Can You Really Fix a Toxic Relationship (And How)?

When you get into a relationship – whether it’s romantic or platonic – you think that it will bring you happiness. Not many people go into relationships thinking that it is going to make them unhappy, right?

Unfortunately, there are many relationships in the world that are very unhealthy. In fact, you can call them downright toxic.

Think of the word “toxic.” It means poisonous. It means detrimental to your health. Hazardous. Potentially deadly.

Usually we use that word to describe things other than people that could potentially kill us – rat poison, hard drugs, too much alcohol or smoking, unhealthy eating, carbon monoxide, etc. You get the point.

However, people and relationships can be just as dangerous to your well-being as any of the above mentioned substances. The problem is that it’s not as easy to identify the toxicity when it comes to a person.

So, let’s begin by talking about how to recognize the signs of a toxic relationship.

11 Signs of a Toxic Relationship

Some people grew up in toxic families. Maybe there was verbal, emotional, and/or physical abuse. Whether it’s between parents or between the parent(s) and children, it’s still an unhealthy and toxic environment to grow up in.

If someone is from a family such as this, perhaps they will not even recognize if and when they are in a toxic relationship.

If you’re not sure why you continuously enter toxic relationships, this article could help you figure it out.

Here are some signs of a toxic relationship:

1. One Gives, the Other Takes

One-sided relationships are never healthy. Many times, you will have a narcissist/people-pleaser dynamic in a toxic relationship (especially if it’s a romantic one).

One person gives and gives and gives, hoping to make the narcissist happy, but it never works. They just take and take and take, and then the relationship is much too lopsided and unhealthy.

2. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is another common characteristic of a toxic relationship. If you’re not familiar with the term, it is when someone manipulates another person to a point where that person questions their sanity.

For example, perhaps the last time you saw your significant other, you both agreed to go to the zoo on Sunday. However, when you bring it up later to confirm your plans, the person says, “I never said I wanted to go to the zoo. I don’t even like the zoo.” It leaves the other person wondering about themselves. When this is a habit in a relationship, it can turn toxic.

3. Lack of Personal Responsibility

If one or both people are constantly blaming the other person for anything and everything, then that is definitely a sign of a toxic relationship.

As the saying goes, “It takes two to tango.” Both people are responsible for their own behaviors, and the other can’t “make” you do anything. Therefore, playing a victim of the other person’s behaviors is not productive, and it just leads to an unhealthy relationship.

4. Lack of Trust

In a toxic relationship, there will not be much trust. It could be that neither trusts the other, or it could be one-sided. Either way, the lack of trust acts like a poison in the relationship.

Trust should be the foundation that any relationship is built upon. Without it, it’s like trying to build a house on quicksand. It will never work!

5. A Feeling of Walking on Eggshells

Maybe it feels like you never know if the other person is going to explode. There might be tempers raging, and because of that, you feel like you have to tip-toe around the person so that they don’t get angry.

6. Disrespect

Disrespect comes in many forms. It could be verbal, such as, “You’re stupid! You’re an idiot! You will never amount to anything in life!” Or, it could be emotional: “I never loved you! No one loves you! You are unlovable!” Or, it could be physical.

Any time a hand is laid on another person in anger, or unloving words are spoken, that is disrespectful and ultimately unacceptable in a healthy relationship.

7. Lack of Effective Communication

Neither person knows how to communicate effectively. This comes in many forms. It could be a total withdrawal, which results in a lack of communication. Or, it could be in the form of yelling, screaming, and name-calling (which is technically communication, but horribly ineffective).

8. Avoidance

Many times, we only think of toxic relationships as being argumentative, abusive, or intense on some other level. However, they can also be stagnant and avoidant. If one or both people withdraw from the relationship and don’t connect with the other person, that can turn toxic as well – especially if it goes on long-term.

9. Controlling Behavior

Perhaps one person doesn’t want the other one to go out with their friends, see their family, or do anything else without them present. Maybe they need to track their every move on an app so they know where they are. They could even control what they wear or what they eat. Any kind of controlling behavior such as this is a key ingredient for a toxic relationship.

10. Constant Criticism

One or both people are constantly criticizing anything and everything about the other person. It could be their looks, intelligence, motivation, job, weight, education – you name it. If criticism is flying around all the time, then you know you are in a toxic relationship.

11. Low Self-Esteem and Self-Worth

All of the above-mentioned characteristics of a toxic relationship inevitably lead to low self-esteem and self-worth. When you are constantly being criticized, controlled, disrespected, blamed, and sucked dry of your efforts, then anyone would end up feeling badly about themselves. Relationships should make you feel good about yourself, not bad.

Can a Toxic Relationship Turn Healthy?

Many people in a toxic relationship want to make it better. The most common reason for this is because they claim to love the other person. But think about it. Why do you love another person who does so much damage to you and your relationship?

Love should feel good, not bad. Therefore, while it is possible to turn a toxic relationship healthy, it is not easy, and, unfortunately, it’s not very common either. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

How to Fix a Toxic Relationship

Fixing a toxic relationship is very difficult, but here are a few things you can do to start down that path.

1. Cut off Contact for a While

Sometimes it’s best to just get out of the relationship for a while and take a break. Get some perspective and think about it for a while before you try to fix it.

2. Identify the Problems

You can’t change what you don’t recognize. Therefore, if you don’t know what the problems are, then you can’t fix it. Take some time to talk with your significant other about the problems facing the relationship. If they don’t want to participate, try writing down what you see as the problems and share them when they are ready.

3. Engage in Self-Reflection

Both people need to be mature enough to look deep in themselves and see what kind of positive changes they need to make. Without the desire or motivation to change, the relationship isn’t going to improve.

4. Seek Professional Help

Many times, people cannot do the inner work and self-reflection on their own. Therefore, getting professional help from a therapist can help each individual work on their problems while also helping the relationship improve through couple’s therapy.

5. Stop Blaming

In toxic relationships, people always place blame on the other person, but that will only continue the toxic cycles. Through the inner work and therapy, you need to take personal responsibility for your actions. Again, both people need to do this.

6. Use “I-Language”

“I-Language” is a language of responsibility. It explains to the other person how you feel without blaming them. It helps decrease defensiveness in the relationship. Instead of beginning a sentence with “You always…” try starting it with something like “I get upset when you…”.

7. Change Your Behavior

Once you both have identified what you need to change within yourself and in the relationship, then you need to make changes. Without the changes, you will go right back to where you were before. You can even use specific written goals and check in once a week to see how well you’re doing with the changes you plan to make as a couple.

8. Maintain the Changes in the Future

Many people are good at changing for a short amount of time, but after a while, they will go back to their old habits. In order to really change the relationship and make it healthy, the changes need to become permanent.

Bottom Line

Toxic relationships create emotional stress, which in turn affects all parts of your life – including your physical body. No one should be subjected to this kind of relationship.

If you find yourself in an unhealthy relationship, you have three choices:

  1. Stay in it and put up with the toxic environment. (NOT RECOMMENDED)
  2. Get out of the relationship and don’t have any contact with the person ever again. (This might be the only option for most people.)
  3. Take the steps to heal the relationship and take it from toxic to healthy.

The third option is not impossible, but it does take a lot of work. In the long run, hopefully you will both come out as better and happier human beings.

More Tips on How to Deal with Toxic Relationships

We often hear people talk about the importance of living in the present and the different ways it will benefit us. It all sounds wonderful, especially the lower levels of stress and anxiety, but how exactly can we live in the moment when our mind is constantly worrying about the past or plans for the future?

In this article, we’ll discuss some of the benefits of living in the moment you may not be aware of. Then, we’ll look at some of the obstacles and why we worry. Finally, and most importantly, I’ll show you how to live in the moment and stop worrying using some simple practices that you can easily incorporate into your busy schedule.

The result: a happier and more fulfilling life.

The Importance of Living in the Moment

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.” -Buddha

While it can be difficult to live in the moment, it has innumerable benefits.

Here are just a few that will enhance your life tremendously:

Better Health

By reducing stress and anxiety, you avoid many of the associated health consequences, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity. Studies have shown that being present can also improve psychological well-being.

Improve Your Relationships

Have you ever been with someone who is physically present, but mentally s/he’s a million miles away?

Being with unavailable people is a struggle, and building relationships with them extremely difficult.

How about being with someone who is fully present? We enjoy being with her/him because we can make a much deeper connection.

By living in the moment, you can be that person other people enjoy being with, and you make relationships much easier.

Greater Self-Control

You have greater control over your mind, body, and emotions. Imagine how much better your life would be if it weren’t at the mercy of a racing mind and unpredictable emotions. You would certainly be more at peace, and much happier.

Why Do We Worry?

Before we answer this question, it’s important to distinguish between worry and concern.

When we are concerned about something, we are more likely dealing with a real problem with realistic solutions. Then, once we do whatever we can to address the problem, we’re willing to live with the outcome.

Worrying, on the other hand, involves unrealistic thinking. We may worry about a problem that doesn’t really exist, or dwell on all the bad things that can happen as a result. Then, we feel unable to deal with the outcome. Either way, we have difficulty dealing with uncertainty, which is a normal part of life.

Certainly, some of our problems may not have desirable outcomes, such as a serious health issue. Some problems may be beyond our control, such as civil unrest or economic downturn. In such cases, it can be hard to avoid worrying, but not impossible.

3 Steps to Start to Live in the Moment

Step 1: Overcome Worrying

In order to overcome worrying, we need to do two things:

Calm Your Mind

When you calm your mind, you are able to see more clearly.

The reason some problems seem so daunting is that our mind is racing so fast that we cannot see things as they truly are. Then, we make up a bunch of possible scenarios in our mind, most of which are unlikely to come true.

In addition to seeing more clearly, a calm mind will help us think more realistically. Unrealistic thinking is fueled by confusion and uncontrolled emotions. Calming your mind will reduce confusion and calm your emotions, allowing you to live in the present.

Focus on Solutions Instead of Problems

Some people tend to be more solution-oriented, and others more problem-oriented. Some of the factors that may determine this are gender, upbringing, and education.

People with more education tend to be problem-solvers. That is what their years of education train them to do. In addition, their jobs probably reinforce this way of thinking.

If you’re not problem-solving oriented, don’t worry. You can train yourself to worry less. We’ll discuss that soon.

Step 2: Identify Obstacles to Living in the Moment

In today’s busy world, it can be a challenge to live in the moment. The reasons revolve around how our mind works, as well as outside influences.

Racing Mind

Many busy people have a racing mind that never seems to slow down. Their mind gets so agitated from too much sensory stimulation.

You see, anything that stimulates any of our five senses will trigger a thought, and that thought leads to another, and then another, and so on.

If you have a busy life, all your activities will overstimulate your mind and make it seemingly impossible to slow it down.

Unpleasant Situations and a Troublesome Past

None of us want to be in unpleasant situations, or remember those of the past. They can bring up painful emotions, which we don’t want to feel.

So how do most people cope with painful emotions?

By doing whatever we can to avoid them, we can take our mind to another place and time where things are more pleasant.

In other words, we avoid living in the present moment.

Some people resort to things that stimulate sensory pleasure, such as food, alcohol, or sex. Others will consume substances that dull their mind and keep them from thinking about unpleasant or stressful situations.

A Wandering Mind

From the moment we are born (likely sooner) until the time we die, our body and mind are active performing some function. Therefore, it’s natural for our mind to have some level of activity, whether conscious or unconscious.

Generally, a wandering mind is unproductive. One thought starts an endless chain of thoughts, and this process can go on until we need our mind to perform a specific function or get distracted with something else.

Now, there are times when a wandering mind can be productive, such as when creating works of art, or trying to find creative solutions to problems. In such cases, we need our mind to explore different possibilities.

Outside Influences

Most of us are not fully aware of how our environment and social norms influence our thinking and behavior. People and institutions are constantly competing for our attention. The media draws our attention to the past, and advertising usually to the future.

Many people around us who dwell on the past or future try to draw us to their way of thinking. Even the whole concept of the American dream is geared toward the future. It tells us that if we acquire things like a good career, family, and house, then we’ll be happy.

Step 3: Practice Mindfulness

So how can we live in the moment in a world that is constantly trying to draw our attention to the past and future?

Before we get into concrete actions you can take, it’s important to understand what mindfulness is. You’ve probably heard the term before, but may not fully understand what it means.

Understand Mindfulness

The concept of mindfulness is actually quite simple. To be mindful is to live in the moment.

When you are mindful, your attention is focused on what is happening in the present moment, and you are fully in touch with reality.

You are aware of what is happening in your body, mind, emotions, and the world around you. This is different than thinking about these things. To develop greater understanding, you don’t have to think about them so much, but rather just observe them.

This may be counterintuitive to many people, especially intellectuals, because they’re so used to using logic to develop greater understanding. With mindfulness, we calm our mind and emotions so we can see clearer. Then, much of our understanding will come from simple observation. When we develop mindfulness, we literally expand our awareness.

To develop mindfulness, we need to train ourselves to observe things more objectively, that is, without our emotions or preconceived ideas influencing our views.

If you’re ready to live a better life, read on for some simple mindfulness practices that you can incorporate into your daily routine to help you live in the moment.

You don’t have to do all of them, but rather choose the ones that appeal to you and suit your lifestyle.

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is the mainstay of developing mindfulness and living in the moment. To practice mindfulness meditation, all you really have to do is sit quietly and follow your breathing. When your mind wanders off, just bring it back to your breath.

Notice how your lungs expand with each in-breath and contract with each out-breath. Let your breathing become relaxed and natural.

You don’t have to do it perfectly. The idea is to start spending time away from the constant sensory stimulation of all your activities, and just allow it to settle down naturally. Start with about 5 to 10 minutes per day and work your way up to about 20 minutes or longer.

This practice is highly effective, and can have both short-term and long-term benefits.

If you want to learn more about mindfulness meditation, take a look at this article:

Mindful Breathing

While this may sound the same as mindfulness meditation, all you’re really doing is taking short breaks occasionally (10 to 15 seconds) to observe your breathing. Stop whatever you’re doing, and take a few mindful breaths, then resume your activity. That’s it.

You can do mindful breathing at any time of the day during your busy schedule. What it does is interrupt the acceleration of your mind. It is like taking your foot off the accelerator while driving. It’s a nice refreshing break you can take without anyone noticing.

Here’re some breathing exercises you can try to learn: 5 Breathing Exercises for Anxiety (Simple and Calm Anxiety Quickly)

Mindful Walking

Walking is an activity that you perform several times throughout the day. We often think we’re being productive by texting or calling someone while walking. But are we really?

Instead of getting on your cell phone or letting your mind wander off, why not use your walking to train yourself to live in the moment and focus on the task at hand?

Mindful walking is similar to mindful breathing, but instead of focusing on your breath, focus on your walking. Pay attention to each footstep. Also, notice the different motions of your arms, legs, and torso. When your mind wanders off, just bring your attention back to your walking.

You can even make a meditation out of walking. That is, go walking for a few minutes outside. Start by slowing down your pace. If you slow down your body, your mind will follow.

In addition to paying attention to your walking, notice the trees, sunshine, and critters. A mindful walk is enjoyable and can really help your mind settle down.

You can discover more benefits of walking in nature here.

Mindful Eating

Eating is an activity that most of us perform mindlessly. The reason is that it doesn’t require your attention to perform. Therefore, many of us try to multitask while we eat. We may talk on the phone, text, watch TV, or even hold a meeting.

The problem with not eating mindfully is that we don’t eat what our body and mind need to perform at an optimal level. We may eat unhealthy foods, or too much. This can lead to various health problems, especially as we get older.

Live in the present with mindful eating.

Mindful eating has many health benefits, such as reduced food cravings, better digestion, and even weight loss.

So how do you eat mindfully? Start by slowing down, and avoid the temptation to distract yourself with another activity. Here are 3 different aspects of eating where you can practice mindfulness:

  • Eating itself: Focus your attention on choosing a portion of food to insert into your mouth. Notice the smell, flavor, and texture as you chew it; then finally swallow it. As with following your breath during meditation, pay close attention to every aspect of eating.
  • Choice of foods: Although you’ve already chosen your food before you have begun eating, you can still take the opportunity to contemplate your choices. Think about the nutrients your body needs to sustain itself.
  • Contemplating the sources: Most of us don’t think about all the work it takes to provide us with the food we eat. While you’re eating, consider all the work by the farmer, shipping company, and the grocery store. These are real people who worked hard to provide you with the food necessary for your survival.

You can find more tips about mindful eating here: 7 Simple Steps to Mindful Eating

Mindful Activities

Choose an activity that you perform regularly, such as washing dishes. Focus all your attention on this activity, and resist the temptation to let your mind wander,. When it does, just bring your attention back to washing dishes.

Notice some of the specific movements or sensations of washing dishes, such as how the soapy water feels on your hands, the circular motion of scrubbing the dish, or the rinsing. You’d be surprised at how such a mundane activity can truly expand your awareness.

You can choose any activity you like, such as ironing, folding clothes, mowing the lawn, or showering. Over time, you will begin doing all these activities with greater mindfulness.

Final Thoughts

Practicing mindfulness is like regularly putting small amounts of change in a jar. They will all add up over time, and this will add up to greater peace and happiness, as well as get you closer to achieving your goals.

Remember, you don’t have to do the mindfulness practices perfectly to get the benefits. All you have to do is keep bringing your mind back to the present moment when it wanders off.

Practicing mindfulness may be a bit challenging in the beginning, but I can assure you it will get easier.

The benefits of living in the moment are well within your reach, no matter how much your mind is racing. If you stick with these mindfulness practices, you too will learn how to live in the moment and stop worrying. When you do, a whole new world will open up for you. This is what Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh calls the ultimate reality.

More About Living in the Present

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