How to Heal Toxic Relationships Before They Break
Non-Toxic relationships are one of the 7 Principles of Health for good reason.
It's because 'healthy' relationships have such a fundamental impact on our spiritual and emotional wellbeing.
Relationships permeate all aspects of our life, and can come and go socially and in business, but it's our intimate relationships that either lift us up or bring us down the most.
There's only one reason to be in a long-term intimate relationship and that's to magnify human emotion and to achieve that takes constant work, respect, forgiveness and growth from both partners.
At its core, a good, healthy relationship should leave you feeling safe, fulfilled, cared for and free to be yourself.
Nothing is ever perfect and any relationship will experience its ups and downs - but if you love someone, the trick is to become really effective at noticing the patterns that cause pain in the relationship, and to counter those negative patterns with positive actions that will help you learn and grow together.
What is a toxic relationship?
Contrary to the generally positive nature of healthy relationships, toxic relationships can make you feel insecure, distraught, undervalued, disrespected and unable to be yourself. Most often they’re characterised by dynamics such as fear, insecurities, dependency, ownership and control.
The manipulation and control of one person by another can be a subtle thread that permeates toxic relationships.
This is accomplished by looks, words, phrases, traditions, dogmatic teachings, societal values, gestures and assumptions that are so embedded in what people have come to accept as normal, that they are all the more potent for being subconscious, rather than conscious.
Often people caught up in toxic relationships will stay in them as a result of feeling obliged in one form or another. This “dependency” can be emotional, psychological, or financial.
Unfortunately, for this reason, many who find themselves in this situation will often tolerate almost anything, no matter how negative or destructive, in order not to risk losing (or the perception they will lose) whatever they have become dependent on.
It's this state of mind that can cause many to "check out" of a relationship even though they continue to physically stay put "in" the relationship - and this is not a good, healthy place to be for either person involved...and this is usually the root cause of ongoing resentment, deceit and hurt.
Common Signs of a Toxic Relationship
There are typically 7 tell-tale signs of toxicity in a relationship.
We’re all human so it’s normal to experience some of these signs, some of the time. But if you find yourself constantly dealing with several of these, it might be time to question the health of your relationship and then ask yourself if it is, in fact, possible to heal things up with your partner before you or your relationship breaks…
When one or both parties only think about or consider themselves it can often feel like “All take and no give”.
This one-sidedness or imbalance can often present as narcissistic or self-absorbed behaviours that seem to neglect the other person’s feelings, emotions or needs.
Being involved in a toxic relationship can be extremely energy-sapping due to the mental, emotional and sometimes even physical strain of dealing with the negativity coming from the other person.
The term “energy vampire” is often used because it can literally feel like the energy is being sucked out of you. Additionally, a sense of stagnation can take hold where it seems like growth and learning has stopped and the same things keep repeating over again without improving.
Drama & Negativity
A lot of the toxicity in unhealthy relationships can be attributed to a seemingly hostile atmosphere characterised by never-ending dramas. It can feel like you are constantly “walking on eggshells” as you never know exactly quite when the other person will “crack” and have an emotional outburst.
There are constant challenges that never get worked through and instead of improving your life the relationship can make you feel like things are always getting worse.
The hostility often comes in the form of constant judgement, criticism, the perpetuation of victimhood and taunts that “bring out the worst in you” by making you retaliate in a negative way in order to try and defend yourself from the barrage of drama-fuelled behaviour directed toward you.
On the other hand, someone who is "passive aggressive" can incite drama by withdrawing, ignoring or withholding love and support.
Dishonesty & Lack of Trust
Betrayal can take on two forms.
1). The other person outright says or does things to betray you.
2). You betray yourself by not being authentic - you change your opinions or behaviour in order to appease the other person.
Healthy relationships quickly start to erode as lies and dishonest behaviour undermine trust and feelings of security. This can make everything seem uncertain and unpredictable.
Feelings of being undermined, held back, trapped or stifled can be signs that the other person is in some way controlling or manipulating you.
Everyone has the right to their own free will and autonomy as well as to have their points of view and needs in a relationship.
If it often seems that you can’t do anything right, it might be time to ask yourself who is really defining what the right thing is?
Apart from the above disrespectful behaviour, being disrespected can happen in a number of more subtle ways, some of which the most common often slip under the radar but over time and distance can take their toll on both the integrity of yourself and the relationship.
Signs of disrespect can include:
- Verbal abuse
- Not listening
- Breaking promises or not honouring agreements
- Pushing boundaries
- Belittling or demeaning
- Breaking promises
- Persistent unreliability
- A lack of support
- Wavering commitment
- Cutting corners
- Speaking over
Reduced Self-Esteem & Feelings of Self Worth
The effects of endless judgement, dishonesty, being controlled, disrespect and drama can take a heavy toll on one’s sense of worth.
When someone’s value is repeatedly under-appreciated, overlooked, taken for granted or deliberately denigrated it can lead to a vicious circle.
This can leave one party feeling even more dependent on the other, as a result of believing that they don’t deserve anything better.
So what constitutes a healthy relationship?
Healthy relationships thrive on the values of mutual respect, honesty and trust, fairness and equality, good communication, forgiveness, caring and support.
The ancients taught that pleasure is the greatest good so if our close relationships are not bringing us elevated feelings of joy and fulfilment, then it's a sign there is a problem.
A healthy relationship is one where you choose to put each other first and where you feel your best when you’re in each other's company.
It’s a relationship where neither individual harbours any resentment no matter what problems arise, and where there is a spirit of gratitude and kindness towards each other for choosing to share life's journey together.
Benefits of Healthy Relationships
Studies have shown that loving, non-toxic relationships not only keep you healthy – they tend to extend your life, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to heal toxic relationships and make them nurturing and loving if they’ve gotten off track.
And if that just can’t be done and the spark can’t be reignited, then it may be time to simply move on for the benefit of everyone involved.
Many studies have shown that if you believe that you’re happy, you’re just about as happy as you imagine you are.
And when it comes to intimate relationships, if you believe that there’s one person that loves you – it doesn’t have to be many – if there’s even just ONE, that belief is such a powerful energetic force, it’s going to fuel you with a sense of self-worth, belonging, love and connection throughout your life.
Psychologists know that love and connection are the most basic of human needs and that’s why without it we can lose our way.
If you are in a loving, kind, nurturing, growing relationship, then consider yourself lucky.
This is not easy to achieve in today’s world, which is why most relationships break at the first sign of trouble.
But trouble doesn’t have to mean the end. If you’re prepared to work together and grow, it will have a compounding effect that is greater than the sum of its parts and a ripple effect amongst your family, children and friends, which is an amazingly beautiful thing.
Despite what patriarchal religion, governments and society might want us to believe, “living happily ever after” is a pure myth!
All healthy relationships require work, discipline, positive intentions and the effort of both parties to make it work for mutually beneficial outcomes. More often than not people grow and change over time, for this reason, it’s also important for relationships to do the same.
Similarly, the notion of “’til death do us part” can do more damage than good! It can make people prioritise their relationship over themselves and their values and tolerate less than acceptable actions and behaviours from their significant other. It can also reduce the incentive to work on oneself to become a better person. This can happen because they believe that their partner will always be there for them no matter what!
As in nature, if something is not growing, it’s dying. Unfortunately, this becomes the case in too many long-term relationships and marriages these days too!
Tips for Healthy Relationships
In order to have healthy relationships with others, it’s vital for us to have a healthy relationship with ourselves first.
It’s tough to give what we don’t have, so whatever it is you feel like you’re lacking, you can’t expect others to provide it for you.
Focus on yourself first, be clear about what you really want and what’s important to you.
Are you practising Self Care and doing what you can to show up in your relationship as the best version of yourself both physically and emotionally?
In terms of intimate relationships, “familiarity is the thief of joy”, so in order to “keep the flame alive” so to speak, you want to maintain a degree of uncertainty or spontaneity.
Make an effort to do little simple things that you know will bring your partner joy, the same way you did when you first met.
These “little things” can include small gifts, text messages or calls to tell them how much you appreciate them out of the blue during your day.
It can be simply a loving touch or hug, spending quality time with them or “acts of service” that will in some way help them or make life easier.
If you’re currently experiencing the signs of a toxic relationship the good news is, that if a relationship has previously been healthy, even in the long distant past, it’s possible to get it to a state of relative “health” again.
If you fundamentally love and care for each other and are prepared to put in the work to bring it to life again, it's possible for the relationship to be healed.
These are the pillars of healthy loving relationships…
Communication & Commitment
“Words have the power to start wars or create peace, destroy relationships or strengthen them.”
Honest communication is vital in order to understand and be understood by the other person.
An environment needs to be established where both parties feel free to tell the other exactly how they’re feeling without fear of how the other will react. Positive relationship skills include being able to resolve conflicts amicably and one of the keys to doing this is through effective communication.
Alongside this, it’s important that both parties feel that there is a level of commitment to the relationship as well as being committed to resolving any issues through to the end when they do arise.
The first thing to accept is that you can’t change another person unless they want to change themselves. So the only thing you effectively have control over changing is yourself or your reaction to their behaviours.
We all have our quirks that can bother others without us intending them to, so keep in mind that you probably do things as well!
It’s also vital for all concerned to accept responsibility for when they make a mistake or do something “wrong”.
Honesty & Trust
The value or quality of a relationship is trust, as it is of friendship, and as it is of business relationships.
Make sure that your actions align with your words and that everything you do is in integrity with both your values and those of the relationship you’re involved in.
It can take countless positive actions over many years to build a sense of trust, but this can all be destroyed by one single act of betrayal or disregard for others.
Compassion & Caring
At the end of the day being compassionate and caring comes down to being able to see or feel things from the other’s perspective and act accordingly.
Forgiveness & Letting Go
When you let go of guilt, for example, you are then free to love yourself and life more fully.
When you find it in your heart to let go of resentment and anger, you are then free to love other people more fully and will experience greater harmony in all of your relationships.
This is the basic formula necessary for healing ourselves on an individual level and for healing our world on a global level.
Respect & Boundaries
“You be you and I’ll be me”
Mutual respect is a vital component of all healthy relationships.
We’re all different and all have our “non-negotiable” values in terms of what is acceptable to us and what’s not, however, we need to clearly communicate this to the other so that they know the limits.
This is where the concept of boundaries comes into play, where each person’s “line in the sand” is honoured, respected and not compromised by the other.
If after doing the best you can, with your heart in the right place, things do not improve, then sometimes you just need to end the relationship and move on as friends, respectful of the fact that you shared a part of your lives together.
There’s no point in staying in a toxic relationship for convenience if it doesn’t lift you emotionally because ultimately neither of you will benefit.
Settling for a sub-standard relationship will also starve you both of the opportunity to experience a relationship with someone that could bring you a greater sense of fulfilment and joy, which ultimately is the only reason to have one in the first place.