Whether we're talking about friendships, courtships, marriages, or relationships with family members, we've all had, or eventually will have, a toxic relationship. If they weren't hard enough in and of themselves, what makes a toxic relationship even harder is that we oftentimes don't know how to deal with them. That's why I'm here. I've had plenty of experience dealing with toxic people, and toxic interactions, so I'm going to break it down for you.
Here is how to deal with a toxic relationship, in three (sort of) easy, progressive, steps.
Step 1: Set Expectations
Just because a relationship is toxic doesn't mean that that person is a bad person, and it also doesn't mean that it's not salvageable. Before throwing in the towel, stop and ask yourself a few questions:
What do I expect from someone serving this particular role in my life?
Is this person aware of these expectations?
Are these expectations reasonable?
After careful deliberation, use these questions as a guide for figuring out what expectations and boundaries need to be in place for this to be a successful relationship. Communicate calmly and fairly to said person what it is that you need, what's been bothering you, and what you feel could change.
In order for this to work, it's important to not place blame. Make your statements about you, and not them. Don't attack. Simply communicate.
If you're lucky, the person will take your words to heart, make a few changes (maybe suggest a few to you as well) and you'll soon begin to see a positive change in a relationship that used to be draining.
If not, continue to step two.
Step 2: Create Distance
Sometimes, no matter what you do, and no matter how clearly you communicate your needs, a person simply isn't willing to change, or, in some cases, isn't capable of change. When this happens, the next step is to add in a little distance, both in your interactions and within yourself.
Minimize the time you spend talking to them. Reach out less often. Sit with someone else at lunch.
And, in your own mind, update that internal relationship status. If, in your mind, they're your BFF, take it back a notch. They are now a close acquaintance. By changing that label in your mind, it makes you less controlled by your interactions with them. When they exhibit the behaviors that used to cause you stress in your everyday life, those behaviors won't have the same power over you.
In the case of a romantic relationship, this is the part where you "take a break," "sleep on the couch," "need some time." However you want to put it. Yes, it's hard. But you have to in order to break the cycle.
Sometimes creating that distance is enough. With that distance you can heal, and move forward happily. And in the most wonderful cases, the person will realize that it's time to make some changes, and everyone ends up better off than they started.
However, if it isn't enough, if they continue to drain your emotional reserves no matter how little time you spend around them, this is when it's time to move onto our final, and most drastic step.
Step 3: Trim the Vine
There’s an old religious adage about trimming the vine in order to promote health within the plant. That's what you're going to do.
Delete their number, unfollow their social media. Block all of those things if you know they won't leave you alone. Take your spare key back, let close friends know that your business is no longer their business. Close every metaphorical door and window, until they are nothing more than an invisible memory that will finally, finally, begin to fade.
That finishes up my three-step guide to navigating toxic relationships, but there is one more thing that I want to say: writing down these steps makes it all seem pretty simple, but we all know that in reality, it's never like that. You will falter. You will text them at one a.m. when you know you shouldn't. You will forgive them one or two or ten too many times. I want you to know that that is okay. It is okay to take one step forward and two steps back, as long as you don't forget to step forward again. Take your time, and always, always, love yourself first.
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