Toxic Relationships (2): To Fix or Leave


We interact in each of our relationships in different ways. In toxic relationships, the interactions are draining and are harmful to our mental health. In yesterday’s post, Toxic Relationships, we discussed how to identify toxic relationships. Today’s post will talk about how to fix, or terminate if needed, such a relationship.

Fixing a Toxic Relationship

The first step in attempting to fix a toxic relationship is to be open and honest with the other person (T. Cory, Identify what behavior in the relationship is dysfunctional. What bothers you mostly? Then, calmly and firmly have a conversation with the person about these behaviors and how they make you feel. Suggest alternative, more acceptable behaviors.

Dr. Cory, in his article for Health Scope Magazine, warns that the other person, at first, may escalate their troubling behaviors and try to regain control after the discussion. Be prepared and capable of handling these behaviors.  He states, “you have to stay calm and firm and simply repeat your request.” If the person continues to engage in dysfunctional behaviors, Cory recommends you try and take a break from the relationship for 30 days.

It is important that you believe in yourself and realize that you deserve to be treated with respect and compassion. After the 30 day hiatus, have another talk with them about your requests and let them know that you will not continue the relationship should they continue to engage in such behavior. If they refuse to change, it may be time to end the relationship. Dr Cory explains that if the person promises to change, but relapses, give them another chance to improve; repeat the cycle one more time.

The one exception to this is for those in physically abusive relationships. There should be no tolerance for abuse. Don’t try to fix an abusive relationship…find help and leave immediately. Create a safety plan.

Terminating a Toxic Relationship

For most of us, leaving any relationship, despite how dysfunctional it is, is painful. There were reasons we remained in the relationship and we will miss those. This is where it is important that you focus on yourself and the reasons you are needing to end the relationship.

I found two articles that I found which list several steps one can take to end a toxic relationship, whether it is an intimate relationship or friendship. One article is Dr. Bernstein’s article, “Three Steps for Getting Out of a Toxic Relationship,” he wrote for Psychology Today ( The first step, according to Bernstein, is to come up with a mantra, or phrase you can repeat to yourself when tempted to rekindle the relationship. He gives the example of a woman who was leaving her husband. When tempted to reunite with her husband, the lady would repeatedly tell herself, “He may be good for someone else, but he is a wrecking ball for me.” Then, she would visualize a wrecking ball swinging back and forth each time she saw or thought of her husband.

The second step, according to Bernstein,is to stop all contact with the toxic person. If you must have contact with the person, due to having a working relationship, for example, limit it as much as possible. Be courteous and limit your conversation to what has to be communicated (work issues, for example). Continual contact with the other person will make it tempting to want to rekindle the relationship…you are vulnerable at this time.

Bernstein’s third step to terminating a toxic relationship is to remind yourself of your value. Remind yourself how good you are as a person, “how you have grown, and what you offer in your relationships. Doing this will help you to put your emotional health and well-being first. Have self compassion should you feel tempted to return to the relationship because it is normal to miss someone you were close to. But, remain mindful during these times that, despite the good things you may be reminiscing about, doesn’t mean that this person is “good for you.” I really like what the author recommends should you feel tempted and unable to remember your own value. He recommends that you consider what you would say to a loved one or close friend should they be in the same situation…”Thinking about how you may value or advise someone else can help you treasure yourself and to move on.”

The second article is Lakshmi Raman’s article, ” Letting Go of Unhealthy Relationships and Rediscovering Yourself,” she wrote for the website Tiny Buddha ( As did Bernstein, Raman explains how we need to have compassion with ourselves when terminating a toxic relationship. She reminds us that “it’s never easy to let go of the past, but when the pain of holding on is far greater than the pain of letting go, it’s time to take the leap.”

Raman has four steps that she has incorporated into her own life to help her let go of unhealthy relationships. Her first step is to write a letter and express your feelings. Write a letter to the other person, pouring out your feelings to them. She says to end the letter with the statement, “I release you across all space and time. Thank you for helping me learn and grow,” fold the letter and bury it. Opening up and allowing yourself to openly express your feeling about the relationship is both cathartic and healing.

Raman’s second step is to clean your physical space. You will be especially vulnerable at this time. We want to cleanse ourselves of reminders of this person and the relationship, such as gifts and momentos, and burn any letters from the person. She states that it is “crucial to moving on and feeling happier with yourself and your life.

The third step is to get clear on what you need by writing down how you desire to feel in your relationships and life (Raman). Raman lists a few of her own desires as an example:

  • Alive
  • Filled with Laughter
  • Supportive
  • Loving
  • Understanding

If you are unsure how you feel at this moment, the author adds that you can write down just a few of your wants for today, this week, or this month.

The final step, according Raman, is to start filling the empty space left by the termination of this relationship. Consider some activities or things you would like to do in place of the time you spent with this relationship. Put some time in with doing what you love everyday…nourish your soul. For example, if you love writing, how about journalling or starting a blog.

Finally, letting go of someone is difficult. You are going to miss this person and the person is going to reach out to you once they know you are letting go. Have compassion for yourself…be understanding that this is going to be difficult. Remind yourself of why you are doing this. You and your mental health comes first…you are priority.

On a personal note, I let go of a close, family relationship, about twelve years ago due to emotional abuse and manipulation. It was dragging me down and causing me to be depressed, to the point of near hospitalization and suicide. It was extremely difficult, but I had to do it for me and my life. A professor told me it was a matter of life or death…I chose life.

I am grateful to myself for choosing to let go and move on, despite how painful it was to do. I weathered the difficult storm and my mental health improved greatly…I was able to return to school and graduate with a Master’s Degree as well as return to working (part-time).

Recently, I have reconnected with this person. I am still guarded and aware that things could get worse, but the person has more respect for my boundaries now and they have been ‘behaving’ themselves. This would not have happened if I had not let go and terminated the relationship years ago.

Best wishes to each of you! If you have any suggestions to add, feel free to comment.



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