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Published on March 26, 2020

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

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.[1]

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

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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.

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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.

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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.[2]

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.

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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

Featured photo credit: Milan Popovic via unsplash.com

Reference

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Carol Morgan

Dr. Carol Morgan is the owner of HerSideHisSide.com, a communication professor, dating & relationship coach, TV personality, speaker, and author.

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Last Updated on October 22, 2020

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

What Makes People Poor Listeners?

Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

How To Be a Better Listener

For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

1. Pay Attention

A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

2. Use Positive Body Language

You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

According to Alan Gurney,[2]

“An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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Be polite and wait your turn!

4. Ask Questions

Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

5. Just Listen

This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

6. Remember and Follow Up

Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

  1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
  2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

8. Maintain Eye Contact

When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

Final Thoughts

Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
[2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
[3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
[4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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