Leaving a toxic relationship is a brave step that everyone deserves the freedom to take. But breaking up comes with stress, anxiety, and emotions that need to be processed. That’s true even after a healthy relationship. Bouncing back takes time, but there are ways to support your journey throughout.
Ways how to heal from a toxic relationship aren’t the same for everyone. It’s a process unique to your experiences and situation. That said, toxic partners often share a few behaviors. Knowing what they are can help us understand how to recover from them.
What defines a toxic relationship?
While conflict is a big part of it, it doesn’t tell the full story. Healthy, committed partners can still disagree with or frustrate each other from time to time. Generally, though, a healthy partner knows how to raise an issue. Most importantly, they’re open to discussion and working with you to resolve it.
In a toxic relationship, conflict doesn’t get fixed. Couples can find themselves arguing about the same topic daily. Toxicity describes the environment created by this. An abusive partner creates suffering through a pattern of behavior.
Partners on the receiving end often feel invalidated, uncertain, stressed, drained, and isolated. Toxicity can be subtle too. It can leave you confused, resentful, and uncertain, even when you know leaving is the right thing to do.
Doubt can make the healing process that much harder. If you’re uncertain, these are 5 signs of an abusive relationship to look out for:
- A partner who undermines and invalidates you
- Being isolated from your support network
- Constant put-downs and intentional cruelty
- Emotional manipulation
- Controlling behavior
Tips on how to heal from a toxic relationship
Physically, emotionally, mentally, psychologically — healing takes time. You experience an incredible amount of stress in a toxic relationship, from daily micro-conflicts to standout traumatic events. We often think of breaking up as the moment the pain stops, but the truth is there’s still a lot to work through.
Everyone has a unique pathway to recovery, and that’s okay! Your experiences don’t necessarily shape who you are, but — at least with healing — they do guide best practices.
Where you are in life also plays a role in the kind of care you may need. Whether you’ve just left a toxic relationship or entered a healthier one later, there are ways to support your healing journey.
In this section, we’ll look at the best things you can do for your mental health at different stages. They aren’t unique to any one point in life, though. You can apply what you need most as and when you need it. The goal is to equip you with whichever tools support you best.
Healing when you’re in a new, healthy relationship
Forming new bonds after a toxic relationship isn’t easy, but doing so is always worth celebrating. It’s a sign that you’ve come a long way, and the right partner can make a world of difference.
That said, getting into a healthy and secure relationship doesn’t mean the healing process is done. The toxicity of a past relationship can follow you into a new one, especially the first relationship after a breakup.
When we’re constantly surrounded by stress, tension, and anxiety, we develop coping habits. While these habits help us regulate our feelings when we’re overwhelmed, they’re specific to toxic environments.
Behavior developed in a toxic relationship is rarely transferable to a healthy one. For starters, your partner is different.
Someone who communicates with empathy validates your concerns, and takes accountability is creating an open space for both of you to thrive. They may bring up concerns more readily, assuming they’re just things to work through. You may have learned to argue aggressively with a toxic partner, or picked up the habit of stonewalling.
In short: you may react to each other in ways neither of you understands, creating friction unnecessarily.
Here’s the good news: a willingness to support your healing is the mark of a good partner. So what can you do to continue your journey while protecting your new relationship?
- Focus on the present
Focusing on the present means understanding that your coping habits weren’t formed in your current relationship. Mindfulness exercises can help ground our thoughts in the now, not the past.
By doing this, you give yourself the clarity to react to your current reality. It creates a boundary between the toxic relationship and the connection you’re trying to build with your new partner.
- Build a support system
A supportive partner is amazing, but they can rarely give us all the support we need. Even if they’re willing and can try, they won’t have all the tools to help.
Abusive people will often cut their partners off from friends, family, councilors — anyone who can shift power back to the vulnerable partner. Rebuilding that support network is an essential part of healing.
- Communicate what you need to with your partner
Your new partner may do or say something that stresses you, even if they have nothing but good intentions. You’re still learning about each other early in the relationship. Communicating your needs and feelings is vital.
Even a loving partner can only navigate what they’re aware of. It’s okay if you’re not comfortable going into all the details or discussing an ex at all. The key here is to tell your partner enough to inform their decisions and approach to the relationship.
Healing when you’ve just gotten out of a toxic relationship
Breaking up with a toxic partner is a brave step. More than that — it’s the first step to rebuilding your life. You can’t heal while actively being hurt, especially around people who manipulate and invalidate your feelings.
The trouble comes when we treat a breakup as the final step and not the first. A lot of the time, this phase is when the true gravity of what you’re feeling sinks in. The weeks following a breakup can be confusing for that exact reason.
A toxic relationship just throws too much at you. Being overwhelmed, in shock, and struggling to process experiences are signs of trauma. We can only start trying to process the toxicity once we come out of survival mode. The sheer force of it can be jarring, but here’s what you can do.
- Allow yourself to feel
When someone is dedicated to invalidating you, it can be hard to understand your own feelings. Doubt, confusion, and even guilt can kick in. Denying and avoiding your feelings is how they build up. You need to give yourself time to sit with them.
It’s uncomfortable. There’s no denying that. Remember that the goal isn’t to make your experiences go away, it’s to reshape your relationship with them. It’s about learning how to handle them. That starts with giving yourself the room, and grace, to feel.
- Don’t contact your ex-partner
As draining as a toxic relationship is, stepping out of it can be frightening at first. You aren’t leaving a comfort zone — toxicity isn’t comforting — but you are in deeply unfamiliar territory.
Suddenly, you have independence but also responsibilities. With that comes the need for skills and support that may have been neglected until now. The temptation to retreat can be great, but do not contact your ex.
Part of sitting with traumatic experiences is recognizing how vulnerable they make us. A toxic partner will manipulate that vulnerability to regain control over you. The best thing for your healing is to never give them the chance.
- Rediscover yourself as an individual
Independence can be intimidating, but remember that it’s a good thing. Every single person deserves to have their autonomy, dignity, and individuality protected.
Getting comfortable with your independence is good for your healing journey. This is the time to focus on what you want and need in your life. This is when your goals, dreams, and perspectives become a priority again.
Healing when you’ve both had past toxic relationships
Just like you, your new partner will come into the relationship with their own history. If you’ve both experienced toxic relationships in the past it means you’re both healing in some way.
While this can help you empathize with each other, it needs to be done healthily. The concept of trauma bonding has been diluted by public discourse. It isn’t when you connect with someone over shared trauma. Instead, it’s the behavioral pattern an abusive partner uses to keep control while hurting you.
A trauma bond manipulates a person into tolerating and even rationalizing abuse. A violated person can sever this bond and still walk away with a warped understanding of what loyalty and intimacy should look like. That’s why it’s so important to heal outside of a relationship first, or at least simultaneously.
- Create space to share experiences
It starts with having enough space to be vulnerable with each other. Space isn’t just making time to talk about things, though. It’s about having strong boundaries between the relationships so toxicity can’t creep into the new one.
- Be patient with each other
Talking about things isn’t easy. Even in daily life, you won’t always know how to act or react to each other. You may not even know an action creates friction until it does. That goes for your partner too.
When people in a relationship are committed to patience, mistakes don’t become fatal. Partners support each other in finding new ways to be and interact. At the end of the day, that solves more problems than you can imagine long–term.
- Practice kindness
When practicing patience, don’t forget to practice kindness too. You’re allowed to be frustrated with your partner and vice versa. How you treat each other in those moments matters more than the issue itself, provided it’s resolvable.
Kindness is proactive. It builds the environment you want to live in long after you’ve stopped reacting to past toxicity. It creates a path for you both, one that leads to a healthier bond in the long run.
How long does healing from a toxic relationship last?
When it comes to how long healing takes the answer is the same. It’s different for everyone. Toxic relationships share a lot of traits. Abusive partners share a lot of behaviors and patterns. Still, you are a unique person with your own emotions and inner workings.
What hurts you doesn’t determine who you are, but it does tell you what you’ll need to work on. As for the relationship itself, not all the traits and patterns have to be present for it to turn toxic. The combination of things you experience will affect the time it takes to recover from them.
There are many facets to healing. Toxic relationship factors that determine the length of your journey include:
- A manipulative partner
- Controlling behavior
- Toxic communication
- Stressful environment
- Physical, verbal, and emotional abuse
- Separation from your support network
- The level of support you can access after leaving
Can you repair a toxic relationship?
It’s not uncommon for violated partners to wonder about “fixing” a toxic relationship. Abusive partners count on that willingness to work on things. It gives them a way to pull someone back after they’ve pushed them away.
It creates a cycle.
You shouldn’t feel bad about considering it, but know that it’s often not the best solution. Whether the relationship can be repaired or not, no one can heal until the cycle is broken.
Why are some people seem addicted to toxic relationships?
People who’ve never been in toxic relationships often can’t wrap their heads around why someone would stay in one. This is a big reason why the conversation around trauma bonding is full of misunderstood concepts.
Trauma bonding is a cycle of abuse. A toxic partner does and says things that hurt the other person, then pivots to being kind, caring, and sympathetic. Or at least they pretend to be. It’s about maintaining control by manipulating your emotional, psychological, and learned responses to abuse.
More often than not, people stay because their loyalty is rewarded when shown, and punished when absent. It’s a cycle 一 and not an easy one to break out of.
Healing from a toxic relationship is a journey worth taking
Ultimately, healing from a toxic relationship isn’t about following a set of predetermined steps. It’s about learning new habits and equipping yourself with the tools to deal with things as they come. The journey isn’t quick or simple, but it’s always rewarding.