We all desire relationships that are healthy and thriving, but sometimes we find ourselves in friendships that turn toxic. If you’re in a relationship and there’s a lack of support and trust but an abundance of conflict and disrespect, you are likely in a toxic relationship. Especially if your friendship hasn’t felt happy for a long time, you may be doing more harm than good to your mental and emotional health by allowing the relationship to persist.
For long-term friend and family relationships, you may be nervous to end those relationships altogether, but regardless of who the toxic relationship is with, you can use the following tools to create a healthy distance with that person, establish better boundaries, or cut ties if necessary.
1. Alert Your Support System
While being in a toxic friendship is mentally and emotionally exhausting, leaving it can feel scary enough for you to back out. Especially if you’ve been with this person for several years, you may want to justify sticking around for the person’s sake or because you’re nervous about what it’ll be like to lose them.
Talk to your closest, most emotionally healthy friends and family members about the decision and ask them to help keep you accountable. If you have a counselor, lean on her during this time as well. Your support system has your best interest at heart and will be there to remind you why you’re breaking ties in your toxic relationship and help give you the courage you need to leave. Just remember to be honest and respectful of your counselor, friends, and family during this time. They may tell you things that are hard to hear—trust them and heed their advice.
2. Get Your Money Together
If you are roommates with the person you’re in a toxic friendship with, ending things might mean you’ll be out on your own. If you’re not prepared for this, ending the relationship can feel like an emotionally and financially impossible task—so get ready. Maybe it’s not about money but maybe you share important furniture or appliances, or maybe you have a pet together. Whatever physical things tie you to this person, think long and hard about what you need that they have ownership rights to, what things you can part ways with, and the money you’ll need to fully be on your own.
Don’t think about this flippantly. Stop and take the time you need to fully plan. What you might find is you need a few months to save money to leave. In that case, lean on your support system to help you leave the relationship quickly, especially if your friend is mentally or emotionally abusive. Ask for a loan and make a plan to physically leave.
3. Have A Conversation With The Other Person
This can feel like the hardest part so brace yourself for nerves. Whether this is the first conversation you’re having with the other person or you’ve lost track of how many conversations you’ve had with them, have a final, honest discussion about why you’re leaving and when. You know this person well and can predict how they’ll respond so emotionally and mentally prepare for their reaction.
Whatever happens in that conversation, remember why you’re leaving that person and how much healthier you’ll be without their influence. Focus on yourself, your growth, and your thriving. While it can feel gut-wrenching to walk away from someone you’ve known for some time, this process is an act of loving yourself and your flourishing so stay strong through this difficult step.
4. Set And Stick To Your Boundaries
Setting boundaries isn’t rude—it’s self-care. So avoid the temptation to downplay the importance of setting healthy boundaries, even for family members. Simply because someone is related to you doesn’t give them permission to be toxic to you. So focus on creating space between you and the other person. While you may not want to or be able to cut off contact completely, as with the case of some family members, the following are helpful tips for limiting contact to a necessary degree:
- Keep all communication direct and minimal.
- Do a digital detox—unfollow and unfriend them on social channels. Seeing their life updates and posts on social media can be very distracting and triggering for you to make those posts harder to find.
- Move out of their immediate area to avoid accidental encounters.
- Settle personal affairs. For instance, return their personal belongings and ensure there are no physical entanglements.
5. Prepare For Unexpected Contact
In an emotionally unhealthy friendship, the other person, or both of you, may not realize things aren’t going well. As a result, while you realize the relationship should end, the other person may feel blind-sided by your desire to move on. They’re likely to be confused, angry, and sad and reach out to you out of retaliation or to manipulate you to restore the relationship. Prepare for this scenario: Work with your counselor to embrace healthier coping mechanisms for grief, anger, and fear and lean on other your friends and family for help if your toxic friend tries to make contact with you without your consent.
Take Time To Heal
Emotionally unhealthy friendships can leave you feeling depleted and suffering from low self-esteem. After you’ve started the process of leaving the other person, please take the time you need to heal but also invest in your recovery. Spend time being open and vulnerable with your counselor and work with them to determine how you entered the toxic relationship, why you stayed, and why it was so difficult to leave. The answers to these questions can help you avoid toxic friendships in the future and seek out healthier people and situations.