Relationships are the most important fabric of our lives. Without friends, family, children, spouses, significant others, or even awesome co-workers life would be meaningless and pretty boring. Humans are relational beings, meaning that we seek other humans to connect with and to find approval from. We have a desire to make memories, go places together, and we tend to run away from empty spaces and run into crowded places. Healthwise, friends can help us live longer, reduce stress, help us cope with traumas like divorce or loss, and keep feelings like depression at bay.
However, when someone in our circle becomes disloyal, manipulative, controlling, or abusive life can get complicated pretty quickly. Often a fake or shallow friend will become jealous or angry when a life event happens to you (like a pregnancy or a marriage engagement.) A parent can try to control your private life, even though you moved away from home years ago. Or a romantic partner is caught cheating on you. When a relationship becomes complicated and painful, it's time to take action to regain emotional safety and then to confront the scenario so you can find healing. Your goal should always be to either properly repair the relationship or move on from it altogether if it can't be repaired.
While it is not a good moral practice to not casually toss your friends away when you have disagreements with them, there does come a point in some relationships when a situation cannot be rectified and it’s time to part ways. Just like good friends can improve your health, bad friends can drain your health. And if someone is hurting you or trying to control you, you need to find a way to regain your autonomy.
There are many kinds of toxic relationships, and the most painful ones come from those we are most intimate with. Many women who come to us for pregnancy support report that the father of their baby is irresponsive to her needs, he is not caring or thoughtful, or he only uses her sexually, or he abandoned her completely, threatening not to come back unless it is on his terms (like if she has an abortion first, for example.) An unplanned pregnancy brings on new stress and emotions for a dad, but it is toxic behavior to manipulate her emotions on his terms.
Parent-child relationships are also extremely painful if they become out of balance. Toxic parents can fall into a bad habit of manipulating their child's life, or they make life choices for their adult children as if they had the authority to. These kinds of parents refuse to view their children as anything less than a twelve-year-old and they treat them as such. This behavior is not healthy and can lead to serious fractures in their relationship if not corrected.
It is incredibly hard to separate from family members or significant others as we don't want to feel alone or disconnected from the most intimate humans in our lives. But sometimes it’s essential to set up boundaries or “take a break” from a controlling relationship, if not break it off altogether.
But how do you go about doing that? Most people are nice and don’t want to cause a scene or a drag-out fight. Sometimes we don't want to confront a toxic person because we are afraid of them, or we feel that we will lose that person forever, or we fear being alone. But you can’t use this as an excuse to continue allowing someone to mistreat you or control you or use you. You deserve better!
While an honest conversation might be painful or awkward at the moment, it does not mean that your relationship is unrepairable. Honesty can bring us and others new growth, but hiding the truth and your feelings will never bring peace or healing to anyone.
Here are 5 tips to help you deal with a toxic relationship.
Seek A Mentor
It’s always a good idea to ask for advice when trying to remove yourself from a toxic person, especially if that person is abusive. Chances are, when you start to move away there will be some unavoidable drama and issues will undoubtedly arise that will leave you needing a lot of guidance and support. The best thing to do is to find a mentor you can go to for wisdom.
When looking for a mentor seek someone who is not emotionally invested in this toxic relationship. Find someone who is a third-party observer. Their advice will be more balanced, clearer, and less vengeful than someone who is invested emotionally in this situation. Also, a good rule of thumb is to find a mentor who is older than you are, who has more life experience. Chances are, someone who has lived longer has already been in a similar situation and knows how to navigate through it.
Remember, counselors and mentors might say things that you don’t like or point out faults in you that you need to address before you can heal from a certain situation. Don’t get offended. They care enough about you to help you become a better person. Give their advice a try and see how it goes.
Set Boundaries With The Toxic Person
One reason toxic people try to dominate our lives is that we failed to set strong boundaries at the beginning of the relationship. You have the right and the responsibility to set boundaries for anyone around you, including parents, siblings, friends, or significant others. It might feel weird to set rules up for your parents or for a boyfriend, but you can respectfully do so in a way that saves your relationship. Remember: a person who cannot respect common boundaries will ruin your relationship entirely. You are doing a generous thing when you set a boundary and stick to it because you are trying to save the relationship before it becomes further fractured.
A person who genuinely wants to be in your life will recognize your boundaries and respect them, even a parent. But a toxic person will get angry and eventually move on to someone else and out of your life. Setting boundaries is a very difficult thing for some people to enforce. If you are uncomfortable setting boundaries or don’t know how to do it, this is where a good mentor comes into play.
A boundary does not have to be complicated and you don’t have to justify or explain yourself. You can simply say something like, “I don’t allow anyone in my bedroom when I am not home.” Or, “I will call you once a week, not every single day.” Or, “Please don’t talk to me in that tone of voice.” A boundary can also be one word: “No.”
Tell The Other Person You Need A Break
Sometimes, the best way to start distancing yourself from a bad relationship is to have a simple, calm conversation that includes the sentence, “I need to take a break from our relationship to recollect myself. I will call you when I feel better.” This is a boundary, but it also gives the other person time and space to think about their actions. In fact, "alone time" might be all that person needed to ask for forgiveness and change. A break also gives you time to reassess where you are at emotionally and make plans to move on.
Realize It Is Not Your Job To Save Them
As women, we want to help, nurture, and fix others. But the first step to any relationship is knowing that “fixing” others is not our job. Every person is responsible for his or her own choices and actions, and to endure abuse or mistreatment until they change is not a method that works. A person will never change by your own willpower: that is a choice they must make within. It’s okay (and vital) to realize that you can’t make them change and move on. Remind yourself: I owe this separation to myself. I did not fail them. I did not fail myself. I cannot change them. That is ok.
Learn To Love Yourself
One of the truest quotes all women should live by is this: “If I don’t love myself, no one else will, either.” To “love yourself,” simply means treating yourself with respect. It means to believe in yourself, know you are worthy, know you are enough, believe in the redemption from your past wrongs, and trust yourself with new beginnings. It’s not letting others cross your personal boundaries. To love yourself is not a feeling, but an action. It’s living in a way that won’t allow others to mistreat you.
If you don’t love yourself or know how to love yourself, you will naturally seek someone else who will. But if the person who claims to “love you” is toxic, you will spend precious years of your life trying to undo the relationship. As you are in this season of separating from toxic people, give yourself permission to love yourself. Ask your counselor or mentor for advice on how to love yourself. Not only will your confidence grow, but this one act will help you avoid repeating a similar relationship in the future.
Relationships are hard work. They require lots of love as well as maintenance to function properly. Sometimes our best efforts can't save a person from abandoning us, and that's ok. It was meant to be. And if the time comes where you find yourself alone, remember that you are never truly alone. Take this time to focus on yourself, learning from your past experiences, and look forward to making new and healthier relationships.
DISCLAIMER! (This blog post addressed the issues of manipulation and broken relationships. We are not speaking to victims of abuse. If you are in a physically abusive relationship, seek help as soon as it is safe to do so. If you cannot call 911 or a 1-800-hotline, seek a safe place to go like a friend's house, hospital, or shelter. Pregnancy centers are also safe places with trained staff who can help you.)