How To Overcome A Toxic Relationship With An Ex
So you thought your life would change by separating from your ex. Finally, you will become free from a toxic relationship: controlling behaviour, distrust, physical or verbal abuse, passive-aggressive behaviour and lies. Yet here you are, still bound by your child until at least their 18th birthday.
Many experts will advise you to take action and work through the issues. And while I, too, advocate for conflict resolution strategies. I recognise that, in many cases, it can be nearly impossible to achieve a mutually respectful resolution, especially when separating from a narcissist.
Often, your ex’s thorny traits are overlooked or hidden from the courts and mediators when decisions are made regarding child-sharing arrangements. Abuse, unless it is physical, is hard to prove, making it difficult to break out of a toxic relationship. But there are things you can do to improve your chances of moving forward positively.
Get out of the toxic relationship for real.
Don’t be afraid to let go. Time spent in an abusive, toxic relationship anchors us to each other. We form habits, associations and routines around the triggering behaviour. Then, even though it causes pain, we engage and perpetuate their actions, feeling surprised when they act in their self-serving way.
It may anger some of you to read this, but it does take two to tango. Your ex cannot start an argument if you walk away. They can not hurt you if you decide enough is enough and refuse to take the insults on board. You hold their power over you. Reclaim it.
Yes, we should live in a world with mutual respect, where our safety is guaranteed, and both parties work hard to maintain a healthy relationship. But as this is not our world, you can only rely on yourself to make a change. Thus, let go of the attachment to the victim mentality; let go of the hold the other has on you, and grow stronger by mentally distancing yourself from your ex.
Set firm boundaries.
Draw the line. Every relationship requires boundaries. But what are boundaries?
Personal boundaries limit how others can behave in your presence and interact with you. What are your boundaries? How do you show others where you draw the line? Once your lines are clear, they benefit you and those around you. It’s not fair to expect anyone to read your mind; make your boundaries clear. Please don’t wait for boundaries to be crossed before you reveal them.
When your boundaries are crossed, as they will most likely be, be assertive, and calm then explain what you expect from your ex. Be willing to say “no.” Let your ex know when you don’t have the interest or time to do something. It’s okay to stand up for yourself, decline and not offer an explanation. Avoid feeling guilty. There’s no reason to feel guilty about having whatever boundaries you choose. Your ex will adapt.
Be honest about what you need from them. What you need is another type of boundary. It’s the minimum you’re willing to tolerate to maintain the relationship. It’s a minimum boundary instead of a maximum boundary. To help you define and set some healthy boundaries, I’ve included a worksheet in the free resources section on this website. You can grab your free copy here, under free printable resources.
Focus on your child, not the toxic relationship.
It has been said that if you love your child more than you hate your ex, you can solve most co-parenting problems. Why mention this here? Because it points to an essential strategy in perception and focus when dealing with toxic ex-partners.
No, you can not change someone; stop them from being toxic and hurtful. You can verbalise it and make them aware of your opinions, but you would achieve more and find more pleasure in banging your head against a wall.
You can, however, shift your focus on how you perceive them and their behaviour. By choosing to focus on your child’s love, you act and think from a space of love towards your child’s needs. You are removing the power and sting of the ex-partner’s actions or words.
Yes, they still hurt, but you no longer internalise and hold on to this pain. With time, their actions and words become ‘water off duck’s back.’ You may also find that your lack of desired response will discourage your ex from hurtful behaviour. But don’t hold your breath.
When learning to build this barrier and shift in focus, a face-to-face conversation may not always be best. For instance, you may be more comfortable talking on the phone or chatting online, providing that buffer in case tempers flare. Whichever method of communication makes you feel most comfortable is the method to make available.
Change doesn’t happen overnight, so be patient with yourself. It’s worth the effort to take some time; the more frequently you stop yourself from taking the bait, the easier it will become. After a while, it will become second nature to have discussions and not be triggered, even by a narcissist.
Take Care of Yourself First.
It’s easy to shift your focus to helping others when you are in a toxic relationship with your ex. After all, you want to make sure that your kids are okay. But before you can help anyone else, you must take care of yourself first. That includes taking good care of your body, mind, and spirit.
Check out these fantastic books; “The Highly Sensitive Person’s Guide to Dealing with Toxic People.” by Shahida Arabi * and “How to defend yourself from Narcissistic and toxic people” by Bettthany Key *. You can learn defence against manipulation tactics, strategies to protect yourself from toxic people and how to safely confront a manipulator (you can also get them here in an audiobook format * for on-the-go “reading”). Super helpful, especially in the early stages when everything was hyper-emotional and raw.
Find support from friends and family members who love you no matter what. They will remind you that you deserve better, are amazing and can get through the hurt. Vent to your single mama tribe, and share what works for them and what doesn’t.
Reach out and seek professional help, and book a chat with a counsellor if you need a non-invested party’s objective opinion and guidance.
Move Forward With Your Life.
Unfortunately, your negative feelings associated with the toxic relationship will not vanish overnight. But with time, you will begin to heal and grow stronger. You will recognise your worth, become more resilient and learn to deal with the toxic people in your life. So plan for that day, and trust it will come, especially when it all seems hopeless.
* Disclosure: The links provided in this blog are affiliate links. I will be paid a commission if you use this link to make a purchase. However, they do not influence my recommendation of the above books. I found them immensely helpful, and no matter where you get them from, I hope they help you as much as they helped me.