Whether it’s a friend, coworker, family member, or significant-other, toxic relationships exist but they don’t have to be permanent. This is not a suggestion to terminate all your difficult relationships, rather it’s a reminder that relationships can evolve and shift to a healthier status.
The key to shifting a toxic relationship is the presence of healthy boundaries. The following areas are three places where you can infuse healthier boundaries, create a productive shift, and dissolve toxicity.
How and where we spend our time is mostly a sign of where our priorities fall. If we want to create a shift from prioritizing toxicity to prioritizing the true value of the relationship, consider what is the purpose of having a relationship with someone. For some of us, it’s companionship, community, and overall wanted to feel like we belong.
If you’re currently in a toxic relationship, try allocating less time and energy to the toxic components of the relationship and redirect your time and energy to the more productive means.
For example, if you have a cousin that you want to spend time with but each time you hangout, it results in a heated argument. You want companionship, but you can do without the argument.
Create an opportunity to decrease the amount of time you’re spending together. If you typically, spend one-on-one time together, shift your time to include other people. By shifting from a duo to a group, this will create a more organic way to redistribute the time that you have together, decreasing the likelihood of an argument while maintaining your desire for companionship.
While you are reallocating your time, you can simultaneously reallocate the space between you and the toxic relationship. Sometimes the tension lies between how much space exists and doesn’t exist between you and the time that you spend within the relationship.
For example, now that you and your roommate are currently working from home (WFH), you are spending more time with each other than ever before. You like your roommate but not having alone time is starting to wear you down. You don’t want to spend all day in your bedroom because you worked hard to reconfigure the definition of work/life balance with your new WFH lifestyle. And your home that has transitioned into the co-working space from hell, is no longer working.
You can choose a different location to conduct your work. Perhaps you have a trusted friend or family member who has a spare bedroom that could serve as your workspace, once or twice a week. If you don’t need a private space to conduct your work, you can turn your phone into a hotspot, and go to a local park, or better yet, if the budget allows, rent an Airbnb and create a semi-WFH retreat.
The challenge with this method is how do you prevent resentment from building up? You are moving physically from a place where both of you should be able to coexist? This is why breaking up a toxic relationship is not only about time and space but also about communication.
Using nonviolent communication can be a helpful tool when expressing your thoughts, feelings, and needs. One simple way you can do this is through the following formula, promoted by the Center for Nonviolent Communication.
Would you be willing…
Let’s say, you have a neighbor, who you talk to regularly. You go for walks together at the same time every week. Both of you equally share details about your lives, advice and support flow both ways, but your neighbor never takes your advice. You start to become annoyed by them. You start to resent them and wonder “why are we even friends if you’re not going to listen to me?”
You’re so annoyed that you start to avoid them. The approach of spending less time and creating more space doesn’t feel good to you, because you are starting to miss your friend.
Instead of avoiding them, and allowing toxicity to breakdown your relationship, try communicating in a nonviolent manner.
“I feel confused and frustrated when you ask me for advice and don’t put it into action. In my friendships, I need to feel like I’m being helpful. Would you be willing to let me know when you’re looking for advice and when you’re looking to vent?”
By taking this approach, you’re leaving room for the toxicity to dissipate and the need for companionship to take hold.
When creating new and healthier boundaries, sometimes there is an internal conflict that occurs.
Feelings of guilt. This person is going to be upset with me if I say something. I don’t want to be mean.
Feelings of resignation. It’s less work to continue with the way it’s always been.
Feelings of helplessness. If I try to make things better, I’ll lose the only connection I have.
The reality is that by taking steps to dissolve the toxic components of a relationship, you’re showing that you not only value yourself but that you value all the people involved in that relationship.
By shifting the relationship dynamic, it does not mean that you are automatically removing a person from your life. We can depersonalize the toxicity by focusing on shifting the relationship, not changing the people within the relationship.
Reallocating time, creating space, and modifying our communication style, could be the right combination to shift your relationships from toxic to productive.