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How to Deal with a Toxic Relationship: Stay or Nay?

Written by Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD · Pharmacology

Updated Feb 09, 2021

How to Deal with a Toxic Relationship: Stay or Nay?

There are many types of acceptable relationships: friendships, kinships, and romantic partnerships. The only unacceptable relationship is a toxic or abusive one. When does a relationship become toxic? What should you do? Learn how to deal with a toxic relationship today.

Disclaimer: if you are currently experiencing any form of abuse (e.g. physical, sexual, emotional) and fear for your safety, seek attention from the proper authorities as soon as possible.

How to deal with a toxic relationship

how to deal with a toxic relationship

Toxicity vs. abuse

There is a blurred line between toxicity and abuse. Essentially, all abusive relationships are toxic while a toxic relationship does not have to involve abuse. While we often think of romantic partners as those in relationships, even friendships and family relationships can become toxic or abusive. For example, there are many cases of child abuse at home and online.

The default meaning of the word “toxic’ is something that causes poisoning or harm. In relationships, toxicity refers to actions, words, and feelings that harm or ruin the relationship between people. Poor communication, conflict, and unhealthy expression are  some roots of toxicity. It is not always intentional, but that does not justify the harm done.

On the other hand, abuse refers to intentional harm done to another person. Abuse happens regularly and is often rooted in the need for control over the victim. For example, if your parent or partner always criticizes you and uses foul language when you make a small mistake, this is considered verbal abuse. However, a significant other accidentally making an insensitive joke one time would not be considered abuse right away.

Abuse is a serious offense and can be grounds for legal action. Additionally, toxicity may be a precursor to abuse, but it also has damaging effects on its own. In both cases, at least one person in the relationship is suffering mentally, emotionally, or physically.

Tips to Build a Healthy Family Relationship

Get to the root of toxicity and resolve conflicts

1) What’s the problem?

It is important to know where the problem lies and try to fix it. If your partner is overprotective, what is their reasoning for it? To them they may have good intentions, but on your end you feel like you are being controlled. Perhaps they have unresolved trauma from a past relationship which makes them insecure. Telling them your perspective may help. However, if the problem is more deeply rooted, it would be best to seek professional help from a therapist or psychologist.

how to deal with a toxic relationship

2) Who’s fault is it?

Now is not the time to play the blame game. Constantly pointing fingers is a toxic trait, especially when you both might have faults in the matter. Take a moment to calm down to avoid making decisions while upset. Sit down and talk it out.

After identifying the problem, acknowledge each others feelings and perspectives on the matter. There is a chance that there was a breakdown in communication or misunderstanding. Use positive or neutral words and tones as much as possible.

3) How long has it been going on?

Understandably, it takes weeks, months, and even years to get to know someone deeply. Even if you hit it off right away, that does not guarantee long-term compatibility. Toxicity may show up as early as the first date, or rear its ugly head when you have already been married for several years.

If someone has “always been toxic,’ it would be hard to change that. However, if you are able to address toxic traits early on and they work to fix it, there is a chance the relationship can become stronger. Sometimes toxicity is temporary or a consequence of a new adversity. Frequent or continual toxic behavior may be too much to handle without an intervention.

Know when to quit (or when to stay)

Toxic relationships are not fun. Dealing with a toxic relationship may bring out the worst in both parties. (Surprise: there may be times when we are actually the toxic ones). Of course, nobody is perfect.

While a toxic relationship may be a sign that the ship is sinking, there may be chance to resolve issues and grow stronger together if addressed early enough. While we will not enable abusive partners, there are ways to salvage relationships before they become too toxic or harmful.

Firstly, there is no need to stay in a relationship if it’s really something you don’t want. Maybe you were pressured by family to get together but discovered that you are not compatible. Instead, it may be better to spend time alone or with friends and be sure of what you want in your life. After all, the relationship you have with yourself is the most important.

how to deal with a toxic relationship

Secondly, communication is always key in any relationship. It might be helpful to have a mediator, such as a counselor or therapist. Communication should involve identifying how each of you feel and what triggers those feelings. Effective discussions should not focus on the past or merely be a time to argue. Keep the criticisms constructive and be civil to avoid toxicity.

Lastly, are they (or we) willing to change? This is the hardest pill to swallow for most people. Acknowledging our own mistakes and shortcomings is a mark of maturity. However, if the willingness to change and compromise is not mutual, you are only setting yourself up for headache and heartbreak. Avoid on-again, off-again relationships, as these are toxic.

Of course, change does not happen overnight. It may take months or even years to undo (or develop) toxic behaviors. It is your discretion to give someone a second chance or call it quits. Taking a break or having a “cool down’ may be the best option if you are unsure, but you need to be clear regarding your boundaries and expectations during this time.

Key takeaways

In summary, toxic relationships can be hard to deal with. These relationships can be with friends, family, acquaintances, and lovers. Toxicity can ruin happy relationships quickly, so it is best to identify the causes and decide on mutual solutions. Willingness to compromise and make real changes is the difference between a salvageable relationship and one that deserves to end.

If you or someone you know needs help with a relationship, it is best to talk to a professional therapist or counselor. If you are currently experiencing any form of abuse (e.g. physical, sexual, emotional) and fear for your safety, seek attention from the proper authorities as soon as possible.

Learn more about Healthy Relationships here.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Written by

Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD


Updated Feb 09, 2021

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