How do you fix a toxic relationship? It's a tough and complex question, and the answer will almost certainly vary depending on the kind of toxic person you're dealing with — and whether you want to continue the relationship at all. No one is required to have a place in your life, and if you want to remove a toxic person from your life completely, that's totally valid. But if you do want to maintain a relationship with a toxic person despite their toxicity, that's also totally valid — and, indeed, it might even be possible to reverse the toxic relationship if everyone is willing to communicate openly and put in some effort.
Of course, when it comes to people and relationships, there's rarely a one size fits all answer; there are all different kinds of toxic poeple, and depending on your relationship with them, the best strategies for working on it may vary. For example, if you have a toxic boss, you should approach that situation much differently than if you realize your best friend is a toxic influence in your life. This can feel overwhelming and frustrating, especially if you're someone who just wants to know the right way to fix things. However, it's actually a good thing: Because your relationship, needs and wants are unique, you can make the following suggestions on how to work on a toxic relationship work for you. At the end of the day, context is everything, and it's impossible to predict what advice will work for all personality types or all relationship dynamics. And if you realize you may be the toxic person in your life, it's also OK! Being aware is the first step to working on it.
When it comes to fixing a toxic relationship, communication is the key. Here are five tips on how you can approach working on it:
1. Establish Ground Rules
This one is definitely tough, especially if the relationship is one you've been in for a long time. Essentially, this boils down to establishing what isn't working and what the stakes are. So for example, if your partner (or friend, family member, etc.) has a bad habit of calling or texting you repeatedly and you feel it's disruptive to your life or disrespectful of your time or other commitments, you might consider setting ground rules with them as far as the phone goes. For instance, you could tell them, "When I'm at work, remember I can't check my personal phone often. Unless it's an emergency, please don't call or text me more than twice before I get back to you." (Or whatever window of time is reasonable for you). Another example of this is if your mother constantly berates your lack of a relationship, and brings up your dating life in a way that make you feel uncomfortable. You could tell her something to the effect of, "I appreciate your concern and interest, but talking about this makes me feel bad about myself. Please don't do it."
2. Set Boundaries
Once you identify the issue and establish the ground rule, you need to set boundaries. This is tough, too, because for it to work to effectively stop someone's toxic behavior, you need to actually stick to it. So, take that example of your mother continually bringing up your love life even after you've asked her not to: You need a boundary to hold her accountable, so if she brings it up again after you've told her not to do it, restate that it makes you feel bad, tell her not to do it again, and add sometime like, "If you bring it up again, I'm going to leave." Then, if she still continues to talk about it, say, "You've asked me about my love life three times since I talked to you about it making me feel uncomfortable. I'm going to leave now." Then you have to actually, you know, leave. And that's tough! Especially if the person apologizes in the moment, or if this sort of behavior has become established as "OK" in the past. I think trying your best to stay calm and in control is your best bet during these interactions, and stick to your proverbial guns.
3. Nurture Your Other Relationships As Well
I think part of working on a toxic relationship means working on relationships other than the one in question. Develop stronger relationshisp with coworkers, friends, family, and neighbors. Meet new people with your interests. The point of doing this isn't to make the toxic person in your life jealous, or make them feel they're in competition for your time; the point it to build up your support system full of people can you rely on. If you become close with them, they can also offer you outside perspective as you work through issues in your relationship.
4. Make Time For Yourself
In my opinion, making time for yourself is another big one. Even if you love spending time with someone in a healthy relationship, it's still important to have space and time to yourself. When the relationship has toxic qualities, making sure you have some alone time can help you organize your thoughts and reflect on what's happening around you. Even when things are going well, or you think progress is being made, it's important not to get 100 percent wrapped up in the relationship. Remember, to function well as part of a couple, you need to function well as an individual, and part of that is making sure you get enough time to relax with yourself. If your partner, friend, or so forth struggles with being clingy or codependent, this is important for them as well: You both need your own hobbies and time to unwind, and learning that distance makes the heart grow fonder certainly isn't a bad thing.
5. Bring In The Pros If You Need To
This one sounds scary, but I promise that it isn't. There is no shame in seeing a counselor; getting outside perspective from someone removed from the situation can be invaluable. And remember: A counselor doesn't have the same bias your friends or other loved ones might, and also doesn't get in that sticky "in the middle" place where drama can brew. Relationships are tough, especially if some unhealthy or toxic behaviors have become established as the norm or "OK." While it's important to take steps to fix these things, it's also very possible you'll need some guidance and an outside voice of reason to help you discuss issues and make plans to work on them.