How to Change if You’re the Toxic One in the Relationship

Nobody wants to admit they’re the problem with their relationship. You want to believe that your S.O. was the one who burned what you two had to the ground. They were too sensitive. They just stopped caring. They gave up too easily. It was inevitable. 

I played the victim card for a while when it came to my love life too, and I was pretty damn good at it. After having been screwed over a number of times, nothing could ever be my fault anymore. I was someone who’d had too many high school first dates in the back of someone’s mom’s Chevrolet and listened to Call Her Daddy like a bedtime lullaby. My faith and expectations in men was about zero to none, and I had closed myself off to the idea that dating could be anything more than a series of free dinners and mind games, a push-and-pull on each other’s heartstrings in order to get what we wanted out of the other person without giving too much of ourselves in return.

Being emotionally unavailable meant never getting hurt, and I was okay with that – until I wasn’t. Until someone walked into my life and showed me that even though vulnerability was scary, the feeling of liking someone so much you’re willing to face your fears for them was worth the risk. 

And then I hurt him with my toxic habits. 

He’s gone, and I can’t say I fully deserved him while we were together. I can’t change who I was at the time, or who I hurt while I was at my worst, but I can work on myself and control who I become moving forward. The good news is that we, as humans, have the ability to change. Scientifically, you can train your brain to change the way you think and develop healthier habits. By learning how to control your emotions and express your feelings in a healthy way, in time, you can heal and repair your relationship with not only yourself, but with the people you care about as well. 

  1. 1. Hold Yourself Accountable

    The first step to self-growth is accepting that growth is, in fact, needed. It takes a lot of balls for a person to admit that their behavior is problematic and harmful to the people they love, so being here is already huge. A large part of gaining emotional maturity is self-awareness, and taking responsibility for your mistakes. Remember that growth is a process, and you will have more slip-ups down the road. Continue to hold yourself accountable while you’re changing, since it doesn’t happen overnight.

    If there’s someone (or even multiple someones) you need to apologize to, do it now. Be real, and own up to your toxic behavior without making excuses. It might not be easy, but if you care about the person you hurt, you’ll feel better for it, and if they care about you, chances are they will too. 

  2. 2. Accept the Consequences of Your Past Behavior

    Someone you hurt can forgive you without letting you back into their life in the same way. They have every right not to grant you the same access to themselves that you had before, even if they accept your apology. Respect their boundaries. Understand that they are healing too, and being around you may not be what’s best for them at the moment. 

    Remember that as someone who cares about them, you want what’s best for them, not just for yourself. One day, maybe the walls will come back down again, but for now, pushing yourself on them any more than they feel comfortable will only drive them further away.

    Should you be given another chance with your S.O., or if you’re part of one of the rare couples whose relationship survived the toxicity in its prime, set real intent behind your changes in behavior, and make sure they know the new-and-improved you is here to stay and working on themselves every day.

  3. 3. Focus on Yourself (& Maybe Seek Help in Doing So)

    When you’re working on yourself, you probably won’t have time to tend to anybody else’s needs or wants, because you’ll be focusing on your own. It’s okay to be selfish. It’s okay to know what you can handle while you’re becoming the best version of yourself and to not take on anything else. This part requires a lot of internal reflection, and you need to be ready to confront parts of yourself that you don’t necessarily like.

    If you’re having trouble, try consulting a therapist or professional medical resources to help you gather your thoughts, understand why you resort to certain behaviors, and come up with real, long term solutions for change. 

    You can grow with someone by your side, but ensure that their presence in your life does not distract from the main goal.

    You are the main goal. You should want to change for yourself before you change for anybody else. Strive to better yourself for your own happiness and joie de vivre, so you aren’t depending on anybody else to bring out the best version of you. Become comfortable with being the best version of you on your own, because this growth is about you as a whole before it’s about you as half of anybody or anything else.

One day, you’ll meet someone who deserves to love you, all of you, with your flaws and imperfections. Maybe you already have. You deserve their love. You also deserve to know how to love them back.