Is there someone in your life that, whenever you spend time with them, you leave feeling as though you need a stiff drink?
You may have a toxic relationship on your hands.
If we don’t address this relationship to either transform it or end it, we are actually creating a doubly toxic situation by not honoring our needs. A toxic relationship can create unnecessary stress and drama in your life. If we’re not careful managing our stress, then the stress will end up managing us.
Our time and energy is our most valuable resource. If we are investing it into a toxic relationship, we’re losing those resources. We’re losing the opportunity to use our time and energy toward something more productive that could produce more value in our own lives or the lives of others.
There are many reasons we stay in a toxic relationship. Sometimes it’s because we’ve known the person forever and the relationship is a habit. Other times we may not even realize it is a toxic relationship. But many times, staying in a toxic relationship boils down to one simple fact…
….we are afraid.
Afraid that it’s somehow our fault.
Afraid of having a tough conversation.
Afraid of what we could lose.
Being faced with a toxic relationship is a choice point: are you committed to the story you tell yourself about this person’s role in your life and the comfort zone you live in, or are you committed to a life of joy and happiness surrounded by people who fully love and support you?
These 10 steps will guide you off autopilot so you can break free and transform (or end) the toxic relationship in your life.
1. IDENTIFY IT
It doesn’t matter if it’s your family, a friend, a colleague, boss, or an acquaintance. If your gut is telling you that something is off in a relationship, then listening to that instinct is important to identify what needs to be addressed. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
Do you feel weak or like you can’t be yourself around someone?
Are conversations or activities always focused on him/her?
Do you find yourself second guessing your judgment or making excuses for their behavior?
Are your goals/dreams/values criticized, ignored, or even mocked?
Answering yes to a combination of these questions is a sign that your relationship may be one-sided and may be toxic. Awareness of the relationship is paramount.
2. KEEP A RECORD
By no means am I suggesting you keep a log of every action everyone in your life makes – that would likely make people feel as though you’re the toxic one! But when your gut is telling you something is off, it’s important to keep a record of what happened and how it made you feel so you can be clear with the person in a conversation (more about that later).
Write down the occasions when you feel less than joyful with or because of them. This isn’t about keeping score, but to be aware of what is happening in a way that we can revisit and remind ourselves.
3. IDENTIFY THE REWARDS AND PRICES OF BEING IN THE RELATIONSHIP
If you notice that the pages of your log are filling up quickly, you may naturally start to ask yourself why you’ve been putting up with this behavior in the first place. There are always reasons we stick around or “rewards” for staying in a toxic relationship. We tell ourselves:
“I feel powerful because I take care of them.”
“At least I’m not alone.”
“I know deep down (s)he loves me.”
“I wouldn’t be able to make it without him/her because they financially support me.”
“No one makes me feel like (s)he can.”
It’s important to identify those reasons so that you can be more cognizant of the excuses that you tell yourself that ultimately make you continue down the same path that’s been making you unhappy. These payoffs often reveal that we are in our comfort zone and fearful of “what if?”
On the other side of the coin, it’s important to identify the prices we pay for staying in the relationship. These are the things we’re missing out on that sound like:
“I’m not myself when I’m around him/her.”
“I don’t feel as though I have his/her support to pursue my goals.”
“I’m unhappy when I’m with them or thinking about spending time with them.”
“I’m watching time go by instead of being out looking for the partner of my dreams.”
“I feel alone even when I’m with them.”
When comparing notes, it’s easy for us to notice that the prices we pay outweigh the rewards we receive in a truly toxic relationship.
4. GIVE UP THE EXCUSES
This is where it starts to get challenging for people who are determined to stay in their comfort zone.
After you’ve created your log and identified the prices you pay for being in this toxic relationship, you get to acknowledge that the way you’ve been thinking about this relationship has you stuck. It’s time to realize that you’re telling yourself a story and in order for things to change, you get to give up all the excuses that have been stopping you from putting your foot down.
It’s time to stop justifying their behavior, and start sticking up for yourself.
5. GET CLEAR ON YOUR VISION FOR THE RELATIONSHIP
It’s important to enter all relationships with intention. How do I want to feel and what do I want to create with this person? You can even prompt yourself by filling in the blanks:
My vision for my relationship with _______ is…
My vision for how I want to feel with _______ is…
What ______ adds to my life is…
What I add to _____’s life is…
The clearer you are about your intention in a relationship – both what you and the other person bring to the table – the easier it will be to identify toxic people. The gap in what you want and what a toxic relationship provides will be huge and obvious.
Not sure what you want in a relationship? Try declaring what you don’t want, then flip the script. For example, “I don’t want to feel judged” would be declared as, “I want to feel accepted.” Declaring the positive with an abundant mindset will attract more of the people you seek (learn more about creating an abundant mindset in my previous article here).
6. HAVE THE CONVERSATION
All of the previous stages are data collecting. Without actually confronting the person with which you’re in the toxic relationship, all of this newfound information will only serve to make you more unhappy because you’ll be clear that you’re unhappy, but not taking action to make a change.
Having the conversation is taking massive action!
It’s important to create an environment that is face-to-face with no distractions. If for some reason you’re unable to meet in person, requesting a phone call when someone will be alone and focused on the conversation is the next best thing.
This is not meant to be a confrontation fueled by pent-up resentment or aggression to attack them. I can guarantee that would create negative results! Instead, see this as an opportunity to be neutral and focus on how you’ve been feeling around them by referring to the notes you made in your log from Step 2.
When you’ve completed saying your peace, you can take the temperature of the conversation. If they are open for you to continue, this is the moment for you to share your vision for the relationship. If the person is defensive, stand your ground. Let them know the behavior that is non-negotiable in your relationship and let them know that you have a role in that as well but that the relationship, as is, is not acceptable.
Ask what they’re hearing you say and what you can count on from them moving forward. This is the moment to ask how they are feeling and give them the floor to open up to you if they are harboring any ill will or unspoken feelings. After all… relationships are a two-way street.
I cannot stress enough how important this step is. If we wait until things are unbearable, that is when it can be challenging to have a neutral and calm conversation about how to move forward instead of imploding the relationship in its entirety.
The conversation should result in one of two things: either you two make an agreement about how to move forward, or you are firm and clear that the relationship is over.
7. TAKE THE OPPORTUNITY TO GRIEVE OR MOURN
Just because a relationship is toxic and ending does not mean it does not hurt to let go.
Stop talking about it with other friends or family. Unfriend the person on social media. Stop going back and forth with them. Give yourself the space and time to grieve the loss of this relationship in your life. Whether that looks like having a good cry, playing soft music, or even speaking to a counselor/life coach, make the time.
The reason that this is so painful for you is because it likely brings up other painful moments in your past. Try journaling through the grieving process. Use this opportunity to heal your other wounds that you’ve been stuffing so you can finally work through them.
8. WRITE DOWN LESSONS LEARNED
If I am learning something from an experience – positive or negative – I am clear on how to approach it the next time something similar comes up. Writing down the lessons learned in ending a toxic relationship can result in being confident not to repeat the same patterns.
I encourage you to actually write it down, not just think about the lessons. The act of writing them will further ingrain it into your memory and heart.
9. FILL THAT EMPTINESS
Yes, the relationship was toxic. However, we still feel a void when the person is gone from our lives. Choose a healthy activity to channel your time and effort into now that you have it back: exercise, try new (or resurrected) hobbies, read, develop a talent, or travel. Commit to doing something daily to distract you from falling into the old habit of seeking that person out.
10. PRACTICE SELF LOVE
With the time you have back, allow yourself to practice self care again as one of your distractions and commitments. See the gift that you are and how valuable you are to this world. You deserve joy and love. Forgive yourself, let go, and fill yourself up with love and self respect.
Your self worth = your net worth. Take time to build it back up again.
When you experience the difference in your life by letting go of a toxic relationship, it can be a game changer. You’ve got to love yourself more than you love that toxic relationship and habit. You get to face the person who has been causing you pain or stress and figuratively – or even literally – say, “I love you, but I love me more.”
Don’t sell out on yourself. Don’t sell out on what you deserve in life. Let go of what’s not serving you and see what space you create in your life for relationships that fill you up and are full of love, light, and support.