How to Leave a Toxic Relationship: Information and Advice

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Being in a toxic relationship can be unhealthy and harmful. If you suspect that your relationship with someone you’re dating is toxic—maybe friends and family have warned you or you are experiencing patterns of fights and gaslighting—you might consider how to proceed. 

Read on to find out how to leave a toxic relationship, how to recognize one, and—depending on your situation—how to fix a toxic relationship.

How to leave a toxic relationship: vector art heartbroken man and woman

How to know if I’m in a toxic relationship? 

If you suspect that you are in a toxic relationship, you might consider either leaving the relationship or trying to fix it. Here are some of the signs that can help you identify a toxic relationship.

Constant conflict

While it can be normal to experience periods of conflict in a relationship, in healthy relationships, people are able to communicate during or after a conflict and resolve it. 

Constant fighting can be a sign of a toxic relationship. If these conflicts continue to escalate, rather than improve, chances are you might be in a toxic relationship. 

Stress and anxiety

Even in difficult periods, it is still possible to have a sense of peace and hope for change. If your relationship has constant stress and anxiety and you have more confusion than you do peace then it is toxic. 

A couple that stagnates or goes around in circles is a couple that lacks the fundamentals to make that relationship healthy and fulfilling. 

Fear

If you are fearing for your safety and well-being because of the person you are with, then your relationship is toxic, and reaching out for help can be a good idea.

Abuse of any kind

Abusive behaviour should never be tolerated or justified and is a clear sign of toxic behaviour. Whether it is verbal, emotional, physical, mental, or sexual abuse it should be addressed immediately.  

More subtle signs of abuse include gaslighting, controlling behaviour, or shaming.

Vector art of woman holding man by a leash

How to leave a toxic relationship

In most cases, toxic relationships should not be continued. If you are in a toxic relationship and wish to end it, here are some steps you can take. 

Plan

Try to form a plan for leaving: think about how and when you want to cut ties, and if you’re living with a toxic partner try to make sure you have a safe space to stay and some funds for after you leave. Focus on how you can rebuild your life afterwards. 

Get support

Find support from friends and family, or seek professional help during and after the process, even if you think you do not need it. Having a supportive community means you can have someone to check in on you or give you advice, which can help with leaving, as well as with healing.

Set restrictions

Whether this is a no contact rule, blocking your toxic ex-partner’s number or social media accounts, or having a mediator, setting strong boundaries can be important for protecting yourself and healing. 

Focus on healing

Breakups can be difficult, even when you know it was the right thing to do, and especially when dealing with the emotional residue of a toxic relationship. Allow yourself to grieve the toxic relationship, but try to balance out that pain by focusing on healing and moving forward. 

Set yourself some new goals, build up your self-worth, and take time for yourself.

How to fix a toxic relationship? 

Depending on the relationship’s toxicity level, some can be healed and saved. In order to decide if you want to try and fix a toxic relationship rather than learn how to leave a toxic relationship, you might want to consider whether the relationship can likely be fixed, and how you can do so.

Toxic relationships that can be fixed

It might be possible to heal a toxic relationship if 

  • your partner is actively willing and trying to improve: they are consistent with the effort needed in order to change the toxic behaviour and dynamics, and you see real change.
  • you can access professional help: you and your partner are able to see a trained professional either separately or together.
  • there is no abuse: if you are being abused in any capacity it might be better to end the relationship and seek help immediately.

Advice on how to fix a toxic relationship

If you’ve determined that you want to attempt fixing your toxic relationship, the key to the process is breaking the toxic cycle. Here are some ways you can try to do so. 

Seek professional help

When trying to fix a toxic relationship, seeking professional help can be beneficial. Although having supportive family and friends is important, a trained professional can help set a strategy in place, give guidance, and keep both partners accountable and honest in the process. 

For instance, a couples therapist can help you identify toxic behaviours and patterns.

Improve communication

Healthy communication that is effective can be important in helping you fix your relationship. This means being patient during conversations—knowing how to give and receive constructive criticism without getting defensive— to avoid fighting. If it’s challenging to keep conversations calm on your own, a therapist or counsellor can help mediate. 

Set boundaries

Without boundaries, you might not be able to sustain a healthy standard of accountability and progress. Setting boundaries can help you communicate in a healthy way, express your expectations, and present consequences to certain behaviours. 

Give it time

Toxic relationships will take patience and forgiveness. You cannot repair a toxic relationship overnight; this process takes patience and forgiveness. There might be relapses and moments that make you question your progress. 

If you feel like giving up on the relationship, try to understand if it’s because of overwhelming emotions or a real need. Keep in mind that even if you initially wanted to fix the relationship, you can always change your mind in the process if it’s the better decision for you.

Ever heard of love addiction? It can also cause a relationship to be toxic. Read on to find out more about what it is.

Vector art of man having a woman tied up

Reasons people find themselves in toxic relationships

When you’ve ended or repaired your toxic relationship, it might be time to reflect and start healing. During the reflection process, you might be wondering why you found yourself in a toxic relationship. Keep in mind that being in a toxic relationship is not your fault, and focus on how you can learn from the experience.

Here are 3 reasons why people find themselves in toxic relationships:

Fear

Fear of missing out on love, being lonely, or being abandoned can cause people to enter a relationship that is negative, just so they can have someone by their side. When we permit fear to control our actions and attachments it manifests as toxic relationships and behaviours. 

Remember that our fears are as powerful as we allow them to be, and being aware of your fears can help you control and overcome them.

Need for validation

Entering a relationship and loving someone out of lack—a need for validation or love that you hope would help you love yourself—can result in toxic relationships in which you might be taken advantage of. 

Upbringing

Ultimately, fears and lacks and your subconscious responses to them can stem from childhood experiences. How you experienced relationships and love from a young age might influence how your brain perceives and seeks attachments. 

For example, if you’ve never felt loved or accepted you may lack boundaries with others to try to earn love and avoid rejection. If you had parents who had a broken marriage, you may find that you tend to try and fix broken people.

Two heartbroken people sitting on the floor

How to leave a toxic relationship and how to fix a toxic relationship FAQs

Can you fix a very toxic relationship?

You can fix a toxic relationship if both partners are willing to participate in the process and if it’s the healthy choice for you. While some very toxic relationships have successfully been turned around, it is not always the case, and setting unrealistic expectations can cause more pain. If you want to repair your toxic relationship, seeking professional help can be a good idea.

Can a toxic person change?

Yes, it is possible for people to change. However, waiting for a toxic partner to change whilst sacrificing your own happiness may be unhealthy. The toxic person needs to want to change as well, and show their intentions by reflecting on their actions and consistently working towards bettering themselves.

Is fixing a toxic relationship worth it?

If a relationship can be saved for the right reasons, it may be worth giving it a try. However, this depends on what the toxic traits are and what both people are doing to try and fix the toxic relationship and make their (non-toxic) partner feel valued again.

Do toxic relationships ever last?

Toxic relationships can last for as long as you let them last. You can have the power to continue or end them, and you can choose what is the healthiest choice for you in the relationship.

How to leave a toxic relationship and how to fix a toxic relationship: our final thoughts

While learning how to fix a toxic relationship can be difficult, it is possible—especially when seeking professional help. However, sometimes the healthy choice may be to leave that relationship behind, and although figuring out how to leave a toxic relationship requires some planning and strength, it can be done in a healthy way with the right support system. 

Whether you choose to end a toxic relationship or try to fix it, keep in mind that finding yourself in a toxic relationship is not your fault. 

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