can a toxic relationship become healthy?

Can A Toxic Relationship Become Healthy?

Relationships can provide a source of joy, meaning, and comfort. When working smoothly, they can increase quality of life, bring pleasant emotions, and promote equity for both partners.

Likewise, a relationship that is not working can negatively impact overall health and wellness, functioning at work, and other relationships and friendships.

Most people can relate to this sense from being in an unhealthy relationship. A relationship that does not make you feel held, secure, respected, or valued- even if you love the other person and continue to be drawn to them.

We don’t always have to give up and let them go, but it’s important to be intentional so that you uphold your own self-respect and what you need. I’m going to address whether these relationships can become healthy love and steps you can put into place right away to fix a toxic relationship.

can a toxic relationship become healthy?

Typically when people use the word “toxic”, they are describing a relationship involving dysfunction and disrespect that is somehow self-perpetuating.

These relationships can look different for everyone, but here are some potential tell-tale signs the dynamic could use work:

  • High conflict or conflict avoidance
  • Repeated fights over the same topic
  • Negligence or disregard for listening to other’s emotions or needs
  • Excessive jealousy without a clear break of trust
  • Controlling behaviors
  • Blaming, shaming, lying, or condescension
  • Physical violence, verbal abuse + abusive behaviors

As you read through this list, you may have past relationships come to mind, or even recognize some of the patterns in the relationship you are in now.

Toxic dynamics are generally perpetuated because someone in the relationship was hurt or threatened in some way (even if they don’t or won’t admit that). Then, they react to their partner in a way that hurts them in order to protect themself. The partner reacts back and defense, and the toxicity goes on and on.

With some conscious effort, self-awareness, and a motivation to change, these patterns can be healed and you can create a new way of being in your relationship.

how to fix a toxic relationship

Please note that if you are in an abusive relationship or have experienced threats to your physical safety, please seek professional help as not all of these steps will be applicable or appropriate.

Get crystal clear about what is not working in the relationship. When inside a toxic dynamic, it is natural to feel overwhelmed and flooded. At first, all you may be able to identify is “this isn’t working.”

Take some space from your partner if you need to so that you can reflect.

  • What isn’t working?
  • In what ways am I being treated that I’m not okay with?
  • In what ways I am reacting in ways that I don’t want to?
  • What are the patterns or themes present when this happens?

Once you are clear about what is not working, consider what you need instead. Be reasonable, specific, and straight-forward. It may not be clear to you right away, especially if you haven’t been in a healthy intimate relationship in a while.


  • What do I need to feel safe with someone else?
  • In what situations do I feel respected by my partner?
  • What qualities do I value in myself that I do not want to lose in a relationship?
  • What are non-negotiables in a relationship for my own mental health?

With the clarity about what you need, share with your partner. Share in positive terms. Instead of saying what you don’t want them to do, which can come off as criticism, share what you do want from them. Share things that have worked that you’d like to draw out further.

For example, if your partner gets jealous whenever you head out for a day with your friends, you could say:

“I value my relationships outside of us, and I need to be able to nurture them. I also value honoring and respecting your trust, and I need you to trust me enough to give me this space.”

When toxic dynamics perpetuate over a long period of time, it generally means that both people are contributing to it. If the behaviors weren’t being reinforced in some way, they would not persist over time.

Acknowledging your role does not mean that you are taking the blame or fault. Rather, it empowers you to take yourself out of a passive, helpless position and into a proactive one where you can contribute to establishing real change.

Learning your attachment style is a great place to start reflecting on an individual level. Once you understand the ways you have learned to perceive love and support throughout your life, the relationship positions you find yourself in will make a lot more sense.

Changing relationship patterns is hard work. Real change requires effort and motivation by both partners.

Not everyone knows they are going to stay together forever. But if you can at least both commit to putting all the effort you can into the process of healing, the potential for healing is much greater.

Creating healthy relationships out of toxic patterns is not only hard work, it is also complex. The complexity comes from two partners’ family histories, romantic histories, and relationship wounds from along intersecting into one dynamic.

On top of the complexity, the process is bound to be emotionally charged, and therefore is less likely to be successful if you try to do it alone.

A therapist trained systemically will provide a neutral, judgement-free perspective on the dynamic you’re stuck in. They will allow you both to understand yourselves, understand one another, create moments of bonding, and help you form a new pattern.

Couples therapy for young adults has the best prognosis for success, but couples in any stage have moved from toxic to healthy with clinical guidance. Individual therapy for dating and relationships can also benefit both people individually, even if they together work with a couples therapist.

how to fix a toxic relationship

finding a therapist

Emotion-focused therapy is a clinical model that blends non- judgmental approach, systemic thinking, and attachment theory as a framework. This is the model I recommend for healing a toxic relationship and toxic behaviors.

→ Not in a place to start therapy? Here is a couples assessment and guide you can work through with your partner to start defining where you are + where you want to be.

→ If you are in an abusive or violent relationship, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline

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