How to Keep a Toxic Relationship

Two antelope butting heads

You know those exorcism movies where the possessed person is tied to a bed and they bring a priest in and the demon expert is like, “Whatever you do, do not cross the salt boundary,” and then the possessed person is like, “Ahhh, you like Honey Bunches of Oats, don’t you, father?!” and then the priest leaps across the salt barrier and is like “YOU KNOW I LIKE RAISIN BRAN! YOU SICK FUCK!” and the demon bites his ear off?

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And then they drag the priest out of the room and they leave the mother of the possessed person in the room alone and then the demon is like, “Oh hello, motha! You know your lilacs are not going to bloom this year, don’t you?” and then the mother leaps across the salt boundary and is like, “I BOUGHT THE EXPENSIVE FERTILIZER!” and then there goes one of her ears, you are like, “For gods sake, stop letting this demon manipulate you! Don’t cross the fucking salt boundary, what did he just say?!”

Yeah, I love those movies. I am always so judgmental, shaking my head at these morons taking the bait. I would never cross the salt boundary. Then my mother will call me and say, “You know everyone feels sorry for your husband,” and I will be like “AHHHH!!! FUCK THIS SALT BARRIER, I WILL KILL YOU!”

Today I want to talk about toxic relationships.

No one supports a good edit like I do. I feel like the message to ditch your toxic relationships has become pretty widespread, and I am all about it. What I feel like isn’t available is a good resource on how to keep a toxic relationship.

Simply ending a toxic relationship is an easy answer to a complicated problem. Ditching a connection, a human being, is not always as simple as, “This relationship doesn’t serve me. Bye!” As if we just picked up a narcissist on our way home from work one day like a used dresser on the curb and we really should get rid of it.

The reality is toxic relationships are wrapped in all sort of precious packages. Some are tied up with ribbons of autism, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. Some are addressed as mother, sister, son, daughter, or boss. Sometimes our toxic relationships provide us with our paychecks or take care of our children, or need us. So what do you do when you can’t toss the person out with the demon? How do you keep a toxic relationship while holding onto your sanity (and your ears)?

1. Realize that you are the one with the boundary issues

People rarely behave unpredictably. I can say this with full confidence, even after once coming home from high school to find my bedroom completely empty save for a single barnyard chicken.

Chicken Eat GIF by DLGNCE - Find & Share on GIPHY

My mother had thrown away every single one of my belongings and put the chicken in my room to dramatically announce once I came home that “The chicken is more grateful than [me].” That look on her face of total victory, of my complete inability to not “take the bait” haunts me to this day.

She certainly kept things spicy.

As I struggled to digest my newfound lack of literally everything, I realized even this seemingly bizarre twist of fate was pretty much par for the course. My mother has schizophrenia and is pretty fucking creative regardless.

Of course, something like this was going to happen. Sure, I could not have predicted that it would be Henny Penny nesting on what was the last pair of my underwear in an otherwise stripped room, but it was going to be something bizarre to try to push me over that salt boundary and into the glorious chaos of screaming madness.

This was the best lesson I ever learned about boundaries. I squatted down under my mother’s watchful, glassy eyes, told the chicken that those panties were dry clean only and left the house.

Toxic people will behave in the ways they will behave. Chances are your toxic relationship is pretty predictable and it is always your choice to take the bait.

2. When you have chosen to stay, make sure to leave

So, you’ve decided to keep that toxic relationship. Whether that is “until my next paycheck” or “until death do us part,” this is the decision that you are making.

But it doesn’t have to be a 24/7 sentence.

I have a few precious toxic relationships that I have decided to keep, and when the conversation turns to something I am not open to discussing, they get one calm verbal warning to knock it off and if they persist, I flee the fucking scene. “I gots to go” has become a bit of a catchphrase for me; I’ve decided to have it engraved on my tombstone.

I Have To Go Tv Land GIF by YoungerTV - Find & Share on GIPHY

This is no exaggeration (well, maybe the tombstone part… maybe). If some shit starts to go down and that demon starts talking about Raisin Bran, I flee. The. scene. Phones are hung up, cars are exited at stop lights, twenties are thrown down at restaurants. At a waterpark, I once shouted “I gots to goooooooooo” halfway down the slide. True story.

I set my boundaries and I mean it. Practice leaving; It gets easier.

3. Do have a path out

On a serious note, whatever sort of toxic relationship you are embroiled in, even if you have committed to staying, please make sure you have a way out. You may never have to take it, but squirrel away some money, know the bus routes, tell your family and friends about your situation, have an overnight bag packed and ready to go. There are times when toxic encounters are unavoidable, in these times bring cash, a fully charged cell phone, pepper spray, the bus schedule, and let someone know where you are.

Prepare Schitts Creek GIF by CBC - Find & Share on GIPHY

4. Bring the mental salt

For the less dire, more mundane toxic encounters, be that a meeting with a shitty boss or a family reunion, bring your mental salt. My favorite is the affirmation. By taking some deep breaths, reminding yourself of what your boundaries are, visualizing an outcome and committing to the type of person you want to be, boundaries will stay clearer to you in fuzzy situations. I like to set little reminders in my phone for every 20 minutes or so to stay calm and carry on.

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What is your policy when it comes to toxic relationships? How are you at setting boundaries? Ever find a barnyard animal in your house?

128 thoughts on “How to Keep a Toxic Relationship

  1. After so many articles about cutting toxic people out of your life, it is so refreshing to read this. Between the extremes of getting sucked into someone else’s bullshit or completely separating from them, there is a difficult but valuable balance. I knew this, but having someone like you spell it out so eloquently and beautifully means so much. I love the toxic people in my life, but I want to love them without letting them poison me. And, I have to admit that at times I have been that toxic person, and I can attest to how much it hurts like hell when someone cuts you out, even if you know that you deserve it.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I couldn’t agree more with what you said that it’s not that easy to get rid off it. You can’t leave or let go someone who you think you love 😉 that can happen when shades are lifted and you realize that you actually do not love that person. As long as one thinks he/she is inlove and/or loving, there is no getting rid off. Even if they leave you 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I loved this because it’s not always possible or wise to cut toxic relationships out of your life–but you must have the means to manage them. You also have to weigh the risk:benefit to staying vs going on a near-daily basis. While my experiences weren’t nearly as extreme as yours (as in there were no chickens in my former bedroom) I recognize the underlying similarities.

    My mom was bi-polar and anorexic and yet no one called her out on her behaviors or diagnosed her and got her the appropriate treatment either. I learned from an early age not to take anything she said personally as she was not rational, but that’s easier said than done. I frequently quote that old line from an episode of Friends: Of course your mother can push your buttons. She installed them.

    You hang in there.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. oh my god, THE CHICKEN. Sorry, sorry, I know this is your childhood and all, BUT THE CHICKEN.
    Sweet Jesus.
    Your post, as always, cuts through the BS and gives stellar advice.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Mental Salt…I like that one. I usually adopt the low, quiet, is anybody there, I’m bored to death voice…especially on phone conversations. That works most of the time! Enjoyed your writing…it sounds like you are getting YST.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Appreciate your thoughts regarding this topic. It is not easy to discuss about this issue as different people have different perspectives regarding toxic relationship. Looking forward more from you!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. So I just made an account to comment on wordpress blogs, read and use as insight to my own and thought if maybe I could find something to talk about…But this was surprising when I first saw the post I thought ‘ Oh okay, how to leave toxic relationships’ – ‘ wait? keep?’ Clicked and saw one of the most amazing posts I have seen, not only because of the content but because of the different angle. Like you said, everyone talks about how to leave a toxic relationship while no one talks about keeping, at least I haven’t seen one before.
    I write about relationships, self development, self-love, thinking about the best for them, but because I have good intentions doesn’t mean that they are struggling with a situation we often tell them to leave. The coin has two sides, while I think they have to leave, some can’t or don’t want, and having articles like this to balance their wishes ( since that’s the reason I write, to help them). Thank you for the great humor in such great article, you gave me different insight into so many subjects!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. An incredibly empowering blog. I’ve met so many people in relationships that they were stuck in. One woman was so trapped she eventually had to be secreted away. I was there, sitting a few seats from the counselor, in a sort of body-guard role.

    But what changed for her is that she made the call. That’s it. She chose to set up those boundaries. She merely lifted a finger and within two hours was taken away to safety. Free of charge, with an armed escort she didn’t even realize was there.

    Power of choice is amazing. Even more so, the people who can convey it to others!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. This is great. Just found you from Riddle in the Middle. I have this friend. She has good qualities and we have a lot in common. But when we took a 6 hour trip to stay in her mountain condo, her need to control and be a know-it-all really got on my nerves. I promised myself I would never be trapped in a car or her condo with her again. But I did it again because we both like to go to the same place in the mountains. Then I wrote a letter to myself reminding myself of how miserable it was both times and put reminders on my calendar. I can go to lunch or a movie with her, but I will NOT go on a road trip with her again.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you so much for this wonderful post.
    It was recommended by another blogger who read my recent post about ‘mean mothers’, my own life long experience with a toxic mother.
    It reaffirms what I’d been realising over the past few years. It isn’t my fault, as she tried to convince me since I was born.
    You are so right. There is no magic pill or therapy for the narcissist, it’s in our hands to set the boundaries and choose how much abuse we take. Leaving is the only option, because they’ll never change.
    It’s not a solution, but it helps to know and accept this sad fact and move away!

    Liked by 1 person

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