Relationships play a significant role in our lives, shaping our experiences, emotions, and overall well-being. While healthy relationships can uplift and support us, toxic relationships can have the opposite effect,
draining us of our energy, self-esteem, and happiness. If you think about a toxic relationship objectively, you may feel the solution is simple: don’t engage in one. However, toxic relationships are rarely a case of being constantly mistreated by someone you don’t care about. There is always some positive factor, such as the person being great sometimes or providing you with a previously unmet need. Sometimes, people in toxic relationships love the person so much that they feel they cannot exit, even if the other person is making them unhappy. If you have ever felt the pull of a toxic relationship, you may have felt alone in your situation. People around you may have urged you to leave and been very blunt about it. You may have felt – and still feel – ashamed that you couldn’t walk away from it as early as you might have wanted to.
When do you know it is time to end a toxic relationship? How long do you stay in the relationship before you cut the cord? It can be difficult to weigh out what works versus what doesn’t work for you in this kind of relationship. You may feel unhappy in your situation, but the idea of separating from this person makes you miserable. You may have a lot of good times with this person and wonder if the not-so-good times are just a compromise; no relationship is perfect. What if you have lost yourself in a toxic relationship and feel isolated? If the people around you don’t like your partner, they may have distanced themselves from you over time. Now, you feel nobody understands what you are going through, and nobody is there for you except this person.
While this is a complicated situation to be in, there is a clear answer: toxic relationships are not sustainable. Leaving one may feel difficult, and you may be heartbroken at first, but it is overall the only choice to make if you want peace and happiness in your life.
Identifying Toxic Relationships
Before we embark on the journey of liberating ourselves from toxic relationships, it’s important to understand what makes a relationship toxic. I have seen my fair share as a couple’s counselor in Woodland Hills. A toxic relationship isn’t simply one that isn’t what you need or one that doesn’t make you feel fulfilled. Toxic relationships are characterized by imbalance, negativity, manipulation, and disrespect. They are a dynamic in which nothing and nobody can thrive.
Red flags that might indicate you’re in a toxic relationship:
- Lack of respect. This can include berating and belittling, as well as disregarding boundaries.
- Control/Manipulation. A toxic partner seeks to control your life. Often, they do this through manipulation, such as making you feel guilty if you do something they don’t like (like seeing a friend) or not doing something they want you to do for them.
- One-sidedness. If you are fully invested in the relationship, and the other person is not, they may still string you along in various ways. They might breadcrumb you (just enough intermittent communication to keep you invested) or “commit” to you, but not in a way that works for both of you. They may enjoy being the person in power and being able to call all the shots.
3 Ways to Break Free from Toxic Relationships
1) Set Boundaries:
Establish clear and firm boundaries with the toxic individual. If you have been in a committed relationship with this person and are now leaving, you may have a period of overlap where you are returning each other’s things or one of you is seeking a new place to live.
Communicate your limits and expectations, and be prepared to enforce these boundaries. These boundaries may also be necessary for people outside your relationship as well. If you have mutual friends with your ex, you may have to determine limits about topics of conversation, plans for social events, etc. These boundaries should also be communicated to the person you were in the toxic relationship with, which can be overwhelming. This person may not be someone who has been easy to communicate with in the past. You might have tried setting limits and boundaries in your relationship; the idea of trying to enforce them when you are no longer together might seem impossible. In the past, the two of you might have tried therapy for couples to work on your communication, but it didn’t make the difference you needed it to. Something you have to come to terms with for yourself is that it might actually be impossible. If that ends up being the case, you may have to take measures to enforce your more drastic boundaries than you would wish them to be.
This is where it is essential for you to know where you are going to draw the line. Boundaries are not only in place with the other person but limits you set for yourself. Respecting your boundaries is key to creating the situation you want for yourself, in relationships and otherwise. When exiting a toxic relationship, you might set boundaries for yourself about contact with the other person, topics of conversation, social media engagement, and more. If you decide not to reach out to this person, then it is up to you to respect your own boundaries. Take time when you feel emotionally calm and consider what your boundary is and why. If you’ve decided, for example, to go “no contact” with someone, you may find it easier to do it when you feel busy and happy. However, you might be more tempted to break your rule in a lonely or stressed time. You might also discover that when you spend time thinking about the relationship, you feel compelled to share your feelings with the other person. If you have decided not to contact them, you ideally have your reasons for doing so. You might have realized that your attempts to communicate have not been taken seriously in the past, so they’re unlikely to be taken seriously now. You may have set this boundary because you have determined that the risk of being disappointed is high; your odds of feeling worse after reaching out may be higher than your odds of being satisfied and happy. When you have decided in a state of emotional regulation, you have made your best call with the information you have at the time. You will most likely want to change your mind in a time of heightened emotion. That is why you have to make a deal with yourself to stick to your boundaries no matter what.
2) Seek Support:
Reach out to friends, family members, or a therapist who can provide you with the support and perspective you need. A strong support system can make the process of cutting ties less daunting.
Depending on the nature of your past relationship, you may have become distant from everyone except your partner. There is a chance that people in your life voiced concerns about the person or the relationship in general, and it created a rift. Be prepared to address any issues you have about that, either because you want to clear the air or your loved one does. These conversations don’t need to be upsetting or traumatic. Take some time to consider the events that led to where you are now in your friendship and determine for yourself if there are topics that are off-limits for you. Practice some responses, such as, “I can understand your curiosity about that, but it hurts me to talk about it. Can we put a pin in that conversation?”
You may encounter loved ones who were hurt by the distance your relationship created. It is fair for people to struggle with ups and downs in relationships, no matter what their cause. Make sure that you are prepared for some hurt feelings but that you are also ready to shut down any commentary that feels unnecessarily hurtful. Often, a variety of factors in a toxic relationship create a situation that colors your perception of your life as you know it. Upon reflection, you might see where you made sacrifices to please your partner, and the people you love had to sacrifice as well. If someone voices concern or hesitation about reconnecting, you can choose to validate their feelings. You might say, “I have learned a lot from this experience, and I value my friendships more than ever.” What you don’t need to tolerate are “I told you so”s and similar disparaging comments.
If you’re nervous about reaching out to loved ones, think of a plan to suggest. It might be an activity you used to do together, or watching a comfort film you both enjoy. Maybe you want to cook a meal, go for a walk, or check out a new exhibit or something you’ve both never seen or done before. It can be really difficult to ask for help; you may or may not feel confident about admitting that you need support. If you don’t, that’s okay. What matters most is that you reach toward people and things that can help you feel better. If you are willing, however, to be vulnerable to admit that you could use some extra care, you will probably find that you are met with compassion. Practicing being vulnerable about needing help takes time, but you find that the more you do it, the more empowered you feel. Imagine if you had a friend going through something similar. Would you want them to reach out to you? Would you feel sad that they didn’t want to “bother you”? Chances are, your loved ones feel similarly.
3) Self-Care and Rediscovery:
Engage in self-care activities that nurture your physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Rediscover your passions, hobbies, and interests that may have been neglected during the toxic relationship. This will help you rebuild your self-esteem and sense of identity.
The truth is that it is better to be single and living alone than to feel lonely sharing your life with another person. If you can find the confidence and independence to enjoy your life by yourself, then you will only accept a partner who brings you happiness, peace, and love. The issues on which you are willing to compromise won’t be high-stakes, but rather the little compromises that we all make in relationships as individuals trying to find common ground.
Chances are, your toxic relationship took up a lot of your mental energy. You may have been walking on eggshells, unable to make decisions without checking in, constantly having to defend yourself, guarding yourself emotionally against unkind words, and any other adaptive behavior in order to cope with the unhealthy dynamic you were engaged in. Throughout this process, you may have begun to believe that you weren’t deserving of peace, happiness, and freedom. You might have adopted a mindset of fear, anger, disappointment, sadness, or defensiveness. When you set aside some time to rediscover what you like, what you don’t like, how you prefer to spend your time, what excites and energizes you, and what relaxes you, you are re-investing in yourself. It is really difficult to think poorly of yourself when you are treating yourself with kindness and love. Following your relationship, you will probably be in need of some care and building-up; this is the time in which you should seek out how that works for you.
If you’re not sure where to begin, start with your basic needs: rest, hydration, nourishment. With these in place, you will begin to feel your energy return; you may feel compelled to move your body or to engage in a fun activity. Add these into your routine. Make space for errands and chores, as well as work and play. Experiment with balancing all your necessities with all your desires.
As a marriage counselor in Woodland Hills, I have seen many stages of relationships and worked with couples and singles. Moving on from someone you have cared about can feel devastating, even if you know that person is wrong for you. What is likely going to be the most straightforward is to cut ties and disengage from any sort of communication and/or relationship. To get through the transition, you will want to be caring for yourself and allowing others to care for you, too. Severing a relationship will feel twice as difficult if you spend the aftermath sitting home alone. Reach out, embrace your community, and let yourself be cheered on for choosing your own happiness.
Therapy for Codependency at Embracing You Therapy
If you are struggling with Codependency, Therapy for Codependency is the safe place to heal from the trauma of a toxic relationship, learn to rebuild your self-love and self-confidence, and develop healthy relationship skills so that moving forward you have supportive and respectful relationships and support network.
Contact us today for your complimentary 20-minute phone consultation with our Client Care Coordinator.