If you’re seeing the early signs of a toxic relationship, it is scary. It’s distressing to catch your man lying, manipulating or gaslighting you. Living in fear, having to walk on eggshells or being made to think you’re crazy are, well, crazy-making.
Whether they’re criticizing or accusing you, the things toxic partners say can feel like a knife to the heart. They have a way of eroding your confidence and self-esteem. You keep saying you’re sorry trying to make things right, but they never are.
It’s not very empowering. It’s enough to make anyone feel hopeless.
Can toxic relationships be healed?
Absolutely. You can learn how to fix a toxic relationship, even after breaking up–or without breaking up at all. Here are four surprising ways to repair a toxic marriage.
1) Have an Honest Conversation about What Needs Fixing
“Yeah, yeah,” you may be thinking, “I’ve already tried that!”
I’m sure you have tried your very best to communicate about what needs fixing, and yet here you are, back to square one. You’ve probably tried all the usual approaches.
If you’re anything like I was, you tried telling him what the problem is and what you need, desperately hoping he would get on board. Only he never did.
In every State of the Union talk I ever had, what came across was what my husband was doing wrong and what he needed to do to shape up.
I had no clue that both of those topics, no matter how gently phrased, were loaded with disrespect. I also had no idea that respect is like oxygen for men, so I was unwittingly sucking the oxygen out of our relationship.
No wonder it was dying.
If your state of the union addresses are getting you nowhere, one way to change the dance is to stop initiating state of the union talks in the first place.
Maybe they’re hard to escape because he keeps bringing things up himself.
Instead of taking the bait and falling right back into old ways of communicating, what if you tried responding by simply saying “I hear you”?
This powerful listening technique has a way of reviving relationships. That’s because these three little words convey respect, pumping oxygen right back into your relationship.
I’m not saying it’s easy. It takes something to listen without trying to fix the situation or him, without even agreeing or disagreeing.
That’s not to say you’re to become a mute either.
If he does ask what you want, that is a great opportunity to express your desire in a way that inspires. Maybe it’s simply “I would love to stay married.”
It may not feel like enough. It didn’t for me.
I thought I needed to explain why I wanted what I wanted, spell out how to make it happen or tell him what I wanted him to do. I didn’t realize that those were all forms of inappropriate control, which thwarted the very thing I wanted.
Not to mention I was used to saying more words than “I hear you and I would love…” A lot more!
I still got to use my words but not necessarily all with my husband. I saved some for my girlfriends, some for my sisters, some for my relationship coach.
As for my husband, he started giving me butt pats and bedroom eyes!
Turns out we didn’t need so many words after all.
2) Take Accountability
Even if you are willing to try this less-is-more experiment in communication, surely there must be something else you can say. Right?
Well, now that you ask…
This is a great opportunity to set the stage for accountability. Ideally, he should be showing some accountability himself after all he has done. Maybe you’ve tried to get him to take responsibility himself, to bring to his attention how hurtful or destructive his choices have been.
Did he just dig in his heels even harder and defend himself?
Ugh, I remember how frustrating that was, how stuck I felt.
So you can’t make him show accountability. But what might happen if you started by showing it yourself?
Maybe there are ways you have criticized or tried to control your man, like I did. Have you dismissed or demeaned him? Told him he needed to change. Tried to get him to discipline the kids better. Explained why the trash should go out before it’s overflowing.
Maybe you were just trying to be “helpful,” whether with his work, his health or his wardrobe, and didn’t know that “helpful” in wife language means “controlling” in husband language.
Maybe you got so busy taking care of kids that you forgot to be a lover and became his mother too.
Now that you’re inspecting your side of the street, you could always get out the broom and experiment with this magical phrase: “I apologize for being disrespectful when I ____”
No taking the bait, no matter how he responds (or doesn’t).
Allowing that space takes us to one more powerful way to change the dance…
3) Give Him (and Yourself) Space to Heal
Becky kept telling her husband he had an anger problem and needed to get help. She was at her wits end. He would blow up on the kids or blow up while driving, jeopardizing their safety. But no matter how she asked, pushed or cried, he refused to do a darn thing.
Terrified, Becky knew she needed a different approach. She decided to relinquish control. She stopped telling him to get help.
Guess what happened.
He got help!
That’s right–once she gave him the space to become his best self, he did just that. He took the initiative to get a counselor, and Becky saw huge changes immediately. As she focused on becoming her best self, he followed suit.
What would it look like if you gave your man some space, trusting him to do things his way and on his timeline?
4) Find Forgiveness (or Let It Find You)
All of this can seem like an impossible ask.
And it is, at least if you’re depleted and still reeling from hurt or Needless Emotional Turmoil.
That was the case with Desiree, whose husband was an emotionally abusive narcissist and alcoholic. She was planning her escape and kept a stash of money so she could run away.
She had tried everything.
To be a good wife and make her husband happy, Desiree was so self-sacrificing and helpful that she would bend over backwards to do whatever he wanted. She gave up everything for him–her friends, hobbies and career.
And he still wasn’t happy!
He became so miserable and angry that he started turning on her. She was so scared, in her own home.
She could not go on this way.
When Desiree got word that there was hope for her to single-handedly turn things around, she used her runaway money to hire a relationship coach.
With the support of her coach, she started getting up early every morning to journal how she felt, what she wanted, and three things she could do that day to make herself happy. She then scheduled those three things to make a point of reading, writing, doing yoga, calling a girlfriend, hiking, getting a massage or pedicure, taking a bubble bath, playing pickleball, watching a comedy and playing Scrabble.
That’s when things started to turn around. The happier she got, the more her husband stepped up. He started doing all the dishes, taking out the trash, carrying heavy stuff, washing her car, and taking care of the finances, home maintenance and travel plans.
He seemed to find a new purpose in making her happy, in contrast to feeling like a failure when she was trying to be his hero. Looking back, she says, “I had it all backwards!”
As Desiree allowed him to be her hero, she says that “Things completely started shifting. Now I just sit back and let him be my hero. He is so happy. He feels successful as a man and a husband. He tells me I’m his queen. He bends over backwards to make me happy and to please me.”
Perhaps even more surprisingly, once she started taking responsibility for her own happiness, her resentment began to dissolve.
She was able to find grace and even forgiveness when she saw her part in having betrayed herself by taking on too much, not asking for help, and ignoring her own desires, limits and need for self-care. Her coach wasn’t even talking about forgiveness, but somehow it just came.
What about his narcissism, alcoholism, and emotional abuse?
She no longer sees any evidence of those old diagnoses. She says he is kind, generous, considerate and thoughtful. He makes her feel safe, secure and protected. He hardly even drinks anymore!
“It’s a real-life fairy tale,” Desiree says.
Does this sound too good to be true? You’ll never know unless you try.
Which of these four techniques will you experiment with to start writing your own fairy tale?
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