So many of my clients initially come to me to learn how to fix a toxic relationship and being happy again. Is it even possible?
And my response? YES!
That being said, it’s not easy and takes some determination on both sides.
But many couples who once loved each other have done the hard work and found their way back to each other, often times happier than ever.
So, how is it possible to fix a toxic relationship and be happy again? Let me share.
#1 – Make sure that everyone is on board.
Many of my clients tell me that they aren’t quitters. That they will never give up their efforts to fix their toxic relationship.
And I say that’s great, BUT there is no reason to keep fighting if your partner isn’t on board 100%.
Imagine any sporting event – baseball, football, tennis, golf. Imagine that one of you is out there, excited to play, working hard to play well and eager for the outcome. Imagine if the other team, or the other player, has no interest in playing. They stand around bored and unengaged. They put no effort into their play. They have no attachment at all to the outcome.
Would you find that situation enjoyable? Would it be something that you wanted to repeat? Would it help you develop your skills? Would you be frustrated that your partner didn’t care?
So it is in a relationship. If one person is all in, fighting every day to fix the toxic relationship, reading books, watching TikTok, taking seminars, coming up with activities, and the other person doesn’t care, the relationship fixing will get exactly nowhere.
Before fixing your relationship, talk with your partner to see if they are all in. To see if they want your relationship to be fixed and if they are willing to do the work to get there.
If they don’t, fixing a toxic relationship won’t be possible, and it will be time to walk away!
#2 – Make a list.
Now that you know that your partner is interested in fixing your toxic relationship, it’s time to talk about what is wrong.
With many couples, the things they struggle with can be dramatically different. Understanding what each other is struggling with is key to fixing the relationship.
I know that when I was married, what my ex and I struggled with were dramatically different.
I struggled with him not being present in our family’s life. I struggled with his alcohol drinking and his quick temper. I struggled with feeling like he didn’t see me. I struggled with his inability to follow through on a promise.
For him, I think he struggled with me ignoring him. With me not respecting him. With me not wanting to have sex. With the limitations on his free time, that was the result of our busy family.
As a result, when we tried to fix our toxic relationship, we were coming at it from such a different place that we couldn’t make any progress, and every time we tried, we eventually gave up.
I suggest that my clients set a time with their partner to discuss what they need from the marriage. They know that the discussion might be painful but that they both be willing to make themselves vulnerable for the sake of the relationship.
Each partner can take the time beforehand to assess what they need to be happy, which can be shared during the meeting. Shared without judgement or blame, just shared.
Once the partners come to a mutual understanding of what the other is dealing with then, the healing process can begin.
#3 – Make a list of things that need to change.
We tend to want to fix everything simultaneously when presented with the need to fix something. And that can often fail.
Think about your New Year’s Resolution – to get healthy, eat better, get in shape, and be kinder.
Wow! That seems pretty daunting to me! And, more often than not, something like that is daunting to the resolution setter, and, as a result, they ultimately give up.
What if, instead of the goal ‘to be healthy,’ we start small. Perhaps it’s drinking only three times a week. Or getting to the gym on Tuesday and Thursdays. Or being more patient with your sister.
One small thing at which you can have success.
Once you accomplish that one thing, you will feel good about yourself and more motivated to take on the next. As time passes and you succeed at each thing, you might ultimately find that you have kept your New Year’s resolution.
This idea works with a relationship that needs to be fixed. Starting small might make it possible to fix it.
I always encourage each person to choose one thing – one thing that, if it’s different, it will have the biggest effect. Once you know those things, you can discuss what would work to change them.
If my ex could have followed through on what he said he would do, that would have helped me a lot in my desire to fix our relationship.
If I had been clear with him that it was an issue and we had discussed what he could do to make change, he would been given the tools that he needed to help me with this issue.
If he had done the same for me, I would have had clarity around what he needed from me.
Instead of trying to be ‘happier,’ we could have strived to fix one small part of the relationship that made us miserable.
I wish we had done that then – we might still be married now if we had!
#4 – Set benchmarks.
The is one of the essential tools that make it possible to fix a toxic relationship – setting benchmarks around the work that you are doing.
The definition of benchmark serves as a standard by which others may be measured or judged. It is the point at which you evaluate the efficacy of a process.
In trying to fix a relationship, I always encourage couples to give themselves a timeline. To establish a date, or series of dates, on which they will come back together and discuss the progress that they are making.
Many couples get together and figure out what needs to be fixed and then set out to fix it. And then, life gets in the way, and their efforts stop despite their best intentions. And then those same problems rear their ugly heads again.
To prevent this from happening, I encourage couples to define a time to come back together to assess their work status. To evaluate what is working and what isn’t. Or to discuss that all efforts seem to have ceased.
By doing this, they will hold themselves accountable for the work they promised to do and, hopefully, set themselves up for success.
#5 – Get support.
I know that the idea of marriage counseling is abhorrent to many people.
Women often feel like their partners aren’t fully involved, and men often feel like therapy involves a litany of everything they have ever done wrong over their relationship.
I would argue that marriage counseling can be different and more effective.
If couples can work together ahead of time to identify the issues (as I encouraged in #2) and then bring these lists to the counselor, they will have a starting point that isn’t about what everyone is doing wrong but rather about what needs to be fixed.
Working with a counselor, or a life coach, will help teach people the skills to do what you want. To understand how to successfully reach the benchmarks set for each item.
We all would like to be born with the skills needed to fix a relationship, but sometimes, we aren’t. Sometimes we are too close to a situation to see it. Sometimes we don’t understand what or how, something needs to be done. Sometimes just a little bit of guidance can make a big difference!
So, to make it possible to fix a toxic relationship, sometimes support is precisely what you need.
I hope you now see that it is possible to fix a toxic relationship and understand some of the steps you can take to do so.
I know that the prospect of doing the work to fix the relationship might be daunting, but I am also guessing that, if you are reading this article, it’s something that you want to do.
So, talk to your person. Get an understanding of whether they are all in. Make a list of what needs to be fixed and choose to address one thing. Set benchmarks for the work, so you don’t lose sight of what needs to be done, and get support if needed.
Remember, thousands of couples fix their toxic relationship every day.
You can too!