11 ways to deal with a toxic relationship (and how to know when you should walk away)

by Isabel Cabrera | December 29, 2023, 1:27 am

We all want to be cherished in our relationships. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way.

Sometimes we find ourselves stuck in a cycle of toxicity instead. We pour our heart and soul into someone, and what do we get in return?

Drama. Stress. Constant conflict.

It’s tough, I get it.

If you’re feeling this way, know that you’re not alone. Many of us endure toxic relationships, feeling unappreciated and disrespected.

But remember, it might not always be as dire as it seems. Sometimes, we just need the right tools to deal with it.

Today, we’ll delve into ten ways to deal with a toxic relationship and how to recognize when it’s time to walk away.

As you read this, bear in mind that my intention isn’t to convince you to stay in a toxic relationship. If that’s how you feel, maybe it really is time for a change.

I’m simply laying out some strategies that many overlook. Let’s dive in!

1) Recognize the signs

Before you can even think about tackling the issues, it’s essential to know the signs that you’re in a toxic relationship.

If you’re constantly feeling stressed, unhappy or undermined, take a pause. Reflect on your feelings and try to identify any patterns.

This was a game-changer for me. Once you can put a name to the problems, it’s easier to address them.

So, let’s break it down:

  • Constant criticism
  • Control issues
  • Emotional or physical abuse (any form of abuse is a non-negotiable sign that you should exit immediately)
  • Stonewalling
  • Gaslighting
  • Isolation from loved ones
  • Financial manipulation

If you can tick off multiple points on this list, it’s time to take action. Whether you’re contemplating leaving or fighting to make it work, knowing what you’re up against is half the battle.

Being able to spot these signs earlier rather than later can save you from a lot of pain and confusion. Trust me, I’ve missed these red flags before and ended up in relationships I later regretted.

Don’t let that be you. Stay informed, stay alert, and never settle for less than you deserve.

2) Take time apart

My next piece of advice would be to take a step back. Take some time apart.

Not as a preface for leaving, but simply to get enough distance to think clearly.

Sometimes, when we’re in the thick of toxicity, we’re too close to the forest to see the trees.

The result? Our judgment gets clouded.

So, it’s super important to have time alone to gain perspective and make better decisions about your relationship. Plus, it’s just incredibly important as well to recharge and reconnect with yourself.

If your partner reacts with anger or tries to manipulate you during this period, pay close attention. This could in fact be a red flag that you shouldn’t ignore.

3) Reframe your perspective

Now what do you do while you’re apart? Reframe your perspective.

Why is this important?

Having to deal with any or all of the issues I mentioned earlier – while also trying to love that person – we can so easily bend our own values and our perception of reality to accommodate the toxic behavior.

A toxic partner can even make you believe that you’re the problem.

For instance, I’ve been in relationships where my judgment was so skewed that I mistook controlling behavior for “protectiveness” and manipulation for “love.”

It took me years to understand that I was actually being mistreated, but when I finally did, it was liberating. I wasn’t the problem. The relationship was.

Reframing your perspective can help you see the situation more clearly and understand that you’re not at fault for someone else’s toxic behavior. But to do that, you also have to do this next thing…

4) Stop making excuses

The endless cycle of justification. Have you ever said statements like these so often?

  • “They’re just stressed…”
  • “They didn’t mean it like that…”
  • “They’re just trying to protect me…”
  • “They were just joking…”

If you’ve said them more times than you care to admit, then you know what it means. You’ve fallen down the trap of making excuses for your partner’s toxic behavior.

The even bigger problem is, when you’re constantly rationalizing someone’s actions and making excuses for them, it can become incredibly difficult to see things for what they really are.

This isn’t just unhealthy for your relationship—it’s unhealthy for you. It chips away at your self-esteem and can leave you questioning your own sanity.

So, why do we do it?

Usually, it’s because admitting that a relationship is toxic means acknowledging that something significant in your life is terribly wrong.

But like I said earlier, recognizing the issue is the first step toward resolving it. And let me tell you, the clearer your judgment becomes, the clearer your path to a healthier relationship—or singledom—will be.

Trust me, either is a better option than losing yourself in a toxic relationship.

5) Communicate openly

So, you’ve done the hard work of sitting down and engaging in some pattern-finding. And the even harder task of finally admitting it to yourself.

Now it’s on to the next step – communicate with your partner.

As hard as it may be, open communication is key. Speak up about how you feel. Nurse your relationship back to good health by being true to how you feel and finding ways to resolve these issues with your partner.

Plus, the side benefit of that is, the more you express yourself, the more you understand what you need from the relationship.

That said, when you communicate, take care not to do this next thing…

6) Don’t play the blame game

Of course, when you’ve figured out – and admitted – just how badly it’s all been going, the natural instinct is to point fingers at your partner.

However, blaming never solves anything. It only adds fuel to the fire.

Remember, you can’t control how others behave. But you can control your own reactions and actions.

So instead of playing the blame game, try focusing on what you can do to make things better.

One of those is to…

7) Establish boundaries

We’ve all heard about the importance of setting boundaries. But let’s be real, it’s easier said than done.

We let one thing slide, then another, then another. Until it becomes a pattern that’s hard to break.

For example, I once had a partner who would make fun of me when we were out with friends. Not wanting to make a fuss and look like a too-sensitive girlfriend, I’d just laugh along and let it slide.

But inside, I felt hurt and embarrassed.

When I finally got up the nerve to stand up for myself and establish my boundaries, I told my partner that that behavior was no longer acceptable.

Fortunately, he did manage to curb it, though we would break up later down the road due to many of our other issues.

I can’t stress this enough – establishing clear boundaries can be scary but it’s an essential step in dealing with a toxic relationship. It communicates your worth and sets the expectation for how you should be treated.

As motivational speaker Tony Gaskins said, “You teach people how to treat you by what you allow, what you stop, and what you reinforce.”

8) Practice self-care

When dealing with a toxic relationship, it’s easy to lose sight of your own needs. You might forget to eat, sleep, and even breathe properly because you’re so consumed by the drama.

But remember, you’re important too.

So, do things that make you happy. Take a walk in the park, read your favorite book, practice yoga, or simply sit in silence for a few minutes each day.

Above all else, be gentle with yourself. You’re doing the best you can, and that’s enough.

9) Seek support

When you’re in a toxic relationship, it’s easy to feel isolated. You might even start believing that it’s all in your head.

It’s not.

Research shows that having a strong support network can help you navigate through tough times.

You’d be surprised how many people are willing to listen and offer advice. The most important thing is that you don’t face this alone.

10) Seek professional help

Sometimes, even when you’ve got the best support system around you, it might not be enough. After all, not everyone has been in a toxic relationship, and they might not know how to best advise you.

In that case, there’s no shame in seeking professional help.

Therapists and counselors are trained to handle these situations and can provide valuable insights and coping strategies. They’re there to help you sift through it all and figure out your next steps.

11) Know when to walk away

The most difficult decision in dealing with a toxic relationship is knowing when to walk away.

If your relationship is consistently making you unhappy, causing anxiety, or affecting your mental health, it may be time to walk away.

And remember this – relationships are two-way. Both partners should be invested in making things better. If you find you’re the only one putting in the work, what does that tell you?

Somewhere out there is someone who’ll give you the love and respect you deserve. Don’t settle for less.

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