How to Know If a Toxic Relationship Is Worth Saving

woman upset with husband"Toxic relationship" is a buzzword we've been hearing a lot lately. (Just ask Halle Berry, who's embroiled in drama with not just one soon-to-be ex, but several!) From the name alone, you can presume it's something you should skedaddle away from ASAP, right? Not necessarily. In fact, sometimes a toxic relationship is actually WORTH saving.

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We know. You're stunned. We are, too.

But here's the deal. "The tricky thing about toxic relationships is that they don't start out as toxic," explains Eric Charles, a dating and relationship expert, author of He's Not That Complicated, and cofounder of relationship site A New Mode. "They're the result of a relationship dynamic that has a fatal flaw both partners are unaware of: Both believe that in a relationship, one person can be responsible for the other person's emotions."

All the rom-coms and happy endings we've binge-watched over the years have made us believe that a relationship CAN make us happy, and that our partner should tend to all our emotional needs, Charles notes.

Not so, obvs.

"Happiness isn't something you derive from a relationship," Charles clarifies. "Rather, [it's] something you and your partner are responsible for individually bringing into the relationship."

So, say you're with someone who makes you feel pretty ick about yourself. Maybe they criticize your every move. Or maybe something they do annoys you so much that you end up attacking them, then feeling guilty later. Time to admit it's not working, and call it quits?

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That depends.

"It is possible to fix a toxic relationship," explains Charles. "That is to say, it's possible to shift [its] dynamic into that of a healthy, happy, functional relationship."

How? First, admit something's got to change. At least one of you needs to realize that your relationship isn't going to suddenly fix itself. You've also got to understand that each of you only has control over your own emotions and actions, Charles says.

In other words, feeling like a victim is no longer valid.

Next, have a heart-to-heart with your partner about what's not working. The trick: "The conversation needs to be one of recognition, not of blame or accusation," notes Charles.

A toxic relationship won't heal overnight, but if your partner's able to see the dynamic at play, and if he's willing to work toward a relationship where both you and he take full emotional responsibility, then over time, the relationship can improve dramatically, Charles explains.

The good news? When that happens, flushing out any "toxic qualities"  can happen quite quickly.

One BIG caveat: If you or your mate refuse to change the toxic behavior or see that you're both equally responsible for what's gone awry? "That's when it's time to either leave or limit your exposure to that person as much as possible," Charles says.

Ultimately, you can't maintain a toxic relationship and be happy, too.

 

Image © DmitriMaruta/iStock

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