Many of my clients ask me if it’s possible to fix a toxic relationship. Is it possible to repair months, or even years, of behavior that has shaken a relationship down to its very core?
I know that it seems like it would be impossible but I believe that, yes, it is possible to fix a toxic relationship but that it will involve concentrated effort on both sides of the equation.
Here are 5 things you can do to help repair a toxic relationship. Once you read them, you will know if your relationship is salvageable.
#1 – Accept the truth.
In order to fix a toxic relationship, it is essential that both people are willing to accept that it is toxic.
In many instances, one person sees that the relationship is toxic but the other person can’t, or won’t, see it as well. If only one side sees how bad things are, fixing a toxic relationship will be impossible.
I have a client who is in a relationship with an alcoholic narcissist. For many years, he has treated her horribly. He goes off on drunken binges, disappears for weeks at a time, gaslights her when they do talk and blames her for many issues in their relationship.
She loves him very much but his unwillingness to see that their relationship is toxic, that his issues are impacting the relationship in a big way, makes it so that there is no hope that things can change.
She holds on, hoping that it does, but I know that, until he truly acceptss that the relationship is toxic, things will just go on the way they always have.
#2 – Own your part.
An essential piece of fixing a toxic relationship is the willingness to take ownership of your piece of the toxicity.
In the case of my client, she absolutely recognizes that she has behaviors that contribute to the toxic relationship. She doesn’t trust him (although for good reason), she can get very anxious and clingy, she enables his behavior by continuing to be with him and she definitely can get heated during their confrontations.
Unfortunately, her partner refuses to take any ownership of their issues. He acknowledges that he drinks too much but blames her for not being more supportive. He says that if she would only stop harping and accept him for as he is, everything would be fine. When he goes on a bender, he blames her clinginess for driving him away.
Because he isn’t willing to take ownership of his end of the relationship, every time they try to make change things, just stay the same. Because he not only doesn’t accept his part in the toxicity, and even blames her for most of it, fixing their relationship is just not possible.
#3 – Be open to change.
For many of us, making change is really hard. We are who we are. That being said, people who are in a toxic relationship need to be actively willing to make change.
In the case of my client, she is eager to make change. She loves her man so much and still holds on to the dream of their life together. She goes out of her way to try to do things differently.
She accepts his drinking and recognizes that he means well but can’t follow through with his intentions. She supports him when he is in a really bad place and makes sure that his children are taken care of when he is gone. She is willing to change core pieces of herself, hoping to mend their relationship.
Unfortunately, her man can’t make change. On good days he recognizes that things need to change and even takes baby steps to do so. Unfortunately, those baby steps never get him anywhere and, before long, he is back to his old habits. She is left holding the bag again, her hopes dashed.
If both people aren’t willing to make change, it will be impossible to fix a toxic relationship.
#4 – Know that the fix will take a while.
For many people, when they make a move to start repairing a toxic relationship, they are at the end of their rope. They realize how bad things are and that efforts to fix things are a last ditch effort to save the relationship.
Unfortunately, a toxic relationship can not be changed overnight.
Change takes a long time. In the case of my client, her partner needs to stop drinking. Without that, there will be no chance of change. Unfortunately, even if he was willing to stop drinking, getting sober and learning to live that way, takes a long time.
Furthermore, behaviors and habits that are engrained in people, and relationships, are hard to break. Often times, repairing a relationship involves two steps forward and one step back. That one step back can be disheartening and lead a couple to give up fighting to fix things.
Recognizing that what is important is that the two steps forward, and not the one step back, is key to fixing a toxic relationship.
#5 – Get some professional help.
For many people, the prospect of getting professional help is a scary thing. Sharing issues with a stranger, putting things out into the world that are embarrassing, worrying about being judged, all tend to steer people away from getting real help. Instead, they decide to make things work on their own.
In the case of my client, her partner finally agreed to therapy. He knew that she wanted it and he was willing to do this one thing in the hopes that she wouldn’t leave him. So, she found a therapist. He did one session and said he wouldn’t do another.
Unfortunately, professional help is essential to help people fix a toxic relationship. There are so many ingrained behaviors, so many different angles to look at why things are the way they are, insights based on professional education and experience to be shared and, frankly, someone to referee, that having help is a key part of repairing damage.
When my client’s partner refused to go back to therapy she recognized that he didn’t really want to make change and she gave up hope that things their relationship could be saved.
Can a toxic relationship be fixed? Perhaps, if both people are willing to do the work.
With some concerted effort, and patience, from both people, change can be made and a relationship can be improved. I have seen couple after couple come back from some pretty dark places after making a decision to commit to change and working with me to achieve it.
If both of you are willing to acknowledge the toxicity, to take ownership for your role in it, to be willing to make change, to be patient and to get help, your chances of getting through this and being happy in your relationship are possible, maybe even probable.
So, take the step today. Share this article with your partner and see if they are ready to fix your toxic relationship so that you can both be happy.
You can do it!