Does your relationship leave you feeling exhausted, overwhelmed or hopeless? Do you feel alone, even though you are in a relationship? These are just a few of the signs that you may be in a toxic relationship. Other indicators include constant conflict, invalidation, dishonesty, and unpredictability. Power and control further fuel these unhealthy dynamics, creating a ripe environment for emotional, verbal, and physical abuse.
These relationship dynamics impact other areas of our lives and generate toxic stress. Sleep disturbance, changes in diet, and fatigue are common. All of these symptoms associated with toxic stress cause changes in behavior, as we try to cope or self-medicate. Continuously elevated emotions can result in irritability, outbursts of anger, or uncontrollable crying. If you’re wondering whether healing is possible, I have outlined below some simple steps you can take that will help you begin the healing process.
Five Things You Can Do To Begin Healing
1. It Takes Two
Relationships exist between two people. It takes a willingness from both people to change the abusive and hurtful dynamics present in a relationship. While this is no easy task, it can be possible with the right interventions. First, I suggest finding a good time to discuss the need for change with your spouse. Avoid accusations. Keep it simple and direct. Focus on what you want for your relationship, not what you don’t want. Keep the conversation collaborative and invite them to work with you toward these goals.
If you find yourself suddenly in the middle of an emotionally escalating conflict, take a break. If you catch yourself about to say or do something destructive—pause. This is much easier said than done; stopping yourself at peak emotion is incredibly difficult. However, continuing to engage in abusive dynamics will result in more frustration and damage. Rebuilding trust takes time, but also requires demonstration that you are capable of change.
3. Take Care of Yourself
Take an honest look at your current self-care regime. Do what is needed to increase your emotional and physical health. This is important for reducing your body’s toxic stress levels. Consider how you’re doing in these areas: physical health, substance use, social support, hygiene, diet, exercise, and sleep.
4. Set Boundaries
Boundaries cannot control another person’s behavior (although, wouldn’t that be nice?!). Rather, they determine how we act and respond to various situations. Boundaries are designed to keep us safe and prevent toxic stress. This is an important, but often difficult step toward recovery, as toxic relationships have a way of dissolving boundaries.
If redefining your boundaries seems confusing, start by making a list of behaviors or situations that have hurt you in the past. Then imagine a healthy response to each of them that enforces your safety. This helps you recognize and respond to these situations before they escalate, and gives you back a sense of control. Also keep in mind that boundaries are not static; they can change over time. For example, you may not be comfortable with sexual intimacy currently, but that may change over time. Focus on what is currently needed to keep you feeling safe.
5. Focus on Your Goals
If a toxic relationship has caused significant damage in your life, one of the first steps to recovery is recognition and validation of the nature and extent of the trauma. Often, though, early attempts to get this validation from your partner results in continued cycles of defensiveness, self-preservation, accusations, and invalidation, leaving you feeling even more alone and without hope of recovery.
This is where trauma recovery work is critical. It’s important to focus on your own recovery first before attempting to seek restoration of the relationship. This will take time. Your spouse likely will need counseling as well to help them break their patterns of defensiveness.
Navigating recovery and re-building the healthy relationship you long for can be a daunting task. You will need the expert guidance of someone who knows how to lead you and your spouse through the process. We have been doing this for many years and would love to come alongside you and guide you on your healing journey. Click here to speak with a Client Care Specialist who can help you figure out the best next steps.