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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

More by this author

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 August 12, 2020

When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

Learning how to trust your gut, otherwise known as your intuition, can keep you safe. Your gut can guide you and help you build your confidence and resilience. My own gut instinct has saved me on more than one occasion. It has also guided me into making sound career choices and other exciting, big decisions. I’m also aware of the times when I’ve gone against my instincts and really regretted it later, wondering why I didn’t tune in to that valuable internal voice that we all have within us.

In this article, we’re going to explore why and how you should listen to your gut, as well as some concrete tips on how to make sure you’re making the most out of your gut instincts.

How to Listen to Your Gut

The key when making any big decision is to always take a minute to listen well to yourself and your inner compass. If you hear your actual voice saying yes while inside you’re silently screaming no, my advice is to ask for some time to think, or simply take a breath and pause before the yes or no escapes your mouth.

Use that moment to breathe, check in with yourself, and give the answer that feels congruent with who you are and what you want, not the one that always involves following the herd. Trusting your gut means having the courage to not simply go with the majority. It can be about holding your own. Here’s how to hone that skill for yourself and reap the rewards.

1. Tune Into Your Body

Your body gives you clues when you’re faced with a big decision. There are many visible and obvious symptoms that we feel in uncomfortable situations. Our body’s reaction is often something that we might try to hide, for example, blushing, being lost for words, or shaking. There are things we might do to try and hide that physical reaction, whether it’s wearing makeup, having a glass of wine or coffee to perk us up a bit, or learning to control our nerves.

However, paying attention to your body when you experience these feelings of anxiety can teach you so much and help you to make sound choices. Some people will experience an actual “gut” feeling of stomach ache or indigestion in an uncomfortable situation.

Ask yourself what’s really going on here, and explore what is happening behind your body’s response to the situation. What can your reaction or instinct teach you? Understanding that can be a clue and can help you either learn something about yourself, the situation, or other people. The answers are often within us.

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Sometimes we’ll get this “something’s not right here” feeling and cannot quite put our finger on it or explain it. That can still be incredibly useful and really guide us away from danger, even if we don’t know the reason.

In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell also argues this, making the point that sometimes our subconscious is better at processing the answer we need, and that we don’t necessarily need to take time to collect hours and hours of information to come to a reliable conclusion[1].

2. Ensure Your Head Is Clear Before Making a Decision

Energy, sleep, and good nutrition are so vital to nourishing our minds, as well as our bodies. There are times when your instinct could lead you astray, and one of these is when you are hungry, “hangry” (angry because you’re hungry!), tired, or anxious. If this is the case–and it may sound obvious–do consider sleeping or eating on it before making an important choice.

There is, in fact, a connection between our gut and our brain[2], which is where terms like “butterflies in the stomach” and “gut-wrenching” originate from. Stress and emotions can cause physical feelings, and ignoring them might do more harm than good.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Say What You Think and Feel

Listening to your gut and really paying attention to it might involve standing up and being counted, calling something out, or taking a stand. As someone who works for myself, I’ve become used to following the less-travelled road, and that’s given me the chance to strike out on my own in other ways, too.

As they tell you in the planes, “put your own oxygen mask on first,” and part of that self-reliance is knowing what you really want and like and what is safe and good for you, including what resonates with your personal and business values. Making good decisions with this in mind means making choices that do not go against your own beliefs, even when it may mean taking a stand. This is part of trusting yourself and trusting your instincts.

This does not always mean taking the “safe” option, although keeping ourselves safe is an important part of the process. This is how we learn and grow, by following our own inner compass. When you do take risks, go outside of your comfort zone, or choose the less popular option, spending some time researching the facts can stand us in good stead, too.

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4. Do Your Research If Something Feels Off

As well as listening to our instincts, we can also back up the evidence for our chosen course of action before taking the leap. I had a gut feeling about the need for a learning and development network when I noticed my clients getting stuck with the same problems. I set up and now run such a network, but instead of simply going for it, without evidence, I followed up on my instinct with research.

Having confidence in your gut instinct through these kinds of tests can help to minimize your risks, as well as spur you on. It will encourage you to trust your gut again in the future and trust that you are an expert with foresight and experience. You are!

5. Challenge Your Assumptions

When you look at the assumptions your making, this could be the clue to mistakes you are making.

In order to check that our instincts are wise, we need to ask ourselves what blanks we might be filling in, either consciously or unconsciously. This is true not just when it comes to our own decision-making. It’s also true when we are listening to someone explain a problem or situation, and we’re about to jump in and give some advice. If we can learn to be aware of our own assumptions, we can become better listeners and better decision makers, too.

A useful tool to become more aware of your assumptions before making a final decision is simply to ask yourself, “What assumptions am I making about this situation or person?”

6. Educate Yourself on Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias is something we all have, and it can trip us up big time!

There is a vital caveat to bear in mind when wondering about whether you can trust your gut and the feelings your body gives you, and that’s having an awareness of your unconscious bias. Understanding your own bias–which is hard to do because it literally does happen in our subconscious–can help you to make stronger, better, decisions instead of re-confirming your view of the world over and over again.

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Bias exists, and it’s part of the human condition. All of us have it, and it colors our decisions and can impact on our performance without us realizing.

Unconscious bias happens at a subconscious level in our brains. Our subconscious brain processes information so much faster than our conscious brain. Quick decisions we make in our subconscious are based on both our societal conditioning and how our families raised us.

Our brains process hundreds of thousands of pieces of information daily. We unconsciously categorize and format that information into patterns that feel familiar to us. Aspects such as gender, disability, class, sexuality, body shape and size, ethnicity, and what someone does for a job can all quickly influence decisions we make about people and the relationships we choose to form. Our unconscious bias can be very subtle and go unnoticed..

We naturally tend to gravitate towards people similar to ourselves, favoring people who we see as belonging to the same “group” as us. Being able to make a quick decision about whether someone is part of your group and distinguish friend from foe was what helped early humans to survive. Conversely, we don’t automatically favor people who we don’t immediately relate to or easily connect with.

The downside of that human instinct to seek out similar people is the potential for prejudice, which seems to be hard-wired into human cognition, no matter how open-minded we believe ourselves to be. And these stereotypes we create can be wrong. If we only spend our time with and employ people similar to ourselves, it can create prejudices, as well as stifle fresh thinking and innovation.

We may feel more natural or comfortable working with other people who share our own background and/or opinions than collaborating with people who don’t look, talk, or think like us. However, diversity is not just morally right; having a mix of different people and perspectives that can be genuinely heard is also a valuable way to counter groupthink. Diversity stretches us to think more critically and creatively.

7. Trust Yourself

It is possible to learn how to truly trust yourself[3]. Like any talent or skill, practicing trusting your gut is the best way to get really good at it. When people talk about having great intuition or being good decision-makers, it’s because they’ve worked at honing those skills, made mistakes, learned from them, and tried again.

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Looking back at decisions you’ve made, what you did, what the outcome was, and what you’ve learned can help you become a stronger decision maker and develop solid self-trust and resilience. Making a mistake does not mean you are not great at decision-making; it’s a chance to grow and learn, and the only mistake is to ignore the lesson in that experience.

If you are in the habit of asking others for their input, then the trick here is to choose your inner circle wisely. Having a sounding board of people who have your best interests at heart is a valuable asset, and, combined with your own excellent instincts, can make you a champion decision maker.

The Bottom Line

The above tips are all actionable and easy to start immediately. It’s simply about switching your thinking around, slowing down, and taking great care of this amazing machine that is your body and mind!

Learning how to trust your gut is one of the most fundamental ways to make decisions that will help you lead the life you want and need. Tune into what your body is telling you and start making good decisions today.

More Tips on How to Trust Your Gut

Featured photo credit: Acy Varlan via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Science of People: Learn to Trust Your Gut Instincts: The Science Behind Thin-slicing
[2] Harvard Health Publishing: The gut-brain connection
[3] Psych Central: 3 Ways to Develop Self-Trust

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