Last week, I began my discussion of toxic relationships. I presented five warning signs that point to a troubled romantic pairing.
Let’s review the signs:
1. You are putting more into the relationship than you are getting back.
2. Whenever you try to talk about issues in the relationship, your significant other gaslights you.
3. The relationship is abusive.
4. Your significant other is a narcissist.
5. You and your significant other are unequally yoked.
By no means is that an exhaustive list of signs, but it is a great place to start analyzing the healthiness of your relationship. To read part one of my series on toxic relationships, click here.
And remember, although both posts address romantic relationships, the information applies to other relationships as well.
Knowing Your Worth
As someone who navigates mental illness and has made horrible relationship choices in the past, I must be honest with you. I believed the lie that because I have bipolar disorder, a man was doing me a favor by being with me. Can you relate?
I am married to a wonderful man, but I don’t delude myself for a minute that I wouldn’t make the same bad relationship choices if our marriage ended. I still carry the idea that I am damaged goods around like a ball and chain.
We must quit believing the lie that the mentally ill aren’t capable of or don’t deserve healthy relationships. It’s that mindset that opens the door to relationships that eat away at our souls.
How do we do it? How do we break free from toxic relationships and open our hearts and minds to healthy ones?
Here are five steps to help you break free from a toxic relationship:
1. Be sure that the relationship is toxic.
Three of the signs I presented about toxic relationships are deal breakers. If your partner gaslights you, abuses you, and/or is a narcissist, the relationship is beyond repair. Follow the rest of the steps to break free from that relationship.
The other two signs have some wiggle room. If your significant other is willing to work on giving more and taking less, it may be a relationship worth saving.
If you and your partner are unequally yoked, that doesn’t always mean that it must be the end for the road for your relationship. If the person is open to learning about your belief system and moral compass, then the relationship might be fixable.
In both cases, be crystal clear what you need from them and make sure your significant other knows the timeframe you expect the changes to occur.
2. Work on seeing yourself the way God does.
When you live with mental illness, it is easy to get caught up in that “I am damaged” mindset I mentioned above. It will take some effort to break free from that thought process.
I think a great place to start is to see ourselves the way God sees us:
“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7b NIV).
When we look in the mirror, we only see symptoms and broken pieces. But when God looks at us, He sees the complete picture. He sees the person He created us to be.
So let’s start there, and let’s be gentle with ourselves. Our relationships and the way we see ourselves may not change overnight, but with hard work and a lot of grace we will get there one step at a time. Owning our own significance and worth will bring us one step closer to inviting and maintaining healthy relationships in our lives.
3. If the relationship is abusive, make a plan to leave safely.
If you are in a toxic relationship, it may be dangerous to leave. If your significant other is abusive, the nagging fear of retribution in the form of physical harm is ever present.
There is an added dimension of fear when there are children involved. You not only have to plan for your own safe exit, you must also ensure your children’s safety.
Your circumstances will determine the timetable of your departure. You may have to save or borrow money. If you don’t have the means to get your own place, you must find a safe place to go like with family, a friend or a shelter.
Strategically plan your exit when you know your toxic partner will be gone for an extended period of time, so you can gather your belongings and leave safely. If the relationship is life-threatening, you may have to walk away with nothing because you have to leave quickly when the opportunity arises. That is a small price to pay for your safety.
If you or someone you love is part of an abusive relationship, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or click here to visit their website. Click here to find resources available by state for women affected by domestic violence.
3. Find an accountability partner.
When you have been in a long-term toxic relationship, breaking free is easier said than done. You struggle to believe that there is anything better out there than what you already have, and you are still fighting to internalize your personal value.
This is where an accountability partner comes in. You need to find your person. That one person who loves you for who you are but is not afraid to tell it like it is when necessary.
Your accountability partner is the one who talks you off the ledge when you want to stay in your toxic relationship or wander back into unhealthy relationship patterns because you are lonely or because you believe no one else would have you.
This is the step where you set yourself up for success because your decision to leave becomes more than an intention when you have someone willing to walk with you out the door.
This is the safe person who knows your plan and is there to support you and remind you of all the reasons you are leaving. They are there to remind you that you are too valuable to be treated poorly.
4. Go to therapy or find a support group to help you stand firm in your resolve to never be a part of a toxic relationship again.
Congratulations on leaving your toxic relationship. But now what? You have taken the first step to change your life, and you should be applauded.
But unless you go to therapy or seek a support group of individuals who share your relationship struggles, chances are you will wander back into your toxic relationship, or worse yet, form another one.
It is important to find people who have faced the same struggles but have made it through to the other side where they found their self-worth—with or without a romantic partner. If you learn how to be content on your own before you seek another relationship, the odds of your success rise.
You must heal yourself and internalize your worth before you move forward in pursuing a healthy relationship.
The steps I am asking you to take are difficult ones. You may falter before you move forward. Multiple times.
That’s okay. Be gentle with yourself, but always get back up. Take step one as many times as it takes to get to step two and keep going until you reach a place of self-acceptance and wholeness with or without a romantic relationship.
Have you ever walked away from a toxic relationship? What steps did you take to break free from it?