Can Toxic Relationships Be Healed?

Is it possible that you’re in an unhealthy relationship and don’t even realize it yet? If so, can these types of relationships be mended?

Although it may seem complicated, it’s not entirely impossible.

Here are experts’ insights to the question, “Can toxic relationships be healed?”

Carrie Mead, LCPC

Carrie Mead

Psychotherapist, Maryland Therapy by Carrie

It is not impossible if all parties do the necessary work

Toxic relationships are very difficult to heal; however, it is not impossible if all parties do the necessary work.

First, let us define what exactly constitutes a toxic relationship. Relationships where disrespect is rampant and trust is broken are obvious red flags. Additionally, any sort of abuse is toxic.

Abuse can show up as:

  • Emotional or psychological abuse (i.e., name-calling or lying)
  • Financial abuse (i.e., withholding money or limiting access to family funds)
  • Spiritual abuse (i.e., forcing a religious practice or denying someone’s chosen faith)
  • Sexual abuse (i.e., forcing sex practices or forced prostitution)
  • Physical abuse (i.e., hitting, kicking, and intimidating with the intent to cause fear and bodily harm).

Other less overt forms of toxicity can include:

  • Constant fighting or bickering
  • Purposefully embarrassing your partner in the presence of others
  • Being demeaning towards one another
  • Manipulating each other for personal gain and intense mood swings within the relationship

Given the depths of hurt that are suffered in a toxic relationship, it will take a great deal of time, effort, and an innate desire from each person to do better.

There has to be some desire from the partners to want to change and forgive

There also has to be some desire from the partners to want to change and to forgive the transgressions that have already happened.

There is no quick fix for healing a toxic relationship, and it can be difficult to withstand more maltreatment while you are trying to heal and recover from the trauma you have endured.

Related: How to Fix a Relationship That’s Falling Apart

There are good reasons for ending a relationship like this, but there can be valid reasons to stay and heal together, too.

Some of the steps towards healing a toxic relationship include:

  • Being willing to admit your personal faults and challenges
  • Taking responsibility for your part of the problem
  • Being accountable for the hurt your actions have caused
  • Working with a skilled psychotherapist and/or psychiatrist to treat underlying mental health conditions that are contributing to the dysfunction
  • Learning how to deal with stress, anger, sadness, and grief in a healthy way (i.e., using mindfulness meditations, exercising, creating art, or making new friends)
  • Letting go of maladaptive or negative coping skills (i.e., drinking excessively, gambling, being aggressive, or withdrawing from your support system)
  • Engaging in personal and/or couples counseling to learn new, healthy ways to interact with each other

As you can imagine, all of this requires a great deal of energy, gumption, desire, and intrinsic motivation to heal yourself first. It often seems easier and faster to blame the other person for the relationship issues.

Perhaps, at times, there is just one problematic person, but more often than not, both people need to change.

Additionally, many people subconsciously reenact childhood trauma in their adult relationships by seeking partners who remind them of their parents.

In an effort to heal “unfinished business“ from childhood, they can unknowingly choose a partner who has characteristics of a caregiver that was unkind, abusive, or absentee.

Again, working with a skilled therapist can help you understand this behavior and heal old wounds so that they do not resurface in your next relationship.

Healing is always possible but that does not mean you need to stay together

In summary, healing is always possible, but that does not mean you need to stay together to heal. And, if there are compelling reasons to leave, such as a threat to personal safety or financial ruin, then always act in a way that keeps you safe.

When making a difficult decision such as this, engage your friends or family for advice, support, and feedback.

Attempting to navigate these issues alone will often end in poor decision-making, as your judgment will likely be clouded by the stress of the toxic relationship.

Of course, working with a trained mental health professional can offer you the guidance and support you need to come to your own right decision.

Meenakshi Joshi, MS (ABA), MA (Clinical Psychology)

Meenakshi Joshi

Practicing Psychologist, Epsychonline

Do you feel that your partner does not care for you? Is there no trust in your relationship? Do you feel unsafe? Does your partner not care about how you feel?

Can you do something to make your life better? Do you feel that you can work things out with your partner? Can toxic relationships be healed?

Both partners must be prepared and willing to work together

You may feel like, “how can we change something that is so bad and broken?” A good thing about us is that we can change if we really want to. You can heal and make things better.

Similarly, toxic relationships can be healed as well. But to do so, both the partners should be ready and willing.

Both the partners need to accept that things have gone bad between them

Both the partners need to accept that things have gone bad between them, and they have to change. Also, they need to be willing to give time to work on themselves and work with each other.

Acceptance

Firstly, to change, you need to accept that it has gone wrong. If you feel that everything is fine, you will not feel the need to change.

For example, a husband puts his wife in front of others. He says mean things about her and laughs at her when she gives her opinion. The wife feels unloved.

She wants respect from her husband but does not get it. She thinks that their relationship is toxic. But the husband sees nothing wrong with his behavior and their marriage.

Here, the husband does not accept that he is doing anything wrong. He is blind to his wife’s feelings and feels that their marriage is going well. In such cases, toxic relationships cannot be healed.

For any change or for things to get better, you first need to accept that they are not good right now. You also need to accept your role in making things worse. You need to see your faults.

Put time and effort to make it better

Toxic relationships can be healed with patience, understanding, love, and care. You and your partner need to put time and effort into working on your relationship. It cannot happen overnight. It may take months or years to make things better.

Unless you both are willing to work together on changing yourself and your interactions with each other, things will not get better.

Work harder and be willing to adjust and accept more

Your love may bring you a lot of headaches, but you still love your partner. In this case, if you value love more than other things in life and if you truly love your partner a lot, then your efforts to heal might work.

You would rather work harder and be willing to adjust and accept more if you love the other person and they love you back.

Some ways in which you can work with your partner to heal are:

  • Try to give space to each other – When you or your partner tries to control each other, the whole thing gets very messy and bad. Try to respect each other and let the other person be. So, try not to step over each other. Take a step back.
  • Decide that you will not dig up the past – The one thing that will not let you move ahead has the same fight again and again. For example, do not say things like:
    • “every time you do the same…”
    • “last time you did not…”
    • “you always do this!”

Related: How to Let Go of Someone You Love and Move on

  • Be assertive and not rude – Talk with your partner in a manner that will not sound rude and will not hurt them. Do not be passive-aggressive. Be firm and clear in what you feel and want.
  • No one can define who you are – Remember, you are a smart and independent person. So, only you can make yourself feel low or useless. No one, not even your partner, can define who you are. So take control of your feelings and self-worth.
  • Pick your battles wisely – Know when you stand your ground and when to walk away. Do not fight about everything. Toxic relationships can be healed if you focus on what is important.
  • Stop blaming and criticizing – You have done this enough in the past. For example, you feel your partner is not listening to your opinion. At that time, instead of saying, “you never listen to me,” try saying, “I am trying to talk to you. Please listen. It makes me feel terrible, and I feel that I do not matter to you.”
  • Start working on yourself – Toxic relationships need to be healed, but you need to heal yourself too! You have gone through a lot of hard situations. This can take up a lot of mental energy.
    • Calm down and focus on yourself. Once you feel more in control and less worried, you will be able to see things more clearly.
    • Own your mistakes and your role in what went wrong. It would be best if you made peace with it. You cannot blame yourself or punish yourself for it, but you can also ignore it.
    • Decide what you need to change about yourself. Take steps to improve on things that you did wrong.
  • Get support and help – Get help from friends and family members. You cannot work alone. Also, you can start therapy if needed. You cannot handle everything on your own. Having a third person will help you get a fresh view and might help to facilitate communication between you.

In conclusion, you can heal toxic relationships with time, effort, love, and lots of hard work.

However, if your relationship has made your life hell or the damage done is too much, then think twice before trying to work on your relationship. It is better to walk away than suffer in a bad relationship.

Nikki Nolet, LMFT

Nikki Nolet

Owner, Relationships Redefined

Toxic relationships can be a source of trauma for some. When you lose the ability to connect with your nervous system, you can almost guarantee you’re in an unhealthy relationship.

Other than physical violence and abuse, there are sometimes smaller things to pay attention to for toxic relationships. Most people only look for the huge signs that you’re in a toxic relationship and forget that the small tell-tale signs slowly build up over time.

The importance is in paying attention to the details, as you may not notice the signs at first, but you may not recognize yourself in the end.

Toxic relationships can be healed, but it’s worth asking the question of “at what cost will it be to you?” If your partner actively wants to change, I would suggest getting the help of a couples therapist who can help you identify and reconstruct your patterns of interaction, as criticism, resentment, and contempt are often already at play.

Healing is possible if both partners want to make the change

Learning how to do things differently and how to relate differently can change and heal the wounds both partners have experienced in the relationship, and the important part of it is that both partners want to make the change.

Suppose you feel like you can no longer identify yourself in the relationship. In that case, it may be worth taking some time to do some healing for yourself in order to rediscover what makes you whole, and that may include taking a step back or ending the relationship altogether.

Dependency in a relationship can be healthy if it’s done in a way where each partner still maintains their own separate identity but consciously works at putting as much into the relationship as possible.

At times, leaning on your partner and being vulnerable can deepen the relationship, but becoming dependent on them to define you or limiting who you connect with because of their anxiety is dangerous territory.

Related: How to Break Codependency Habits

Listening to your intuition when you are with your partner is a key component to being able to know what level of healing can be accomplished.

If you are highly anxious around your partner, it may be telling you that the relationship is unhealthy.

Same with jealously, if you are often trying to skirt around criticism, you don’t feel like you are supported by your partner, if you see controlling behaviors, if you have patterns of disrespect showing up in your day to day interactions or if there is dishonestly taking place—you’re in a toxic relationship.

Healing depends on the extent of the damage that you have endured

The ability to heal from these relationships depends on the extent of the damage that you have endured.

Toxic relationships, which are not only limited to romantic relationships but can also occur between family members is one in which you feel attacked, not in alignment with who you want to be, misunderstood, demeaned, and when you don’t feel like the other person shares the mutual desire for both parties to succeed.

Related: 20+ Signs of Toxic Family Relationships and What You Could Do About Them

If your well-being is threatened, you may be in a toxic relationship.

Some toxic relationships can be healed by learning effective communication, holding zero negativity in the space, and changing your behaviors.

Others may leave you feeling traumatized, and it’s best to step away from those relationships as hard as it may be. In these instances, I would suggest gaining the support of a therapist that can help you to learn boundaries, improve your self-esteem, and gain footing towards a healthier version of yourself.

Relationships involve two people, so it’s important that both/all parties are holding on to the mutual desire for both of you to feel supported and to be successful in the long run. Make sure to check in regularly with your partner and practice healthy communication.

Dr. Vicki D. Coleman

Vicki Coleman

Licensed Clinical Psychotherapist, The Anger Doctor | Internationally Recognized Behavioral Health Clinician

Self-Concept and Self-Esteem can help heal toxic relationships

Yes, toxic relationships can be healed!

However, parties in the relationship must know themselves and others; and make a commitment and sacrifice to heal, grow, and re-establish trust. Individuals must know themselves and the other parties involved, with respect to values, core beliefs, and world view, among others.

To achieve this, I believe initially focusing on Self-Concept and Self-Esteem can facilitate the healing of toxic relationships. Self-Concept is the perception that we have of ourselves, and Self-Esteem is how we “feel” about ourselves.

As Self-Concept and Self-Esteem are not one (1) construct, I subscribe to and modify the 6 Areas of Self-Concept developed by Fitts & Warren (1964, 1996) and illustrated in their classic, global inventory, the Tennessee Self-Concept Scale (TSCS).

The 6 Areas of Self-Concept and Self-Esteem:

  • Personal Self-Concept and Self-Esteem
  • Physical Self-Concept and Self-Esteem
  • Family Self-Concept and Self-Esteem
  • Social/Community Self-Concept and Self-Esteem
  • Academic/Work/Professional/Financial Self-Concept and Self-Esteem
  • Moral/Ethical/Spiritual Self-Concept and Self-Esteem

Understanding self and others in each of the above 6 Areas of Self-Concept & Self-Esteem is the initial step in healing a toxic relationship.

All parties must be committed to personal growth and development, including the sacrifices manifested in understanding this new information and subsequent decision making and behavior.

Professionally, specifically in my teaching, private practice, and management consulting firm, I have facilitated individuals in addressing and healing toxic relationships by focusing on the critical examination and analysis of their Self-Concept and Self-Esteem based on the aforementioned model.

Gaining a more comprehensive understanding of self and others allows individuals to answer the question, “Who Am I” by clarifying their values, core beliefs, and world view.

Understanding Self-Concept and Self-Esteem is the fundamental tenet of who we are and leads to more appropriate decision making, including the establishment of short and long-term goals.

Thomas J. Jameson, C-MHC

Thomas Jameson

Clinical Director, The Ohana Addiction Treatment Center

You may be able to come together to relearn how to love each other in healthy ways

The answer depends on why the relationship became toxic in the first place. Was there a time when your relationship wasn’t toxic? You may be able to come together to relearn how to love each other in healthy ways.

Repairing a toxic relationship is impossible if you’re in an abuse cycle with a person

In some cases, it’s impossible to repair a toxic relationship because you’re not really in a “relationship” at all. Instead, you’re in an abuse cycle with a person who is not interested in being in a healthy dynamic with you.

However, a relationship that has turned toxic due to stress, reactions based on unhealed wounds from childhood, miscommunication, and other common “toxic traps” is often capable of being healed.

In a case where one partner is exhibiting controlling behaviors, you really have to ask yourself if the other person is willing to change. While we can never change another person, we can do some self-healing work.

Don’t stay because it’s comfortable

We’ll often take the suffering we know over the possibility of suffering we don’t know. That’s why so many people stay in toxic situations for far too long. Be honest if your desire to heal your toxic relationship is simply about avoiding the need to “start over.”

Feel your feelings

People in toxic relationships spend lots of time talking themselves into believing that things “aren’t that bad.” Give yourself permission to truly feel the way this dynamic is making you feel. We can’t evaluate if a relationship is worth saving if we aren’t being honest about how bad things really are.

Consider the fact that you have codependency

Do you find that love always seems to hurt? Codependency is a form of “relationship addiction” that causes you to enter one-sided, emotionally manipulative relationships.

Some signs that you have codependency include:

  • Have difficulty making decisions in your relationships
  • Have difficulty trusting yourself in relationships
  • Putting your partner’s needs above your own
  • Enabling your partner’s behaviors
  • Doing anything to keep a relationship going

Seeing a therapist is so critical if you suspect that you have codependency.

Related: 8 Must Read Books on Codependency Recovery

Dr. Bryan Bruno

Bryan Bruno

Medical Director, Mid City TMS

If both you and your partner will take personal responsibility for your actions

While toxic relationships can be healed, returning to normalcy is extremely difficult and uncommon.

Toxic relationships cause emotional stress, negatively impacting every facet of your life, from your physical body to your mental health.

In order to remove yourself from the situation and determine if the relationship is salvageable, it is best to cut off contact for a while. This can help you gain perspective as you identify recurring problems.

Additionally, both you and your partner must engage in thorough self-reflection, preferably in the presence of a licensed therapist. Couples therapy can help both you and your partner work through your issues in a productive, neutral space.

Ideally, this self-reflection will inspire both you and your partner to take personal responsibility for your actions, arresting cycles of blame and abuse in their tracks.

If both you and your partner will change your behavior

But in order to truly change the relationship dynamic, both you and your partner must change your behavior. One way to implement these new standards is to write out your goals and check-in with your partner at the end of each week to assess your progress.

For the relationship to become healthy, these positive changes need to remain permanent. If your partner is not dedicated to making these changes, it is best to give up the relationship for your own physical and mental well-being.

Related: 10 Signs of a Good and Healthy Relationship

Audrey Hope

Audrey Hope

Relationship Expert and Trauma Counselor

If both partners are willing to work on themselves then there’s a possibility for change

It is a question of how toxic, for how long, and is the damage too much?

If both partners are willing to heal and to work on themselves, then there is always a possibility for change. But it must be a two-sided commitment.

One person wanting the light and one person willing to change is a recipe for disaster. In this case, it takes two to tango. There must be equal energy and commitment to healing what is not healthy.

The issue of energy in relationships is a subject that is not often spoken about. Often a person can have what can be termed as “an invisible gas,” and so it is not easily detected in the light of day.

But one can feel it, and one needs to become a master of energy wisdom to be able to call it out when others don’t see it.

Both parties must be contained one hundred percent in their own energy field first

Toxic relationships are when someone is stealing your energy, or you gave your energy away. There is a cord of energy drain, and it must be cut, and both parties must be contained one hundred percent in their own energy field first.

If there is an imbalance, if one person is feeding off the other in a term called “psychic vampire”– then first things first- each person must get a soul retrieval to get back into their own body and know they are loving in an unhealthy way.

Toxic relationships need clarity and to be called out in the light of day! When you feel bad, tired, and drained, and begin to lose hope and your normal ability to feel good, then some energy drain has taken place.

Relationships must be viewed from this angle of energy. And both partners need to get on their own side of the rink and to restore themselves to balance first, in order to know what baggage is theirs and what is not theirs.

A good therapist or a wise counselor with eyes to see on this level can help call out the truth so that healing can take place without any misdiagnosis.

If there is effort and drive to heal both parties, a healthy relationship can be attempted

A toxic relationship is a poison to the soul, and there is no way to deny the truth. Like invisible gas, it will eventually strangle you.

If there is effort and drive to heal both parties, a healthy relationship can be attempted. However, if the damage is too much, then walk out the door, find your self-esteem, and never look back.

Elijah Akin

Elijah Akin

Founder, Unfilteredd

Healing requires that both people have a tremendous amount of self-awareness and accountability

Absolutely! However, it is very important that you understand why your relationship is toxic before trying to heal it.

Why?

Well, healing a toxic relationship requires that both people have a tremendous amount of self-awareness and accountability, which happen to be two things that abusers don’t tend to possess.

Instead, they’ll gaslight you into pretending that they want to fix the relationship, and the moment you let your guard down, they’ll toss the relationship right back into the abusive cycle.

Healthy relationships vs. unhealthy relationships

That said, let’s take a look at some of the biggest differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships that you can use to determine whether or not it is safe to attempt to heal your toxic relationship.

  • In unhealthy relationships, your vulnerabilities and insecurities are used against you; in a healthy relationship, they aren’t

Abusers are notorious for weaponizing their partners’ vulnerabilities and insecurities against them.

Why?

It’s a very effective way to keep their partner oppressed, fulfilling their false sense of superiority. Due to abusers’ inability to regulate their own insecurities and vulnerabilities, they have an insecure need for power and dominance over others.

When they feel threatened, they’ll use your vulnerabilities and insecurities against you to “put you back in your place,” so to speak.

  • In a healthy relationship, your partner values your well-being more than their own insecurities and vulnerabilities

Does this mean they’ll never say anything hurtful? No, everyone argues, and it is completely normal.

The difference is that a healthy partner will never maliciously attack you with information you trusted them with.

  • In a healthy relationship, your existence won’t be minimized

This one is really simple; abusers are incredibly selfish. They feel entitled to whatever they want, whenever they want, and however, they want it.

They will not take the time to consider how their actions will make you feel. They don’t provide you with a safe environment where you can be yourself and express your emotions. And they will not take the time to hear your side of the story in an argument.

In a healthy relationship, it is understood that the only way you’ll be able to be happy with each other is through compromises, compassion, and empathy.

Arguments don’t circulate around the idea that one person is right and the other is wrong. It is about what is best for the other, and subsequently, the relationship.

  • In a healthy relationship, arguments will bring clarity, not self-doubt

One of the hallmarks for unfixable toxic relationships is if the arguments become a competition. Because abusers are so emotionally immature, their inability to regulate their own suppressed negative emotions results in an insecure need to “win” or come out on top in any given situation.

Meaning that arguments with someone who is naturally toxic revolve around a win by any means type of mentality. They’ll gaslight you, bait you into an argument, provoke you into a fight, or even blame you for whatever the argument is about.

In fact, they’re so good at it that it often leaves you wondering if they’re right.

  • In a healthy relationship, you can argue and be angry with each other without wanting to dominate the other.

Also, resolved arguments leave both parties feeling heard, respected, and valued.

Yes, toxic relationships can be healed. But only when both people involved are genuinely willing to do so.

Sameera Sullivan

Sameera Sullivan

Relationship Expert

Healing requires a host of therapy appointments—don’t expect a rapid resolution

Contrary to popular belief, relationships don’t get toxic from the get-go. It takes time to develop and is often a two-way street, whether it’s one dominant/passive individual or two dominant clashing partners.

Try to figure out the root of the problem:

  • When did it originate?
  • When did you first notice it?
  • How did your dynamic change?
  • What aspects make you unhappy?

Finally, and definitely, the most important question you can ask yourself is, is there any happiness left in the relationship to scavenge?

WTE – Where’s the effort?

Believe me, I know it’s not easy and it’s not a quick process either.

Healing from a toxic relationship involves healing from a mixture of trauma, abuse, neglect, depression, and low self-esteem, amongst other issues, so don’t expect a rapid resolution.

Ask yourself, are both partners committed to creating a better future together? This requires a host of therapy appointments at an individual level as well as a couple, and that’s just a bare minimum start.

It takes consistent effort beyond that with regards to compromise and love to rejuvenate the attraction that once brought you together. If you truly love each other, it’s going to be a long journey to work through together.

All is not lost

You know the old saying, ‘When there’s a will, there’s a way.’ That rings true here as well and should be your motivation to give it one last shot.

However, if you’ve been the victim of emotional manipulation, abuse, and severe neglect – know that it’s okay to move on.

Everyone won’t be good for you, so make sure you’re able to have that introspection needed to know what should be staying in your life and what shouldn’t.

Alexander Burgemeester

Alexander Burgemeester

Neuropsychologist and Owner, The Narcissistic Life

Both partners will need to be willing to invest time and energy into saving the relationship

As a psychologist, I believe that it is possible for toxic relationships to be healed, but this doesn’t mean that all toxic relationships can be healed.

The thing that will determine whether or not it is possible to heal a toxic relationship is whether or not both partners want to change.

If only one of the partners wants the relationship to change, then the relationship will not be able to heal, as the toxic behavior is still going to occur, and nothing will change.

The first step in healing a toxic relationship is for both parties to accept responsibility for their part in the relationship.

Recognizing toxic behavior that has negatively impacted the relationship in the past is essential. Both partners will also need to be willing to invest time and energy into saving the relationship and make a conscious effort to communicate openly.

It’s possible, with one condition.

Both must admit their part in the toxicity for this to work

A toxic relationship can be healed, but only if both people want it. They can’t just say they want it; they have to actually want it.

Both people must put the effort in to heal it. Otherwise, you’ll just fall back into toxic patterns. This includes changing responses.

For example, instead of reacting angrily to something they said that triggered you, you’ll need to respond calmly. Even if you just tell the other person what they said upset you and why.

The receiving party can’t mock or dismiss the other person’s feelings. They can’t tell their partner they are too sensitive. They can’t blame each other. If they do, it won’t work.

Talking it out may just be enough to heal and fix these trigger responses. Communicating what you feel is the key. Communicating differently next time will make all the difference.

Because narcissists do not take accountability for their actions, they are highly unlikely to actually change. Narcissists also like putting down their partners and making them feel bad, so the toxicity suits them.

The key is that both people must want and work towards change. They also both must admit their part in the toxicity for this to work.

Amelia Prinn

Amelia Prinn

Editor in Chief, Her Way

Only if both partners are willing to work on improving it

Yes, a toxic relationship can be healed, but only if both partners are willing to work on improving it. We’re all familiar with the saying, “It takes two to tango.”

Well, the same thing applies to toxic relationships. In this case, “It takes two to admit that their relationship is not healthy.”

The process of healing a toxic relationship consists of the following steps:

  • Acknowledgment
  • Evaluation
  • Cooperation
  • Finding a solution
  • Implementing a solution or solutions

Going to couples counseling is strongly advised, especially if partners are having a hard time dealing with these issues on their own.

Sometimes, all you need to heal your relationship is one good piece of advice that comes from those who are experienced in this matter.

Michelle Devani

Michelle Devani

Founder, lovedevani

If the two people are open to anything for the sake of their relationship

It is somehow normal to see toxic relationships, and as a relationship expert, I’m sad to see these relationships because I know that they can be fixed and healed.

As for me, a toxic relationship can only be healed if the two people are open to anything for the sake of their relationship. They should be open to criticism from each other because these are the things that they don’t want from each other.

From there, resolutions are required in which both couples agree to them, and these resolutions should be coming from them. These are just one basic way to help toxic relationships that they can do by themselves, which I can say it’s effective.

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