For many of us, hearing the words "toxic relationship" causes a specific person to spring to mind. It may be your critical mom, a judgmental friend, or a controlling partner. And it can leave you wondering if it's all doomed, of if there's a way to make the relationship less toxic.
After all, this is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot. So what does it mean, and is it really that bad? As psychologist Nicole Martinez, Psy.D., LCPC, says in an interview with Bustle over email, "A relationship becomes toxic when it is no longer healthy for you. When the person spends no time with you, can not communicate with you, or is verbally or physically abusive to you. Any relationship that breaks you down and makes you feel worse about yourself, or one where there is more conflict than calm is toxic and unhealthy."
That's pretty straight forward, but of course every relationship has it's sour bits. I mean, it's normal to occasionally fight with your SO, or have a heated argument with your mom. That's 100 percent OK. What's not OK, however, is when your self-esteem becomes affected. (This is the key distinction.) If you find yourself unconfident, fearful or sad, that's when the relationship has crossed over into the realm of toxicity. According to Martinez, you may even start believing you don't deserve better treatment, or that you can't take care of yourself on your own.
Clearly that's a problem worth keeping your eye on, and it may even mean it's time to move on. But for the really important relationships (parents, partners, best friends, etc.), it's worth working on. So here are some ways to make every relationship in your life less toxic, and way more happy.
1. Only Expect The Best
If you don't think you deserve good things, then toxicity will more than likely creep your way. That's why it's so important to set high expectations for yourself, and everyone around you. As C. Jiles said on Livestrong.com, "Tell yourself that you deserve better. Believing that you are entitled to respect and love from others is an important step in fixing a toxic relationship ... If your low self-esteem is the reason you put up with an unhealthy relationship, seek the help you need to change your thought process."
2. Set Some Firm Boundaries
Sometimes people don't know they are being mean, or judgmental, or horrible. Think of your parents who still treat you like a kid, or that one friend who feels responsible for your dating life. They are trying to be sweet, but it's still time to set up some boundaries, ASAP. As Martinez says, "You have to let people know what is and is not OK in terms of how they treat you and what they say to you. If the person can not respect those boundaries, and continues to act in this manner, it is a time when you have to take a hard look at who you have in your life, and what kind of role you will let them have."
3. Meet Up In Private
Don't wait until your feelings are bubbling over to have a conversation, as it'll just lead to a fight. Instead, set up a time to meet with your loved one to have a calm, rational convo. As Jiles said, "Arrange to meet with the person in a quiet, comfortable place where you won't be disturbed. Say you want to save your relationship, but in order to do that you must tell her how you feel. Tell her how you feel when she acts a certain way. Be specific." Hopefully this will be an eye-opening moment for you both, and help lead the way to a better relationship.
4. Focus On The Positive
All relationships are hard, so don't toss yours aside just because it's gone a bit rocky. (Unless, of course, it's simply not worth salvaging.) Instead, focus on the positive. Why is this person in your life? What do you like about them? What positive things do they bring? Remind yourself of these things on the regular.
5. Give A Time Out
Let's say you have friend who is super great, but occasionally dramatic. If her drama drags everyone down, and she has no idea, then try out the silent treatment. As Linda Melone said on HuffingtonPost.com, become distant and polite. Don't joke around, or make light of the situation. Simply hold your ground until she asks what's up, and then take that opportunity to explain what you don't like about her behavior. It may sound harsh, but it works.
6. Take Care Of Yourself Outside The Relationship
Sometimes relationships get a bit weird when you don't have a life outside of them. This is especially the case with couples, where too many snuggly days spent together can quickly feel suffocating. That's why it's so important to maintain your life outside of the relationship. Take care of yourself, see your friends, take part in your hobbies — just do you. Your relationships will be way happier as a result.
7. Be Open About Your Thoughts
Toxicity doesn't always have to come from another person. Sometimes you can add to it by keeping feelings bottled up inside. If that's the case, it's high time you start sharing. As John M. Grohol, Psy.D., said on PscyhCentral.com, "Some people have never been very open to others in their life. Heck, some people might not even know themselves, or know much about their own real needs and desires. But to be in a relationship is to take a step toward opening up your life and opening up yourself." It can be scary at first, but it's necessary for a healthy relationship.
8. Take Some Emotional Responsibility
This one may sound like owning your thoughts and feelings, and yes, you should do that. But that's not exactly what emotional responsibility is. As Eric Charles noted on ANewMode.com, emotional responsibility simply acknowledges that you cannot take responsibility for another person's actions, emotions, and reactions. And, it also means you can't hold them responsible for your emotions, actions, and reactions. Probably difficult to do, but totally worth it.
9. Don't Be Overly Caring
OK, I know this one sounds cold and terrible. But caring too much too often can cause you to feel resentful and burnt out. That's because, like I said above, happy relationships mean you need to take care of yourself. So yes, dote on your loved ones. Just remember to occasionally turn that focus around.
10. Stay Out Of Drama
If you constantly find yourself in crazy relationships, if you enjoy "fixing" people, and if you love to talk about yourself, then you might be addicted to drama, according to Merely Me on HealthGuide.com. This flair for the dramatic can have roots in all sorts of psychological stuff. The key, though, is recognizing it, and then channeling that drama elsewhere.
11. Realize That You Can't Fix People
This is a big one for relationships. So often people go into them thinking they can change the other person. But, as Athena Staik, Ph.D., said on PsychCentral.com, you cannot fix your partner's behaviors or emotional states. Simple as that. Save yourselves the drama, and quit your meddling. The relationship will be much happier, and healthier, for it.
Because, at the end of the day, relationships shouldn't be a lot of work. The truly toxic ones are, and always will be. But the ones worth fixing can be greatly improved by following these steps.
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