work, the dream in this case being healing from a toxic relationship. Gifting is a way of dealing with emotions in a very shallow manner. So what can you do instead?
- Give and take: Communicate your feelings and acknowledge your partner’s concerns. Take their views into account and convey yours in a concise and undramatic manner.
- Follow through with actions: Both partners should see what’s going wrong in the relationship and mend their ways with conscious effort. (This is the best toxic relationship advice, to be honest.)
So if you think you are doing one or more of these toxic things in your relationship, it’s time to stop and reassess things before the poison spreads too far. Creating a better relationship is really not that hard if you identify the signs beforehand and work on making a healthier environment for you and your partner.
The answer to can you fix a toxic relationship? is a big YES. Several couples have emerged stronger from a toxic relationship by seeking professional help. Bonobology has a panel of licensed therapists and counselors that are a click away. We are here for you.
Sure they can. With a little bit of work, effort and understanding, you can say goodbye to all toxic traits and ugly relationship arguments. It takes a bit of time, but it is important to identify who is the victim and how to correct the same immediately.
By refusing to be in one! If you think you are in a toxic relationship, you should be addressing it and not trying to survive it. Riding it out is not the way, fixing a toxic relationship is the more important thing to do.
Being possessive, being too jealous, wanting too much control, physical abuse and ignoring someone, are five major signs of an unhealthy relationship.