How to Leave a Toxic Relationship With Dignity

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music Credits: The Gun Club, “She’s Like Heroin To Me”

Letting Go Of A Toxic Relationship

We’re approaching a new year, and as such, you may be thinking about changes you want to make in your life. If you’ve been stuck in a relationship with someone who is not treating you well and who is causing you hurt, anxiety, pain and frustration, now is a wonderful time to consider leaving your toxic relationship behind… and creating a new year full of healing, health and happiness for yourself.

Toxic Relationship Warning Signs

Letting go of a toxic relationship can be one of the hardest things for anyone to do. In my work as a breakup recovery coach, I have had the privilege of walking with many people through the experience of first recognizing that their relationship is toxic, then ending a hurtful relationship, and then healing after the “toxic relationship experience.” 

Toxic relationships take a toll on you, at every level. And every step of this journey is hard (necessary, meaningful, and empowering… but hard). I know, I’ve been there personally too.

Letting go of a toxic relationship often starts with people working to improve their relationships. At this stage they often believe that if only their partner could make changes, then they’d finally get the love, respect, and consideration they deserve. They come into life coaching or even drag their partner into couples therapy, hopeful that they can make improvements (and I will say that almost all the time when two people are both committed to a relationship and willing to make changes, relationships can be transformed).

However, if your relationship is truly toxic, it is unlikely to be healed in marriage counseling or couples therapy. Instead, you’ll continue to feel frustrated, hurt, angry… and then elated when it seems like your partner is finally hearing you and caring about your feelings… only to be crushed when they disappoint you again. 

[Read: “Are You Addicted To a Toxic Relationship?”]

But in many genuinely toxic relationships, the biggest “warning sign” of all is when your partner routinely shows a lack of interest or follow-through in changing anything about the relationship. Instead, when you bring up your feelings you get yelled at, blamed, rejected, or made to feel that the problems are all your fault.

Characteristics of a Toxic Relationship

Over time, a genuinely toxic relationship will destroy your self-esteem… and consume all of your time and attention.

In these situations of course, attempts at couples counseling often end badly. Most of the time, since their partners are unwilling to work on things with them, people in toxic relationships wind up entering empowering life coaching or effective therapy on their own.

Only over time (and often through deep personal growth work) do they then learn how to spot the characteristics of a toxic relationship, and come to terms with the fact that the only way to improve their situation is to take their power back and move on.

But until then, people in toxic relationships often struggle. They struggle with the mixed signals they get from their partner, because sometimes they are loving. They’re told that things will improve, and maybe they do for a little while. Many people believe that if THEY work harder at the relationship, are more loving, are more generous, and more patient that their partner will eventually change (because often, their partner is telling them in both overt and covert ways that the relationship problems are their fault).

Over time, a genuinely toxic relationship will destroy your self-esteem, interfere with your other relationships, make it hard to focus on positive areas of your life, and consume all of your time and attention. But through self-reflection, self-love, self-compassion, and sometimes excellent therapy or life coaching you can begin to see that you have become attached to a profoundly unhealthy partner who is never going to give you the love and respect you deserve.

Then you can work to create positive, empowering changes: Like insisting that you are treated well and setting firm, clear boundaries with anyone who doesn’t — especially the one who’s supposed to love you the most.

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Can a Toxic Relationship Be Healed?

Ending any relationship is hard, and even people who are addicted to profoundly toxic relationships can hold on hope that the relationship can improve, sometimes for years. Many people, understandably, need to know if their toxic relationships can be healed before ending them permanently.

In fact, I get many, many relationship questions on the Growing Self blog about this very subject. Of course, the writers of the questions are not labeling their relationships as toxic. They are instead describing extremely frustrating, hurtful, even crazy-making relationship experiences and then asking, what should I do? (Usually phrased as, “How do I get this person I love very much to stop treating me badly?”)

If a relationship is truly toxic, it is unlikely to change no matter how hard YOU work at it. Why? Because it lacks the fundamental building blocks of a healthy relationship: empathy, commitment, personal responsibility, and true love.

Your toxic relationship will finally be changed forever, when YOU decide that you’re not going to participate in it anymore. When you commit to yourself that you are worthy of love and respect, when you recognize your toxic relationship addiction for what it is, and when you learn how to cultivate the type of healing mindset that will set you free, you can end your toxic relationship for once and for all.

Letting Go of a Toxic Relationship

Because so many people have been reaching out for relationship advice on how to deal with these types of toxic relationship situations, I decided to devote an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast to this subject. On this episode we’re going to be talking all about toxic relationships, including:

  • How to identify toxic relationships. I’ll be sharing the top 5 signs that you’re in a toxic relationship. Listen and give yourself the mini, “toxic relationship quiz” to find out if your relationship is actually toxic, or just temporarily frustrating.
  • Why toxic relationships are so addictive. Instead of beating yourself up for remaining in a bad relationship, learn why you’re biologically predisposed to developing intense attachments to others and why toxic relationships are actually MORE addictive than healthy relationships.
  • The difference between healthy vs toxic relationships. Just because your relationship feels hard and frustrating does not mean it’s toxic and irredeemable. Learn the difference between toxic and healthy relationships, and get access to some relationship resources to help you determine whether you should keep working at this, or move on.
  • How to leave a toxic relationship with your dignity intact. Too many toxic relationships end with, ironically, the person who was caring, trying and hurting, getting broken up with. If you’re in a toxic relationship, don’t continue to dangle on this string, waiting and hoping it will get better until they end it. 

Take your power back, and decide for yourself to be done. If you’re realizing that it’s time for you to pick up your self respect and move on from a toxic relationship, we’ll talk about how. We’ll discuss how to cultivate  self-compassion, self-respect. and the ability to stop depending on an unreliable, hurtful person to love you, and instead, learn how to love yourself.

You might be listening to this podcast at the cusp of a new year (or other major life change) and ready to leave this relationship for good. You might be just starting to explore whether or not the relationship you’re in is salvageable. You might be realizing that your relationship is toxic, but still in love and not sure how to end things. You may be caught in a toxic relationship cycle of breaking up and getting back together again. Or, you might be sitting in the pain, anger and heartbreak of just having been hurt again for the dozenth time, and looking for answers.

This podcast is for YOU.

All the best,
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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How to Leave a Toxic Relationship With Dignity

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music Credits: The Gun Club, “She’s Like Heroin To Me”

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28 Comments

  1. Hi Dr Lisa

    In this article/blog (https://www.growingself.com/how-to-leave-a-toxic-relationship-with-dignity/) you go very deep into a love relationship, but what about a work/client relationship? I feel that this is mostly neglected and leads to people not recognizing it as such…

    I am in a toxic client relationship and want to leave but second guessing myself at the though of leaving someone who “needs me”

    Was on an amazing path until I met this woman….HELP

  2. Now, this is something amazing. Thank you!
    Sometimes, we can be in a relationship for so long we stop seeing how unhealthy it really is until someone points it out.
    And even then, we try to make excuses. we try to ignore it. We try to pretend it’s all okay. But deep down we find ourselves struggling with that sinking feeling: How did I end up here? and that’s the signal which tells us we need to get out of this.

  3. Hi Dr. Bobbi,
    Thank you for this great podcast on leaving a toxic relationship. I appreciate how you share your knowledge and experience so freely and I learned a lot from listening to this show in particular.
    I wonder if you have advice for people who are the “toxic” part of such relationships, in that they are “scared of being close” or use other distancing tactics and are not able to give love or meet their partner’s needs?
    As I reflect on my past relationships I see myself in both ends of this relationship dynamic but more recently I have been the one to need space and not want to get close but then say I want to be close when my partner tries to leave. It’s been painful for me and I recently ended a relationship in which there was much back and forth and my partner was very clear that he wanted and needed more of my time and attention. I felt pressured and scared and wasn’t able to see clearly if he was in fact pressuring me or if he was healthily asserting his needs.
    I really want to be able to have a healthy relationship but I seem to run and hide so often when getting close and I am at a loss for how to change. I’ve been in therapy for years and have not made much progress on this issue, though have worked through other issues.
    Any suggestions for those who are doing the running or hurting or avoiding regarding how we can heal and grow and be better partners? Thank you so much for any thoughts you might have.

    Sincerely,
    Megan

    1. Meagan, thank you for your kind words. I’m glad the podcast is helpful to you. This is a fantastic question. It’s reminding me a little of one I answered in this podcast: Mindful Self Compassion

      However, unlike that question (how to forgive yourself for doing bad things) you’re asking how to change the way you do relationships. I would like to say that it’s fantastic you have this self awareness and insight. The fact that you can “own” this is a sign that amazing growth and change is possible for you Meagan.

      Two things: 1) I would like to answer this question fully on an upcoming episode of the podcast. Stay tuned for that. But 2) even though I have some thoughts and ideas for how to get going with this, the punchline is going to be that real and lasting change will involve your getting involved in some serious growth work. What you’re describing is a way of relating to other people in relationships that was likely instilled in you from a very, very early age. You’ll likely need to go back and take a look at your early influences, experiences, and messages, and — with great intention — rewrite the old scripts and emotional responses that make you pull away.

      Resources for you: Attachment Styles, Communicating With a Withdrawn Partner, are a couple of articles / shows you might check out. My colleague Kathleen Stutts does a fantastic Relationship Skills group where she helps people shift exactly these sorts of things. Also I cannot imagine anyone creating real change in this area without the support of a great counselor. Are you in effective therapy currently? If not, here’s a link to schedule a free consultation with someone on our team who can help you unwind this. Before you know it you’ll be thinking, feeling, and behaving differently.

      The first step in creating any change is self awareness Meagan. You have that, as well as the motivation for change. I hope you let us help you the rest of the way.

      Yours sincerely,
      Lisa Marie Bobby

  4. I needed this podcast today, thank you! I just ended a short-term toxic relationship with someone who was really sweet to me when we were physically together but who also declined to commit because of issues of his own he allegedly needed to work on, declined to have deep conversations with me, and declined to engage when I tried to discuss the ways his hot and cold behavior were crazy-making for me. I appreciated your point about feeling like if only you were better, things would be different. I think my sense of self-worth is solid but admit I was still thinking “he just doesn’t like me *enough* or he’d get it together and fix his issues”. I’m sad that this didn’t work out but happy it ended after only a few months, and it spotlights an area where I need to do work because I rarely form attachments in healthy dating situations but fell for this guy fast.

  5. Dr. Bobbi,

    How do I get over thinking of my ex being intimate with someone else. Although the thoughts don’t cause me intense pain. They are bothersome. It bothers me that we stopped being intimate with each other a while before the relationship ended. It bothers me that she didn’t Try to fix it and it bothers me she came back after the guy blocked her and dump her to vent to me. After finding out I knew the guy I can’t help but to ruminate over it even though I feel healed. I believe the last part of my healing is letting go of this thought.

    1. Adam, I completely agree with you: Ultimately, in order to heal and move on it will be important for you to develop cognitive behavioral skills including thought-stopping. However, in my experience as a breakup coach, it’s extremely difficult to move into this cognitive space before you’ve gone through the stages of healing.

      While it’s very tempting (and common) to want to skip over the messy hard parts of healing from a breakup, it’s impossible to get into a space of authentic peace until you do.

      If you haven’t already, one place to start this work is by listening to “The Stages of a Breakup” podcast I created for you. You might also read, “Are You Addicted to a Toxic Relationship” because it sounds like this was really not a healthy relationship for you at all. (Which paradoxically, can make it MORE difficult to let go of).

      Those podcasts will give you some basic information about what’s going on and the work ahead. But, Adam: Nothing will change for you until you DO that work. Deliberately and with intention. Getting over a breakup is not an event, it is a process.

      If you’d like to do the work of healing and recovery here at Growing Self, we offer private breakup recovery coaching services, an online breakup support group, as well as an online breakup recovery program.

      If you’d like to work one on one with a breakup recovery coach the first step in getting started is to schedule an online coaching consultation to discuss your hopes and goals and see if it’s a good fit. Check out the breakup support group if you’d like to meet weekly with a breakup recovery coach and a small group of people who know exactly how you feel in order to get support and guidance.

      Some people like to do the online breakup recovery program (which is a series of classes) in conjunction with private therapy or coaching and the breakup support group, in order to move as quickly as possible.

      I hope you take advantage of these resources, and I wish you the best of luck on your journey of growth!

      Wishing you all the best,
      Lisa Marie Bobby

  6. Hi Dr.Bobby,

    This article is incredibly well written. It sums up all the problems I’m going through, something toxic, into just a paragraph. I have been in denial for a long time. This article was the most helpful in making me realize I was in an awful situation and how to get out of it logically. I know it’s a scary situation, but I want to give another chance to myself. So I’m going in for a relationship counseling suggested by my parents.

  7. I would love to hear your advice on how to be a good and supportive friend to someone who is in an on again off again toxic relationship. A very close friend of mine has an on again off again relationship (3 years) with an emotionally and physically abusive man with a history of drug addiction. She knows he is not good for her and has broken up with him a number of times. But she always tries to get back together with him. Can’t seem to get over him. Some days she loves him, some days she hates him, she always misses him, and says she has a primal connection with him. She frequently feels she is at fault in the relationship (she deserved xyz, if she just did xyz…). She has an extremely traumatic history and grew up in an abusive household, etc. She has hidden her contact with him from me and has admitted to lying about seeing him on couple of occasions as well. She is not currently seeing a therapist, but has in the past (she stopped going when she felt she was no longer making progress). We have talked about him and her relationship with him extensively and she knows my opinion well. I have encouraged more therapy and that she cut off all ties with him (she agrees, but eventually contacts him again). Basically I don’t know what to do or say as a friend anymore. I don’t know if I should ask about it/him. I don’t know how to respond if she tells me she saw him or spoke to him or tried to get in touch with him. I don’t know what kind of reaction she wants from me when she brings him up. Sometimes their continued contact gives me anxiety because he is abusive and I have seen the kind of mental tailspin he can send her into. I do try to emotionally separate myself from her to avoid that, but it can be a challenge because I care about her very much. So… do you have any advice on being a friend in such situations?

    I love your podcast and all of the great and informative advice you give and the way you are able to make it understandable and relatable so thank you!

    1. Marie, thank you, and thanks for reaching out with this question. You’re right, it’s so hard when we see people we love struggling. (Particularly when we can see clearly that they’re engaged in self-destructive behavior.) It sounds like your friend is addicted to a toxic relationship. You can certainly continue to put resources in front of her. Here are some that you might consider sharing (in addition to the “How to Leave a Toxic Relationship With Dignity” episode on this page:

      Are You Addicted to a Toxic Relationship

      Leaving a Toxic Relationship

      But for YOU: it’s also important to remind yourself that this is her path, her life, and that the only time she’ll make changes is when she is motivated to do so. You job isn’t to make her change or “fix her” or put more energy into improving her life than she is. YOU might consider checking out these resources:

      – What To Do When Your Partner Has a Problem

      – How to Get Someone Else to Change

      – How to Stop Being Codependent

      Those resources might help you to take a step back from this emotionally. But if I were your therapist or your life coach, I’d also be asking you this question: Are you getting your needs for friendship and support met in your relationship with this person? Or is your friend so caught up in a toxic relationship that she is not able to be a good friend for you? Can you talk to her about what’s going on in your life? Is she able to be present with you? Have fun with you? Share in your highs and lows? Or have you moved into a quasi-therapist / care-taker role with her that is entirely focused on her personal problems?

      If it’s the latter, my suggestion for YOU would be to figure out how to re-focus on your own needs and your own life, and trust in the recovery process. No one ever changes unless they are personally motivated to do so. The last thing that this woman needs in her life is another person telling her what to do. She has (apparently) not hit her “bottom” yet and until she does she’s going to keep mangling herself in this relationship. It’s sad to watch, but she also has the right to her own autonomy.

      I think it’s totally okay to flow resources to a person that help them understand their situation differently, and understand that they have options when the time is right, but you can also expect them to be rejected if she’s not ready to engage with them. That’s okay. I will hold the faith for you that when your friend decides, for herself, that she needs to make a change she will.

      You might also consider that if you are being her free-day-and-night-on-the-spot-whenever-she-needs-to-talk “therapist” it will be less likely that she’ll pursue actual therapy with a professional. So no, stop asking her about this relationship and if she wants to tell you about it, I’d politely redirect her to talk about this issue with someone who can actually help her.

      In the meantime, if you are ever literally afraid for her life, call the police. Otherwise, stay in your lane and restore balance in this relationship by letting her be YOUR friend again.

      My two cents…

      Dr. Lisa

  8. Hi Dr Lisa

    In this article/blog (https://www.growingself.com/how-to-leave-a-toxic-relationship-with-dignity/) you go very deep into a love relationship, but what about a work/client relationship? I feel that this is mostly neglected and leads to people not recognizing it as such…

    I am in a toxic client relationship and want to leave but second guessing myself at the though of leaving someone who “needs me”

    Was on an amazing path until I met this woman….HELP

  9. Great question! You might find some answers in the podcast I recently did with my colleague, career coach Maggie Graham on Toxic Workplaces. Check it out! I hope it gives you some clarity as to your next steps. All the best, LMB

  10. Now, this is something amazing. Thank you!
    Sometimes, we can be in a relationship for so long we stop seeing how unhealthy it really is until someone points it out.
    And even then, we try to make excuses. we try to ignore it. We try to pretend it’s all okay. But deep down we find ourselves struggling with that sinking feeling: How did I end up here? and that’s the signal which tells us we need to get out of this.

  11. Hi Dr. Bobbi,
    Thank you for this great podcast on leaving a toxic relationship. I appreciate how you share your knowledge and experience so freely and I learned a lot from listening to this show in particular.
    I wonder if you have advice for people who are the “toxic” part of such relationships, in that they are “scared of being close” or use other distancing tactics and are not able to give love or meet their partner’s needs?
    As I reflect on my past relationships I see myself in both ends of this relationship dynamic but more recently I have been the one to need space and not want to get close but then say I want to be close when my partner tries to leave. It’s been painful for me and I recently ended a relationship in which there was much back and forth and my partner was very clear that he wanted and needed more of my time and attention. I felt pressured and scared and wasn’t able to see clearly if he was in fact pressuring me or if he was healthily asserting his needs.
    I really want to be able to have a healthy relationship but I seem to run and hide so often when getting close and I am at a loss for how to change. I’ve been in therapy for years and have not made much progress on this issue, though have worked through other issues.
    Any suggestions for those who are doing the running or hurting or avoiding regarding how we can heal and grow and be better partners? Thank you so much for any thoughts you might have.

    Sincerely,
    Megan

  12. I needed this podcast today, thank you! I just ended a short-term toxic relationship with someone who was really sweet to me when we were physically together but who also declined to commit because of issues of his own he allegedly needed to work on, declined to have deep conversations with me, and declined to engage when I tried to discuss the ways his hot and cold behavior were crazy-making for me. I appreciated your point about feeling like if only you were better, things would be different. I think my sense of self-worth is solid but admit I was still thinking “he just doesn’t like me *enough* or he’d get it together and fix his issues”. I’m sad that this didn’t work out but happy it ended after only a few months, and it spotlights an area where I need to do work because I rarely form attachments in healthy dating situations but fell for this guy fast.

  13. Meagan, thank you for your kind words. I’m glad the podcast is helpful to you. This is a fantastic question. It’s reminding me a little of one I answered in this podcast: Mindful Self Compassion

    However, unlike that question (how to forgive yourself for doing bad things) you’re asking how to change the way you do relationships. I would like to say that it’s fantastic you have this self awareness and insight. The fact that you can “own” this is a sign that amazing growth and change is possible for you Meagan.

    Two things: 1) I would like to answer this question fully on an upcoming episode of the podcast. Stay tuned for that. But 2) even though I have some thoughts and ideas for how to get going with this, the punchline is going to be that real and lasting change will involve your getting involved in some serious growth work. What you’re describing is a way of relating to other people in relationships that was likely instilled in you from a very, very early age. You’ll likely need to go back and take a look at your early influences, experiences, and messages, and — with great intention — rewrite the old scripts and emotional responses that make you pull away.

    Resources for you: Attachment Styles, Communicating With a Withdrawn Partner, are a couple of articles / shows you might check out. My colleague Kathleen Stutts does a fantastic Relationship Skills group where she helps people shift exactly these sorts of things. Also I cannot imagine anyone creating real change in this area without the support of a great counselor. Are you in effective therapy currently? If not, here’s a link to schedule a free consultation with someone on our team who can help you unwind this. Before you know it you’ll be thinking, feeling, and behaving differently.

    The first step in creating any change is self awareness Meagan. You have that, as well as the motivation for change. I hope you let us help you the rest of the way.

    Yours sincerely,
    Lisa Marie Bobby

  14. I’m so glad this was helpful to you Kim. Thank you for sharing, for listening, and for being part of our community.

  15. Dr. Bobbi,

    How do I get over thinking of my ex being intimate with someone else. Although the thoughts don’t cause me intense pain. They are bothersome. It bothers me that we stopped being intimate with each other a while before the relationship ended. It bothers me that she didn’t Try to fix it and it bothers me she came back after the guy blocked her and dump her to vent to me. After finding out I knew the guy I can’t help but to ruminate over it even though I feel healed. I believe the last part of my healing is letting go of this thought.

  16. Hi Dr.Bobby,

    This article is incredibly well written. It sums up all the problems I’m going through, something toxic, into just a paragraph. I have been in denial for a long time. This article was the most helpful in making me realize I was in an awful situation and how to get out of it logically. I know it’s a scary situation, but I want to give another chance to myself. So I’m going in for a relationship counseling suggested by my parents.

  17. Adam, I completely agree with you: Ultimately, in order to heal and move on it will be important for you to develop cognitive behavioral skills including thought-stopping. However, in my experience as a breakup coach, it’s extremely difficult to move into this cognitive space before you’ve gone through the stages of healing.

    While it’s very tempting (and common) to want to skip over the messy hard parts of healing from a breakup, it’s impossible to get into a space of authentic peace until you do.

    If you haven’t already, one place to start this work is by listening to “The Stages of a Breakup” podcast I created for you. You might also read, “Are You Addicted to a Toxic Relationship” because it sounds like this was really not a healthy relationship for you at all. (Which paradoxically, can make it MORE difficult to let go of).

    Those podcasts will give you some basic information about what’s going on and the work ahead. But, Adam: Nothing will change for you until you DO that work. Deliberately and with intention. Getting over a breakup is not an event, it is a process.

    If you’d like to do the work of healing and recovery here at Growing Self, we offer private breakup recovery coaching services, an online breakup support group, as well as an online breakup recovery program.

    If you’d like to work one on one with a breakup recovery coach the first step in getting started is to schedule an online coaching consultation to discuss your hopes and goals and see if it’s a good fit. Check out the breakup support group if you’d like to meet weekly with a breakup recovery coach and a small group of people who know exactly how you feel in order to get support and guidance.

    Some people like to do the online breakup recovery program (which is a series of classes) in conjunction with private therapy or coaching and the breakup support group, in order to move as quickly as possible.

    I hope you take advantage of these resources, and I wish you the best of luck on your journey of growth!

    Wishing you all the best,
    Lisa Marie Bobby

  18. I would love to hear your advice on how to be a good and supportive friend to someone who is in an on again off again toxic relationship. A very close friend of mine has an on again off again relationship (3 years) with an emotionally and physically abusive man with a history of drug addiction. She knows he is not good for her and has broken up with him a number of times. But she always tries to get back together with him. Can’t seem to get over him. Some days she loves him, some days she hates him, she always misses him, and says she has a primal connection with him. She frequently feels she is at fault in the relationship (she deserved xyz, if she just did xyz…). She has an extremely traumatic history and grew up in an abusive household, etc. She has hidden her contact with him from me and has admitted to lying about seeing him on couple of occasions as well. She is not currently seeing a therapist, but has in the past (she stopped going when she felt she was no longer making progress). We have talked about him and her relationship with him extensively and she knows my opinion well. I have encouraged more therapy and that she cut off all ties with him (she agrees, but eventually contacts him again). Basically I don’t know what to do or say as a friend anymore. I don’t know if I should ask about it/him. I don’t know how to respond if she tells me she saw him or spoke to him or tried to get in touch with him. I don’t know what kind of reaction she wants from me when she brings him up. Sometimes their continued contact gives me anxiety because he is abusive and I have seen the kind of mental tailspin he can send her into. I do try to emotionally separate myself from her to avoid that, but it can be a challenge because I care about her very much. So… do you have any advice on being a friend in such situations?

    I love your podcast and all of the great and informative advice you give and the way you are able to make it understandable and relatable so thank you!

  19. Marie, thank you, and thanks for reaching out with this question. You’re right, it’s so hard when we see people we love struggling. (Particularly when we can see clearly that they’re engaged in self-destructive behavior.) It sounds like your friend is addicted to a toxic relationship. You can certainly continue to put resources in front of her. Here are some that you might consider sharing (in addition to the “How to Leave a Toxic Relationship With Dignity” episode on this page:

    Are You Addicted to a Toxic Relationship

    Leaving a Toxic Relationship

    But for YOU: it’s also important to remind yourself that this is her path, her life, and that the only time she’ll make changes is when she is motivated to do so. You job isn’t to make her change or “fix her” or put more energy into improving her life than she is. YOU might consider checking out these resources:

    – What To Do When Your Partner Has a Problem

    – How to Get Someone Else to Change

    – How to Stop Being Codependent

    Those resources might help you to take a step back from this emotionally. But if I were your therapist or your life coach, I’d also be asking you this question: Are you getting your needs for friendship and support met in your relationship with this person? Or is your friend so caught up in a toxic relationship that she is not able to be a good friend for you? Can you talk to her about what’s going on in your life? Is she able to be present with you? Have fun with you? Share in your highs and lows? Or have you moved into a quasi-therapist / care-taker role with her that is entirely focused on her personal problems?

    If it’s the latter, my suggestion for YOU would be to figure out how to re-focus on your own needs and your own life, and trust in the recovery process. No one ever changes unless they are personally motivated to do so. The last thing that this woman needs in her life is another person telling her what to do. She has (apparently) not hit her “bottom” yet and until she does she’s going to keep mangling herself in this relationship. It’s sad to watch, but she also has the right to her own autonomy.

    I think it’s totally okay to flow resources to a person that help them understand their situation differently, and understand that they have options when the time is right, but you can also expect them to be rejected if she’s not ready to engage with them. That’s okay. I will hold the faith for you that when your friend decides, for herself, that she needs to make a change she will.

    You might also consider that if you are being her free-day-and-night-on-the-spot-whenever-she-needs-to-talk “therapist” it will be less likely that she’ll pursue actual therapy with a professional. So no, stop asking her about this relationship and if she wants to tell you about it, I’d politely redirect her to talk about this issue with someone who can actually help her.

    In the meantime, if you are ever literally afraid for her life, call the police. Otherwise, stay in your lane and restore balance in this relationship by letting her be YOUR friend again.

    My two cents…

    Dr. Lisa

  20. Hi Dr. Lisa,
    What an incredible podcast! When listening to your podcast around toxic relationships, I wanna start by saying I have not been perfect in the relationship that I am currently in. However I feel I would act out and not be respectful, caring or kind when my partner constantly dismisses or does not listen to how I am feeling. My partner has several activities, hobbies & friends that takes up a lot of his time and his family is his main priority. He chooses to making decisions around his hobbies and family over me. I’m really struggling with wanting this to continue to do relationship with someone that says I am important yet through his actions his hobbies, family and friends take precedence over everything else & I feel like I am on the back burner having to wait for him to be present. Recently, we had a trip planned to Disneyland and was going to stay the night the day before. He chose the day we were going to play golf, his hobby, attend his grandma‘s tea party that was specific to her friends, and was not able to plan a time for us to go as those things were more important. I decided to not go to Disneyland as I felt like I wasn’t important, my time wasn’t important to him and neither was my feelings. He blames me for not going and it shouldn’t have went down like that. I requested to see a couples therapist he scheduled an appointment and then canceled. I’m curious what your thoughts are around being with someone that I’m constantly push aside, dismissed and make last on the list of priorities. It’s very painful.

  21. Hi Tiffany, I’m so sorry you’re feeling this way – of course it does sound very painful! And kudos to you for having accountability around how your expressing your feelings. It’s hard to know what’s really happening here, based on a brief comment, and a couples counselor or individual therapist could give your question the attention it deserves – and help you find answers. One thing to consider: creating a set of boundaries or expectations around quality time together, one on which you both agree, to take some of the guessing out of it. I also wonder if you’ve felt this way before, outside of this relationship. It seems like a good opportunity to explore more deeply what being a priority means to you, and how things would look differently if you felt important. Best to you, Dr. Lisa

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