No one chooses or deserves to be in a toxic relationship. However, if you find yourself in one, here’s what you should do ASAP.
Disconnect and take a step back. When I talk about disconnecting, I’m not necessarily talking about breaking up. I think it’s important to take some time to get centered and get a lay of the land before figuring out a way forward. You can’t do that if you’re in a toxic situation, so take that brave first step and create some space between the two of you. Don’t ask for it because that might escalate a situation—tell your partner you need a break and then take it.
Practice self-care. A lot of women who find themselves in toxic relationships later realize that they’ve neglected their mental and/or physical health in the process. Once you disconnect, take the time to make sure that you’re doing OK. Eat regularly and healthily. Practice a few hobbies. Toxic relationships change us in so many ways. Take this time to rediscover who you are and what makes you happy. Only then can you turn around and honestly deal with the complexity of your situation.
Write your feelings down. This doesn’t have to be in a notebook or on an app, you just need to find a way to get your thoughts and feelings out. Write about where you are and how you think you got there. If you can’t track the development of a problem then solving it is practically possible. Please remember to be open and gentle with yourself. This is all about figuring out how you got to a place you didn’t want to be, not blaming yourself.
Open up to close family and friends. There is a lot of shame and stigma that comes with being in a toxic relationship. More often than not, we close ourselves off to the very people who could help us get through it. Take a bold step and find at least one person that you trust. Just tell them that you have something to share and that you’re not ready to talk about it yet. Then, and this is the most crucial part, lean on them. Let them be there for you. It’s as simple as that.
Have an honest conversation with your partner. Give it some time, perhaps even a few weeks. Then, when you feel stronger and that your mind is clear, go back and have an honest conversation. Tell them that you believe the relationship is toxic. Listen to what they have to say and respect their views. Then ask for time to think about things and promise to get back to them. If this toxic relationship has gotten physical, then you should only have this conversation with a trusted friend or family member around and it should be the last one you ever have with them. Never put your safety in jeopardy.
Talk to an expert. Family and friends are great but they don’t always know how to help us get to the bottom of situations. An expert will help you see how some of your behaviors and patterns attract toxic partners. If you can’t afford a therapist then perhaps a counselor in a religious organization that you belong to or someone in an organization that deals with abuse may be able to help you for free. The point here is that you need to speak to someone who is outside of your situation who has experience with helping people get out of dangerous situations.
Forgive yourself. When we genuinely pull down our walls and open up, we often find that we had a role to play in the toxicity of our relationships, either by accepting or consenting to poor behavior or fanning the flames of a tense situation. You must forgive yourself. There are no two ways about it. Yes, you played a role in the toxicity of the relationship and that’s hard to accept, but the journey to healing starts with recognizing a few home truths. Take the time to acknowledge what you’ve done and forgive yourself. You deserve it.
Rediscover what healthy relationships look like. You can do this either through reading, reflecting on your happiest relationships, or talking with friends and family that are in healthy relationships. Sometimes we forget the things that make us happy. We tend to bury them under the lie that they are not realistic or practical. It’s important to remind ourselves that there is always better for us out there.
End the relationship. It’s hard to leave someone you love, but there are no two ways about it: toxic relationships only get more toxic. If the love is real, then break the relationship off, take some time apart, and you’ll find your way back to each other down the road. It’s not enough that you want to change, your partner has to be willing to do the work. The only way this happens is if you both take some time apart to truly rediscover who you both are and who you want to be to each other. Please do not stay in a toxic relationship. Those things have a way of escalating, and the last thing you want to do is look up in the next 10 to 50 years, and wonder where all the time went. Regret is a painful pill to swallow.
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