Do your relationships support you to feel healthy and loved? When you are with your friends or partner, do you feel nourished, inspired, respected, and appreciated? If not, you might need to reconsider how, and with whom, you relate.
What Is a Toxic Relationship?
Toxic friendships and romantic relationships can take many forms, but the basic feeling they create is unease. A healthy relationship may have ups and downs, and times when one person needs more support than the other. But overall there is a feeling of reciprocity, mutual support, inspiration, and gratitude.
A toxic relationship, on the other hand, will feel unbalanced most of the time. To know if you are in a toxic relationship, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I feel supported to be happy?
- Do I feel safe to express my truth to the other person?
- Are my thoughts and feelings respected?
- Can we communicate clearly, compassionately, authentically, and effectively?
- Does my friend/partner have my back?
- Do I feel free of resentment towards the other person?
- Does this person choose to not enable my addictions or destructive behaviors?
- Does this person give as much time and attention as I do to her/him?
- Does my friend/partner inspire me to be healthier and live my dreams?
- Is he/she always honest with me?
- Do our interactions leave me feeling better than I did before we hung out?
If you answered no to more than one or two of these questions, you want to really evaluate this relationship and consider how it may be negatively affecting your health.
Why Are Toxic Relationships Unhealthy?
Healthy relationships add years to our lives. They help balance our nervous systems, give us opportunities to grow, help us learn new things about ourselves and the world, and bring us joy. Healthy relationships are vital components of a healthy lifestyle.
Toxic relationships, however, stress us out. When we are around people that are usually in a negative attitude, draining our life force, or treating us poorly, our nervous system goes into fight-or-flight mode. Chronic stress depletes our bodies on every possible level, and causes or contributes to nearly every imaginable disease.
Toxic relationships also cause secondary stresses. We are more likely to drink, smoke, overeat, or engage in other destructive behaviors when we do not feel fulfilled in our relationships. Some toxic friends may even enable our unhealthy behaviors. And other peoples unhealthy habits tend to rub off on us, through our mirror neurons.
In a recent lifestyle study it was discovered that people who have stressful social relations have a nearly doubled mortality rate. Toxic relationships can literally shorten our lives.
Change the Relationship or Leave It?
Not all unhealthy relationships are doomed. Sometimes the challenge is in how we are relating, not the other person. If you think your relationship may be toxic, try talking to your friend or partner about it. Let her or him know why you feel uncomfortable or unsupportive, and see if there is a receptivity to healing the relationship.
If your friend or partner is willing to do the work together, there is hope. Having a conflict could actually end up being a phase, a blessing in disguise that allows you to go deeper with each other than you could before. But the other person must be willing to work with you to find a healthy way of relating.
If the other person becomes hostile or closed off when you try to talk about the relationship, that may be a sign that they are unwilling to grow with you. If they become verbally abusive, manipulative, or try to turn the tables on you, then get out as quickly and gracefully as you can.
Of course, some relationships cannot be left. If the relationship is with your children or other family member, you may have to stick it out. In these instances you will need to learn how to assert healthy boundaries and be as compassionate as possible while still honoring yourself.
How to Leave a Toxic Relationship Cleanly
If you discover that it is time to leave, the last step is to find a clean way to do it. It is important to choose your words and actions carefully at this time. You want to make it clear to the other person that you choose to no longer engage with them, but you do not want to cause them any more hurt than absolutely necessary.
Keep the conversation about you and your needs. Explain how you feel the two of you have grown apart and that you want different things in a friendship/relationship. Stay out of the tendency to blame or shame the other person, this could just cause them to become vindictive. Instead express that you still love this person, but need to follow your own path, without his or her presence in your life.
Healthy relationships are one of the most important aspects of a happy life. But toxic relationships drain our energy and make us stressed. If you are in a toxic relationship, communicate with your friend or partner to co-create a healthier way of relating. If that does not work, then practice good self-care by leaving that relationship as quickly as possible.