Have you found yourself asking “can a toxic relationship become healthy?” Leaving a toxic relationship may be easier said than done, so it’s understandable if you want to explore all of your options before making any big moves.
As an experienced Denver marriage counselor, breakup recovery coach, and therapist, I know one thing first hand: relationships take work. No one is perfect, so no relationship is perfect. No boss, friend, loved one, or partner is perfect.
So, how do you know when a relationship has reached beyond that tipping point, going from imperfect to toxic? How do you know when it is time to cut the cord on a toxic relationship? How do you answer the question: Can a toxic relationship be healed?
Walking away is hard. Change is hard and it is scary. There is a natural and healthy desire for things to work out and for everyone to be happy.
However, when you’ve found that a relationship is causing you misery and you’re wondering if the bad has started to outweigh the good you might begin to question, “should I burn this bridge?”
Here are a few questions to ask yourself if that time has come for you:
Am I in a Toxic Relationship?
To figure out whether your relationship is toxic, start out with curiosity, recognizing the patterns you are noticing in this relationship. Then, move into creating a full narrative from its beginning until now. In other words, what is the story of your relationship? Think about the relationship dynamic, the dance you and this person accompany each other in as a couple.
Go deeper: When you reflect back to the infancy of your relationship, do you notice red flags that you didn’t necessarily see at that time? How has the relationship evolved since – were there milestones or critical incidents that contributed to these changes? Can you see where negative energy crept in? Was it always there?
After spending some time here, zoom out again; what is the larger story your reflections create in your mind’s eye?
Once this step feels complete, you’ll want to ask yourself another big question:
What Can I Accept in My Relationship?
Instead of focusing on what you CAN’T control (which happens to be everything about the other person), focus on what you can accept.
Acceptance is not about trying to change someone or giving unsolicited advice. It is learning to avoid judging and fighting against a person or thing. It means that, even if you don’t like or agree with something, you let go emotionally.
Leaning into the idea of “it is what it is,” whether you like it or not, is an important step in the process of acceptance.
When working with my relationship clients, I like to ask them to think about (or even list on paper!) all the aspects of their relationship over which they have no control. This includes the other’s perspective, reactions, and feelings, to name just a few.
Be honest with yourself on this one. Can you let go of some of these?
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Cutting Cords to Toxic Relationships: What You Cannot Accept
After asking yourself “what can I truly live with?,” you may now know more about what you CANNOT abide by.
Even someone you love can be toxic and contribute to a relationship that is no longer healthy nor productive for either party.
Is it daily stress? Financial instability? Walking on eggshells? Compromising your values for the sake of the relationship?
These are just examples of the ‘pain points’ that will need to be addressed if you choose to continue your investment in this relationship. You’ll want to seriously think about these questions and determine exactly what lines you are not willing to have crossed when it comes to this relationship.
Let’s now look at how to go about addressing them:
Can a Toxic Relationship Become Healthy?
Up to now, our questions have focused on what is NOT in your control. So, let’s shift gears and look at what IS.
Your perceptions, feelings, behaviors…
Have you tried being appropriately vulnerable?
Have you gotten curious about, and tried to understand, the other person’s needs?
Have you looked for where both of your wants or needs can overlap and lead to compromise?
Have you asked for help or accessed resources and education? (Coaching is a great example of fulfilling this step!)
Think about all the steps that you (and possibly the other person in the relationship) have taken to create positive change. This will help you answer the ultimate question: Can a toxic relationship become healthy?
How to Fix a Toxic Relationship
Is there anything left? Really challenge yourself to think outside the box and brainstorm here.
Is there anything you can do, that’s in your control, that you haven’t yet tried?
This could look like many things:
- Information gathering
- Learning how to have a different emotional reaction in the relationship
- Classes or coaching
This step can be uplifting. Even if your hope for the future of the relationship is dwindling, it can feel empowering to focus on what’s in your control. Your options (no matter how sparse), and knowing what you can do to help yourself, give you back some of your power.
When we focus on what we can change (our own behaviors, tools, and resources), we feel more resilient and open up possibilities for the relationship to improve and grow. What do you really have to lose here?
Now, of these – what are you interested in, able, or willing to actually try out now? It’s okay if the answer is “none of them!”
Be honest with yourself, about how you feel, and if you aren’t motivated to work on the relationship…honor these feelings. They are valid. They must be heard in order to answer the question, “should I burn this bridge?”
How to Stop Being in a Toxic Relationship: Questions, Answered
Now, think realistically for a moment. Knowing the steps that you have both taken, or still could, compared with what you can and cannot accept, what is the likelihood of change? Is this relationship one that is worth your energy and work, or is it time to leave and focus on taking care of you?
What aspects of the relationship crucial to your wellbeing are actually changeable? Based on the evidence and past experience, to what degree is this change realistic? Now, how about your own ability and willingness to work toward this change?
For example, it’s possible for a person to become less argumentative, but they might still show that particular quality from time to time.
It’s also important here to view change with a “dimmer switch mindset.” Basically, know that change doesn’t flip like a light switch in a moment, but occurs as a slow, gradual process and this healing takes time. The relationship may be improving in small increments, not necessarily visible in the moment but easier to see over time.
Keep this realistic view of change in mind when you consider what you can accept if you stay in the relationship, along with your own ability to grow for the sake of its success. Don’t forget to make note of what the other person has really done to work on things and appreciate that.
Sometimes the devil you know feels safer than the big, scary unknown. This, and the knowledge that no relationship is perfect, can make it hard to know when it’s time to stop giving it your all and cut the cord from a toxic relationship. I hope these questions help pique your curiosity as you explore your own intuition and discover what is best for you on your journey to personal growth.
And, remember, it’s okay to take care of yourself!
Meet Kathleen: an experienced therapist and life coach with a gentle but powerful style. She can help you build your self-esteem, heal after living through hard things, and create strong, meaningful relationships in a non-judgmental, productive space where you will feel safe, comfortable, and understood.
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If you’re ready to grow, we’re here to help. Connect with us, and let us know your hopes and goals. We’ll follow up with recommendations, and will help you schedule a first, free consultation.