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How to Stop Being Toxic in a Relationship – 15 Vital Tips

Last updated on October 18, 2022 by Sonya Schwartz

Recent years have brought with them a new awareness and respect for mental health and emotional intelligence. People are saying ‘no’ to toxic relationships and situations. A 2022 study1 published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health notes that domination and discrimination are the main components of a toxic relationship.

It might be very easy to spot such toxic behaviors in others or tag their relationships toxic, but it's rare to find people who can actually admit that they are toxic. Apart from the fact that it is hard to admit to being toxic, some people don't realize their hurtful attitude until they are in a relationship. They watch their spouses suffer from their faulty behaviors until they can't deny it anymore. 

If you are one of these people, this article will be great for you. Find out what a toxic person looks like and how to stop being toxic in your relationships. 

How to Stop Being Toxic in a Relationship 

The moment you realize that you're exhibiting toxic behaviors in your current relationship, you have a chance to change the narrative. Just because you've become aware of your abusive behavior does not mean you’re a bad person; don’t feel guilty, there's always room for change if you're willing to do the work. 

The first step to leaving your toxic traits behind is to become fully aware of yourself and the way you act toward your partner. This way you can spot the attitudes and behaviors that hurt them. Also, be fully present and listen more. If you don't listen to your significant other more often, you won't truly know how he feels about some of the things you do. Finally, seek professional help; therapy is always a good idea. 

What Does Being Toxic Mean? Am I the Toxic One in the Relationship? 

Being toxic2 means that your behavior brings negativity to the people closest to you. It could be your family members, co-workers, or, worst of all, your partner. WebMD also notes that toxic people aren't always intentional about their hurtful behavior, in fact, most times these unpleasant behaviors stem from stressors within their lives and environment.

Amy Enkling, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, also notes that toxic behavior causes stress and frustration for those around you.

If you feel like you’re in a toxic relationship; for example, you notice that there's little or no communication between both you and your spouse, then the next thing to do is find out if you're the toxic one in the relationship.

First of all, observe yourself. Are you controlling towards your spouse? Are you prone to physical violence, verbal abuse, or extreme jealousy? Then you are probably the culprit here. There are numerous other signs you’ve become a toxic person, but if you notice any of these, it's a sure sign that you need to make some changes. 

Why Am I Toxic? And Can Toxic People Change?

There's a reason behind every behavior, but we need to remember that before every action comes a thought. Before we address the question; ‘why am I toxic and how to change?’, we need to point out that no one is toxic, we just exhibit unpleasant behaviors. So, in reality, you aren't actually toxic, the behavior you’re displaying is.

Now, in order to know why you're displaying these harmful attitudes, trace your thoughts and corresponding feelings. Find out what triggered you to behave in that manner. Some people are triggered when they feel controlled, betrayed, silenced, or ignored. Perhaps, something your partner does keeps triggering you. 

If you're wondering if you can stop these toxic behaviors, the answer is yes. The first thing you can do to stop this is to separate yourself from your trigger for a while. Give yourself time to breathe and do some soul-searching. If you and your partner live together and he is one of these triggers, try talking to him about it. Thorough communication is vital on his part, if he's also willing to build a good relationship with you.

How to Stop Being Toxic in a Relationship (15 Vital Tips)

1. Understand what being toxic means and acknowledge that you are toxic

You can't change a bad habit or attitude without finding out what it is; you've got to understand what you're changing from and what you want to change. In other words, understand what it is you're doing wrong and think about the better person you want to be. 

Being toxic doesn't only hurt the people around you, it can also hurt you. So, the moment you realize that you are toxic to the people around you, your transformation begins there. Identify those traits and characters that upset your loved ones then work on making adjustments where it's necessary. 

Once you acknowledge that you have some toxic traits that hurt the people around you, you are on your first step to recovery. You can start to map out your recovery strategy immediately. 

2. Try therapy

Realizing you are the toxic girlfriend is just the beginning of your journey to becoming a better person, now you've got to actually do the work. The good news is that you don't have to do it on your own. You can approach a professional for help. 

With platforms like Relationship Hero, you can get matched with a therapist who specializes in the specific issue that’s bothering you. Take their short 2-minute quiz to get started.

Therapy encourages open and honest dialogue3. Therapy has helped people evaluate their behavior and work on improving their seemingly toxic relationships. Even though going through therapy takes serious effort, it is actually the easiest and most effective way out. A mental professional can provide you with constructive criticism and help you navigate your mind to find out the root of your toxicity and the best steps you need to take to change those toxic traits.

Most behavioral problems people struggle with are a result of childhood trauma, traumatic experiences, or being stuck in toxic relationships. Trying to work through these issues alone can be near impossible depending on the intensity. So, the moment you decide you want to make some changes to your life and behavior, consider getting therapy. 

3. Practice understanding others instead of blaming

Most toxic people remain toxic because they prefer to blame others for their actions. They hardly listen to what the other person has to say before jumping to conclusions and probably throwing a fit. A 2021 study4 titled “Toxic Relationships: The Experiences and Effects of Psychopathy in Romantic Relationships” published in the International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, notes that victims of toxic relationships often experience psychological side effects similar to victims of bullying and general crime.

Ending this bad habit may be the first step to your recovery even though it's quite challenging. Realizing that most of your mishaps are your fault and you've been pushing the blame for a while can be tough. What's even tougher is learning to accept responsibility for your actions more often. 

The first step to achieving this is learning to listen. Try listening to what the other person has to say before jumping to conclusions. The more you listen, the more you understand, and when you can see things from the other person's point of view, you may be able to see where the mistake is. 

4. Set up some mental goals and challenges

set up some mental goals and challenges

The best thing to do when you're trying to improve a toxic relationship is to set a few goals. Setting goals keeps you focused and motivated enough to make progress. 

In this case, your goal is to get rid of toxic behaviors and begin to build kind and healthy characters. So to make it easier, you could break this one goal into smaller bits and start to work on achieving them one by one. This way, it will be easier to keep making an effort. Making behavioral changes is no joke, if you're being honest with yourself you will realize that it's quite challenging. This is why setting small, achievable goals can really make things easier for you. 

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Talking to your therapist about this could help. They may help give you directions on how to set these goals and how to take things at your pace. You don't want to burn out because you're trying to make progress way too fast

5. Identify these toxic behaviors

It's important to remember that you aren't actually toxic, you only exhibit toxic behavior. So, if you notice some toxic traits in yourself and you’re trying to stop these bad behaviors, you've got to practice self-awareness to identify them first. 

Pointing out bad behavior isn't too challenging. In fact, there's a chance that you can already list some of them. So, try finding out if there are others you aren't aware of. You can do this by asking friends and family members who care about you and want to help you improve. You could also observe people's reactions to the things you do; this may be even more effective. 

No matter how willing your support network is to help, they can't possibly tell you everything. You will have to do most of the discovery yourself, so start observing. 

6. Learn to apologize 

Most times people with toxic traits tend to view apologies as a weakness instead of a necessity. It's part of their inability to own their actions. Naturally, when you find no harm or wrong in the things that you do, you won't feel the need to apologize. However, learning to apologize is very important to learn in your journey of becoming a healthy individual. 

Being a healthy individual involves owning up to your mistakes. The moment you start to realize that your pride is making you build negative relationship patterns, you are on the right track to full recovery. You need to learn to be kind to yourself while doing this, since it will take a lot of practice before you start to see things from the right perspective. You will need to master the art of being consciously aware of your actions and the way it affects the people around you. This takes time and a lot of mental and emotional strength. 

Some people even opt to apologize months or years after a ruined relationship because they've come to the realization that they were at fault. This takes a lot of courage but it's guaranteed to put you on your path to recovery. 

7. Start to set boundaries

Most people developed bad behaviors growing up, they were not born with those traits. Some people got hurt in a past toxic relationship and had to develop coping mechanisms that manifested as toxic behavior patterns over time. So, if you can cut off the negativity targeted at you, your journey to building healthy relationships will be easier.

Setting boundaries5 is part of self-care and will help you cut off toxic people. You can learn to say ‘no’ to them and to reject anything that is imposed on you. Setting boundaries helps you build healthy relationships and be part of social circles that promote self-worth. 

It is possible that you have been drawn to toxic relationships in the past, perhaps this is the first thing you need to work on. Talk to your therapist about this; you may need to do some mental work first. If these toxic relationships include immediate family members, it may be a bit more difficult to trace and end those toxic patterns. When a toxic person is not willing to admit that they have a problem, there's no point trying to convince them. 

8. Exercise helps 

People are starting to discover that exercise plays a major role in mental health improvement. Research proves that exercise helps our body release endorphins - a hormone responsible for positive emotions. When released, they help make you feel optimistic, motivated, and energetic. 

Apart from the sense of fulfillment and self-worth a good jog or an hour at the gym can bring you, it's a bit hard to feel down and negative after you've worked up a good sweat. Getting your heart racing is one of the best ways to soothe yourself

If you're just starting out on your active journey, it's best to start small first. Don't go straight to lifting weights, try taking 30 minutes jogs in the park or fast walks on the treadmill. If you can afford a personal trainer, that would be great. The secret to effectively improving with exercise is consistency. Even if you don't want to work out every day of the week, you can pick a few days during the week to do so. Just make sure you're consistent.

9. Make a decision to act with integrity

This journey is all about making tough decisions; if you want to build healthy relationships and say goodbye to low self-esteem, you've got to make a decision to take the high road more often. After years of pointing fingers, blaming others, and avoiding responsibility, it will be hard to start acting with integrity all of a sudden. You may find it really challenging to let certain things go at first, but with a little effort and determination, you can do it. 

Also make a decision to think before you act, try not to lose it. Lots of things are going to make you feel like going back to your old habits, but you've got to stand strong. Refuse to be pushed to act irrationally. When you're caught in a difficult position don't forget to ask yourself if your next action is going to hurt someone. Will it affect their emotions negatively or positively? That way you will be a bit more careful of your actions. 

10. Create some alone time 

create some alone time

A toxic person has lots of healing and self-care to do. Most of them adopted these hurtful behaviors from their interactions with people. So, taking a little time away from other’s company could do you some good. Stay indoors in your safe space, do something you want to do for a change, not something someone else wants to do. Learn to love yourself instead of spending time waiting for other people to love you. Build your self-esteem and self-dignity; you can read some self-help books or use daily affirmations. 

Being alone won't only help you spend quality time with yourself, it will also give you less opportunities to hurt others. While you're still learning to lose the bad habits, it may help to reduce human contact. Think through things that have happened in the past and how you would have handled them better. Think about how you would like to treat others from now on. Taking time to reflect could really move you forward in your journey. 

11. Be invested in your growth

The more determined you are to make a change, the more effective your efforts will be. Making changes to your character can be one of the hardest things to do but it's not impossible. 

If you're invested in self-growth and you've made up your mind to grow out of bad habits, nothing can stop you. While you're doing this, try your best not to compare yourself with others. You don't know their journey, you don't understand their life or how they were brought up and you don't truly know what challenges they face. 

So, avoid spending time comparing yourself to the people around you. What you should rather do is to compare your current self with who you were a while back and take note of your progress. If you can keep a journal to document this progress, that would be great. 

Also, take note of the kind of people you attract after a while. If less hurtful people are drawn to you, best believe you're making progress. If you haven't noticed any notable changes don't be discouraged. Perhaps you just need to change a few of your methods. This is why it's good to be in therapy, it's best to be guided by a professional. 

12. Practice showing love

People with bad behaviors have developed very conditional love habits. Most of them have learned that love can't be given freely so they try to get as much as they can out of their relationships. They take more than they give so they don't feel cheated. This kind of love hardly ever lasts, since it's not very healthy. 

We subconsciously love people the way we were taught to love. In other words, if we were loved unconditionally, we will love others unconditionally and vice versa. This is why it's important to surround yourself with healthy people so their good energy can rub off on you. 

Most people don't know this, but showing love is the best way to experience love and be free from toxic dynamics. It seems ironic but it's true. Perhaps try signing up for some charitable activities or just do a few good things for the people around you. The therapeutic effects it can have on you are phenomenal. 

13. Talk about your concerns

Open communication is very important especially when you’re starting a new relationship. You can learn a lot through clear communication. In fact, things could be made very simple for you if you talk to the right person. This is why therapy is a good idea for both you and your partner. Therapists help you map your thoughts and find solutions to your complexities. 

If you're still stuck wondering why you are malicious and how you can stop, try communicating with someone who can help you. Communicating your own feelings to family or friends is risky because there's a chance they could invalidate you or out-argue you if they have a stronger voice. However, sometimes it's just good to put it out there whether they accept it or not. 

If you're finding it very difficult talking to your friends and family, talk to your therapist about it. They could help you figure out how to say what you need to say correctly. In summary, bottling things up or using the silent treatment will likely not end well for anyone, it will just make you angrier and your loved ones more frustrated because they don't understand you. 

14. Develop empathy

develop empathy

Being able to empathize with your partner is one of the best things you can do to improve a toxic relationship. Once you're able to put yourself in someone else's shoes, you can understand them better. If you understand people, their motives, tones and other things, you will have less misunderstandings. 

The Washington Post describes toxicity as the inability to empathize with the people you relate with. This is a very good definition in this case because the solution to toxicity is in its meaning. That means, if toxicity is a lack of empathy then learning to empathize with people will help you become less problematic. 

So this is another thing you can put on your list of goals - learn to be empathic. When you wake up every day with a goal to put yourself in other people's shoes, you're on your way to building healthy relationships. 

15. Try silencing your ego 

It is healthy for everyone to have a good sense of self, but if you let your ego become inflated, it becomes a problem. You will become proud and prone to holding grudges; you will always think of yourself as higher than others and never wrong. This is how people become narcissists

Toxic people tend to keep up a certain image, when that image is threatened they become quite defensive. This is because they've allowed their egos to grow uncontrollably. Remind yourself every day that no one is perfect and you don't have to put up a perfect image to get by. 

Relationships hardly ever last when one partner or both have inflated egos; that would be considered a toxic relationship. Everyone will be fighting for a spot at the top. No one would be thinking of the well-being of the relationship, but how a person's comment or actions make them look. 

Building an ego is a poor way of trying to gain control of your life or situation, some may even say it is cowardly. Egoistic people find it hard to do basic things like ask for help, ask for a promotion, or for another thing that may cause them to feel vulnerable. So, try your best to check your ego.

FAQs

How to stop letting my baggage onto him?

If you're having emotional problems, it's a bit difficult to cope with them without letting it affect your partner. The best thing to do is to speak to him about it, even though it doesn't directly concern him. It would be unfortunate if your boyfriend is not a good listener, in that case, speak to someone who will listen.

Why am I so toxic in relationships?

Most toxic habits stem from an unhealthy upbringing or traumatic experiences growing up. You could also develop bad habits from remaining in a toxic relationship. If you were raised in a home where there was frequent fighting, verbal abuse, and toxic behavior in general, perhaps that is the reason you're toxic in your relationship. Also consider any wrong experiences you had growing up, if you experienced anything traumatic that could be a major contributor.

Should I see a therapist if I'm toxic?

Yes, it is always a good idea to see a therapist once you discover that you are either in a toxic relationship or you have a few toxic behaviors. The fact that you are even aware that you're malevolent means that you still have a healthy mind. Try finding a therapist who has positive recommendations or reviews. Therapy may take a while before you start to see improvements but it is effective.

How to know if you are toxic in a relationship?

If you notice that most of the fights and arguments start and end with you, you're probably the unpleasant one. This doesn’t have to include physical violence, since that isn’t one of the common toxic traits seen in most women. Also, if your partner feels weird about communicating with you, there's definitely a problem on your end. Perhaps you constantly invalidate him or you interrupt him when he talks.

How to change toxic behavior?

To build a healthy relationship, make a conscious effort to apologize more often. Also, learn to take responsibility for your actions; stop pushing blame. Control your ego. People with inflated egos usually develop multiple unpleasant traits and struggle to empathize with their partners. So, check yourself when you notice you're displaying these behaviors.

In Conclusion

I hope you found this article helpful. Remember, you are not toxic, you only display toxic behavior. This means you can unlearn them and become a healthier person. Please let me know what you think about this topic in the comment section and be sure to share the article with friends.

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Sources:

  1. Villarejo-Carballido B, Pulido CM, Zubiri-Esnaola H, Oliver E. (2022): Young People's Voices and Science for Overcoming Toxic Relationships Represented in Sex Education
  2. WebMD Editorial Contributors, Dan Brennan, MD (2020): Signs of a Toxic Person
  3. Lindberg, S. (2020): Benefits and Options for Therapy
  4. Forth, A., Sezlik, S., Lee, S., Ritchie, M., Logan, J., & Ellingwood, H. (2022): Toxic Relationships: The Experiences and Effects of Psychopathy in Romantic Relationships
  5. Pattemore, C. (2021): 10 Ways to Build and Preserve Better Boundaries
  6. WebMD (2020) Signs of a Toxic Person: https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/signs-toxic-person
Sonya Schwartz
A hopeless romantic that struggled for many years to find her Mr "Right" and made all the mistakes you could think of while dating. Known for always choosing the wrong guys or messing up relationships, Sonya was finally able to change her approach and mindset when it came to dating which helped her eventually find the man of her dreams and become happily married. You can read more about me here...

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