The Intelligent Divorce

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Getting Unstuck: The Toxic Relationship

Six Ways to Extricate From a Toxic Relationship

We've all heard the term "toxic relationship".  What does it really mean?  

Let's break it down.  Something that is toxic is poisonous, causes death or debilitation, and drains energy and life.  Snake venom is toxic.  Asbestos is toxic.  Some bacteria are toxic.  A relationship is the state of being connected, associated, or related to one another.  It can take the form of a friendship, a family member, a spouse, or a romantic partner. A difficult relationship may trap you because these tendencies may have started as early as childhood, according to Psychology Today bloggers, Rosemary K.M. Sword and Philip Zimbardo. 

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Join the concepts of "toxic" and "relationship."  At its best, you are talking about a relationship that drains you; at its worst, it’s a dangerous interaction.   

In this guest blog, Heather Edwards, a New York based therapist and life coach, lays out ways to deal with the unhappiness of a toxic relationship. 

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Regardless of the degree of toxicity in your relationship - if it’s unhealthy it’s time to fix it, or get out of it!   So how do you know if your relationship is toxic?  Consider the following tips and questions whole heartedly to understand and prepare yourself.  Follow the steps below to free yourself, if you already know the answer. 

Emotions are Information:  

How do you feel when you are with your significant other?  Notice whether you are feeling happy and loved, or criticized and controlled.  A healthy relationship is filled with openness, mutual support, respect, positive regard, and exploration.  A toxic relationship is stifled, judgmental, critical, and filled with mockery. Are you being put down, or lifted up?   Constructive criticism comes from a place of love and is intended to help.  Belittling is meant to take away one's power and inner strength.

Be Your Authentic Self:  

In a healthy relationship it’s safe and easy to be your true self.  Each person’s thoughts, opinions, and aspirations are important, valued, and supported by the other.  Communication is honest and open.  Conversations are free and based on ideas, dreams, and shared responsibilities. In a toxic relationship, one person feels stifled. Their dreams and life goals are squashed, irrelevant, unimportant, and often get sacrificed for the sake of the other. Their true self is denied and feels atrophied. 

Trust Your Intuition:  

Most of us get a gut feeling about people and situations.  Sometimes we rationalize this away with our intellect and reason; often when our gut instinct is not what we hoped for, or if there's no immediate evidence to support it.  If you've been questioning yourself and doubting your decisions despite believing you're right, this could be a sign of an unhealthy relationship. Toxic partners are controlling and demeaning.  They gain their power from taking away yours. Healthy partners are trusting and supportive.

Sever the Ties:  

If the above sounds familiar, it may be time for change. You've invested a lot of time, energy, and hope in this relationship but it is not serving you well.  Recognizing the signs of a toxic relationship can empower you to get out of it. Be honest with yourself. If both parties are not fully committed to actively working on changes such as mutual respect, open communication, and positive regard, then start walking and don't look back.  

Clinging to the hope of change without full investment from both people will only belabor the fear, dread, and potential depression that results from a toxic relationship.  Remember how wonderful you are and always have been. Value yourself.  

"You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection." - Buddha.

Get Support:  

Ending a relationship is heartbreaking, even if you're the one doing the breaking up. It's a loss. Give yourself time to heal. Seek out friends, family, or a professional to talk about your experience and learn from it.  Mindfully acknowledge the emotional experience of being in a toxic relationship and breaking free of it. Breathe, journal your feelings, and meditate. Reestablish your self esteem and worth as a unique person. Appreciate your strengths, and develop your interests.  You deserve to feel good again.  

"Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved." - Helen Keller.

Embrace Change:  

Change is your opportunity to create the life you want.  What part of yourself has been neglected?  Perhaps there is a trip you want to take, a subject you want to study, or a sport, hobby, language, or instrument you want to learn.  Now is the time to love and honor yourself.  Stay true to your interests and talents.  Acknowledge and appreciate what makes you a valuable and unique person.  Use that information to rebuild your sense of worth.  

"Find joy in everything you choose to do. Every job, relationship, home...

it's your responsibility to love it, or change it." - Chuck Palahniuk.

 

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Heather Edwards, MA, LMHC is a therapist and life coach located in New York City. She can be reached for consultation at:

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Mark Banschick, M.D., is a psychiatrist and author of The Intelligent Divorce book series.

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