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 and at another you are making excuses and justifying your partner’s intolerable behavior. Most will let certain issues go from time to time in longer-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. On the other hand, 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, emotionally or physically abuses you. End it, if your partner does not hold themselves accountable and causes you chronic pain.
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 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 you 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, 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 are trying to believe that you can somehow still be friends or have a phone relationship with your toxic 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. 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.
And, of course, 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, 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 date new and different types of personalities. Strong immediate attraction can mean trouble ahead for a relationship. Hold back and wait a few beats. That 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. I describe in my workbook, Toxic Love: 5 Steps, specific strategies for how to overcome this pattern, and also how to start attaching with healthy romantic partners.
Jill Weber, Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice in Washington, D.C., and the author of The Relationship Formula Workbook Series, including Toxic Love—5 Steps: How to Identify Toxic Love Patterns and Find Fulfilling Attachments, Breaking Up and Divorce—5 Steps: How to Heal and be Comfortable Alone and Building Self-Esteem—5 Steps: How to Feel ‘Good Enough.’ For more, follow her on Twitter @DrJillWeber and on Facebook, or visit drjillweber.com.