1. Admit that the relationship is toxic.
If you are experiencing a toxic relationship, then you likely move in and out of a state of denial about how unhealthy it truly is. At one moment, you feel revulsion; at another, you are making excuses and justifying a partner’s intolerable behavior. Most people will let certain issues go from time to time in long-term romantic relationships, and it is important to be willing to accept your partner as they are. They likewise need to do the same for you. But there are certain things that a person should never dismiss in a relationship. You are sowing bad seeds in infertile ground if your partner lies, cheats, humiliates you, exploits you for money or other resources, or emotionally or physically abuses you. If your partner causes you chronic pain and does not hold themselves accountable, end it.
2. Stop believing this relationship is the best you can do.
If you are in a toxic relationship, as described above, then you probably have stopped confiding in friends and family. You keep your relationship separate from others, because you are afraid that loved ones will see how unhealthy it is. Or, you feel that your toxic partner is the only person who will ever understand and love you. Withdrawing from others and avoiding face-to-face intimate interactions with others reinforces the idea that you will never be known or cared for by anyone other than your toxic partner. It keeps you in a panic-like state of thinking you will find yourself alone. This desperation will prevent you from drawing boundaries and wholeheartedly holding your partner accountable. Before doing anything, work to build up your support system: Join a gym, participate in a hiking or book club, start a new hobby, meet friends to exercise, eat with different acquaintances. You need to start letting others get close to you so that you no longer feel as if your orbit will collapse without this toxic partner at the center of your life.
You are deluding yourself and wasting precious time if you believe that you can somehow still be friends or have a phone relationship with a toxic ex-partner. These people have a way of manipulating and getting others to feel sorry for them. If you keep contact going, then you enable this individual to continue to work to draw you back toward them. As I describe in my workbook, Toxic Love: 5 Steps, The only realistic way out is to stop all contact, so that you can start anew. And, too, time away helps positively enhance perspective.
4. Pursue self-growth.
Change will not be instant, and you won’t meet Mr. or Mrs. Right immediately. Take all of that time you spent trying to better understand your toxic partner, or to fix the flawed relationship, and invest it in yourself. Use your energy to pursue self-growth. Start meditating or journaling, read self-help books, or take up weekly psychotherapy. When you do date, thoughtfully consider those you have gone for before, and work to engage new and different types of personalities. A strong, immediate attraction can sometimes mean trouble ahead for a relationship. Hold back and wait a few beats. This tactic will help you avoid another disappointing relationship.
Even if a pattern of toxic love describes your relationship, there is a way out of the spiral. In my workbook, Toxic Love: 5 Steps, I describe specific strategies for how to overcome this pattern, and to start attaching with healthy romantic partners.
I am a psychologist in private practice in Washington, D.C., and the author of The Relationship Formula Workbook Series.