10 Ways to Cope with an Unhealthy Relationship

Personal Growth

(Nov. 3, 2016) I've been wanting to write this post for awhile. While I think it's important to move on from the past, and refrain from revisiting old wounds, I do believe it's beneficial to share what I've learned with others, in a way that can be useful. My life is so different from how it used to be, and it is my hope for others who are struggling in an unhealthy relationship to be able to make the changes they need to in order to create a healthy and happy life. I know that when I was in a dark place at various times in my life, a post like this would've been extremely helpful. During those times, I was desperate for answers, and latched on to anything I could to help me make sense of my situation, in an attempt to move forward in a positive direction. (Regardless of how many times I went one step forward, and two steps back). Change CAN happen, believe me, and here are 10 ways you can begin helping yourself if you are in an unhealthy relationship. (Disclaimer: If you are in an UNSAFE relationship, I would advise you to act as soon as possible in order to protect yourself from harm. This article pertains to a relationship that is unhealthy, though not immediately dangerous.)

  1. Detachment. When you find yourself enmeshed in an unhealthy relationship, however you want to define it (verbally abusive, addictive, codependent, toxic), the first step is to begin to detach emotionally. Find a way to create some distance between yourself and the relationship, and limit any controlling, hurtful, or obsessive behavior. Find something else to focus on, even if it is merely a distraction. Sadly, this can be easier to do when you are emotionally bankrupt, and just plain tired of the unhealthy cycle. Now, of course, it can be difficult to not react when you are being triggered, but you need to start creating some form of distance between yourself and the unhealthy way you've been relating. This can look like creating an awareness of your role in the relationship, and making an attempt to not react to every single thing. Find a hobby, do something, anything different. Don't beat yourself up for not being perfect at this. It won't be easy, so just do your best.
  2. Extreme Self Care. This one works very well with detachment. If I could only choose two things to do immediately, it would be these first two. When you are being continually depleted by the stress caused by an unhealthy relationship, you must be proactive to replenish yourself. Even if you are caught in an unhealthy obsession, or controlling behavior caused by someone you are in a relationship with, you absolutely must pause, and begin to see yourself separate from this situation. Look into your own eyes, and begin to give yourself what you need, even in small doses at first. You may have to force yourself to start taking care of yourself, if you've been neglecting your own needs for awhile. It may even be difficult to know what you need at first, so start small. Pick up a green smoothie on your way home from work. Be gentle with yourself. Take a nap without guilt. Take a bath with essential oils. Make a long overdue doctor's appointment. What you actually do to take care of yourself will vary, but the important thing is for you to put yourself on the list. Pretend you are a small child, and think about what you really need. Make a list of things you can do for your mind, body, and spirit and begin to take action.
  3. List of Action Items. The decision to leave an unhealthy relationship must be your own, however while you are still in the relationship, a good place to start is to make a list of everything that you would need to do to remove yourself from it when the time comes. This can help with the feeling of overwhelm. You may end up working on the relationship, and may never need the list at all, but it helps to create a plan of action. Chances are, if you end up leaving, it will be a chaotic time and you will be glad you made this list. The list can consist of things like, open a separate bank account, ask a family member to borrow money, cancel joint bills, etc... I guarantee that getting the items down on paper will make them a lot less intimidating, and much more doable if and when the time comes.
  4. Gathering Information. This step is very individualized. You will know what information you need. You may need to find a list of support groups in your area. You may need to research rent prices on apartments in your town. Putting together a folder of helpful information can help you feel more prepared before you are willing to act, and will be valuable when/if the time comes to use it.
  5. Facing Reality. This can be especially hard if you've been fighting very hard to stay in an unhealthy relationship and turn things around. A good way to begin facing reality is to start telling your story to impartial people. Attending therapy or support group meetings are good places to start. You may also want to start recording things that happen in a private journal. Speaking the truth about your situation in facts, rather than how you wished things were, will begin to peel back the layers and become something that you will eventually be able to see objectively, even if it's still painful or unwanted.
  6. Gaining Support. This one is similar to #5, in the way you begin to share your truth, however this time with a trusted friend or family member. I would advise you to choose these people carefully, and only share what you feel comfortable with. People don't need to know every detail of your story in order to help you. In most cases, your friends and family already have an idea of what is going on. You should be very clear about what type of support you are asking for. For example, you may need to ask your mom to allow you to stay in her home for one month until you find your own place. Or, you may need to be able to call your best friend day or night for emotional support during this transition. You may decide to share that you are not ready to act just yet, but are in the process of gathering support. Being very clear and honest will allow people to know exactly what you will need from them when the time comes.
  7. Trust Yourself. This one is simple, but epic. You may have heard the expression, when something feels off, it is. You must absolutely trust yourself that you know what is right and what isn't. Over time, you may have disconnected from the knowing inside you, but it is still there waiting for you to listen to it. Follow the whispers, the tiny inklings, the voice inside you that says that there is another way. Trust yourself, and hold onto that knowing in your heart, even through the confusion and doubt. It will lead you where you want to go. I promise.
  8. Is the Other Person Working Just as Hard? Another simple, but powerful one. If you ask yourself this question, and answer it honestly, it will help you in your decision to stay or go. If there are major problems in your relationship that are very unhealthy, and the other person isn't as committed as you to turning things around, you have your answer.
  9. What do you Really Want? Begin to think about your ideal relationship even if you don't yet believe it's possible. What kind of relationship would you like to be in? How would you two spend your time? What qualities would this person have? Reserve your judgement on whether it will actually happen. Just begin to dream. Reach beyond what you've experienced, and begin to think in terms of "wouldn't it be great if...?" This will help broaden your horizons to other possibilities. Combine this one with trust yourself, and you will be much more likely to find it one day. (I should add that working on yourself to make sure you don't fall into old patterns is also crucial to moving forward when the time comes).
  10. Surrender. I have a rock that my therapist gave me when I was working on healing my own relationship patterns, and focusing on creating a healthier, happier life. At one of our sessions, she took out a flat, gray rock and wrote the word "surrender" on it with a black Sharpie. From there, I learned the meaning of this word again and again. There was only so much I could do, and then it was time to pray, let go, and surrender. This is the pause, the breath, and the trust in a power greater than me. And this is when the magic happens <3

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