Can a Toxic Relationship Be Fixed? A Therapist Explains

There are numerous things to consider if you are wondering if a toxic relationship can be fixed. In this article, these considerations will be explored…


There are numerous things to consider if you are wondering if a toxic relationship can be fixed. In this article, these considerations will be explored to help you determine if you can save your toxic relationship – or if it’s time to leave.

Types of Toxic Relationships

There are many different types of relationships which may be considered “toxic.” Some of these relationships are fueled intensity, passionate sex, and lots of arguments. You may be in a relationship that’s codependent and therefore, toxic. Other toxic relationships are those that you just know, deep down, hurt you. Perhaps you want different things in your future, and you feel like you’re forcing things. Or maybe you’re with someone with avoidant attachment who is distant and hard to be close to.

Other toxic relationships may be truly abusive may this be with a narcissist or not.

Fixing a Toxic Relationship

While all toxic relationships hurt, some of them may be fixed.

To figure out if your relationship can be fixed, you must ask yourself some questions. These will help you assess how salvageable your relationship is – and the best path for healing.

Question 1 to Discover if a Toxic Relationship Can Be Fixed: Why Do You Want this Toxic Relationship to Work?

This may seem like an odd question but really ask yourself why you want to fix this relationship. If this relationship feels so toxic, what makes you stay?

You Love Them

Usually, a person wants to stay in a toxic relationship because they love the other person. But love is not supposed to hurt or feel toxic. True, healthy love uplifts you – it adds to your life rather than subtracting from it.

If you want to stay in a toxic relationship out of love, ask yourself what you learned about love growing up? Maybe you saw parents who were always fighting, and this normalized a toxic relationship. Or maybe you grew up in an alcoholic home where love was silence and loyalty no matter how much you hurt. Or maybe you had a different experience growing up which still negatively impacted your sense of what love is.

If you have any sense that love involves pain, drama, or trauma, it’s important to heal this part of you. The only way you can fix your toxic relationship is if you revise your definition of love alongside your partner. This may be done with open conversations, therapy, and self-development work especially for codependency.

You’re Afraid to Leave

If you are in an abusive relationship, you may be afraid to leave. It can be very dangerous to leave an abusive partner, especially one who has been physically violent or made threats. Maybe you want to stay because you feel like it’s your best option for safety. If this is the case, you do not have to stay or fix this relationship. Rather you may develop a safety plan – you can do this alone, with a friend, or with a therapist or social worker. You may also receive help at any time via calls, chat or text at the National Domestic Violence Helpline.

The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence

You Have Kids Together

If you have children, it’s natural to want to save a toxic relationship. You may want to spare your children from the pain of divorce. You may also want to ensure that you have your children full-time as many states will give split custody (unless in cases of proven violence).

It’s natural to want your kids with you all the time. Yet, if your partner is unwilling to change, it’s abusive, and you no longer love (or even hate) your partner – it’s healthier for your children to see you set boundaries. Children need to know you prioritize their protection which may mean you may not be with them 100% of the time.

If your relationship is abusive, the primary need is to protect your children from abuse. This helps prevent, or minimize, complex trauma in their future.

You’re Afraid They Will Magically Change if You Leave

There is a psychological phenomenon which negatively affects your decision making. The sunk cost fallacy makes people stay in situations that make them unhappy or hurt them if they’ve invested time, energy, or money into it.

A classic example of the sunk costs fallacy is a chronic gambler who keeps draining their bank accounts because they believe the big win is just around the corner. The gambler thinks that because they have already invested so much time and energy trying to hit the jackpot, their big win is destined to arrive any moment.

Sunk Costs Fallacy in Toxic Relationships

In toxic relationships, people often mistakenly believe that their partner is just moments away from transforming. People commonly think that if they leave a toxic relationship, their partner will suddenly magically change and the very next person their partner dates will reap all the benefits of their hard work.

This is a thinking mistake though because if a partner does heal, and become healthy, this requires a lot of work, time, and effort on their end. It doesn’t happen just because you keep waiting and hoping.

You’re in Love with the Idea of Them

Sometimes, a person wants to stay in a toxic relationship because of what their partner represents to them. This happens when you are fixated on the idea of your partner – what they represent more than their authentic self. Perhaps your partner has qualities you always imagined your future spouse would have, like being attractive, having a good job, or a large family. You may be so attached to what your partner represents that you overlook the reality of the relationship.

This happens especially when a person perceives that being chosen by a specific type of person means you have more value. If you believe that being “chosen” by a person like your partner validates your worth, then it makes sense you will cling to a toxic relationship. This happens most often when a person has symptoms of codependency or love addiction.

The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle

Question 2 to Discover if a Toxic Relationship Can Be Fixed: How Do You Feel About Yourself?

It may seem strange that to fix a toxic relationship you must ask yourself how you feel about yourself. However, research shows people tend to find partners who confirm how they feel about themselves.

“Social psychologist Bill Swann argues that people want to be known by others according to their firmly held beliefs and feelings about themselves – a model known as ‘self-verification theory.’ That is, they want their self-views to be validated because it helps to provide a sense of stability in their lives. His research shows that even people who make strong negative evaluations of themselves follow this pattern. They seek to interact with others who dislike them, so that their experiences will be more familiar and coherent.

So now you know why you – or your wonderful, successful friend – keep picking the wrong guy or gal. Self-critics are often attracted to judgmental romantic partners who confirm their feelings of worthlessness. The certainty of rejection feels safer than not knowing what to expect next. It’s the devil they know.”

Kristin Neff, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself

If You Have Lack Self-Love

If you have low self-esteem, this may be why you find yourself in a toxic relationship. To have any chance of fixing this toxic relationship, you must heal the parts of you that think you don’t deserve – or won’t be able to find – a healthy, loving partner.

Social Verification Theory

Self-Love Improves Toxic Relationships

When you value yourself more, you naturally want what’s best for you. This allows you to change your personal behaviors which reinforce the toxicity of your relationship. You stop ignoring your needs and people pleasing and start setting boundaries for example. To have any chance of having a healthier relationship with your partner you must act in healthy ways yourself.

You improve your sense of self-worth through various practices including:

Question 3 to Discover if a Toxic Relationship Can Be Fixed: What are the Facts of the Relationship?

To know if you can fix your toxic relationship, you must look at how bad it really is. A lot of people find themselves stuck in toxic relationships because they keep giving their partner the benefit of a doubt. There’s also the tendency to minimize or deny how bad their treatment really is. If you find yourself justifying any abuse because they were just “tired,” or “angry,” or “scared,” or “stressed,” you are ignoring reality. This is especially true if you are being gaslighted.

Any patterns of abuse are not able to exist in a healthy, healed relationship.

Checking the Facts

To have a chance of fixing your relationship, you must begin to honor the facts of the situation. This means that if your partner hurts you then you stop making excuses. You must communicate with your partner for the need for them to change this behavior. When you set this boundary, you must also set a consequence for violating your needs or limits.

For example, if you communicate that they need to stop yelling at you then you need to follow through on your consequence if they do yell. This may mean that you walk away or hang up when they yell. Boundaries without consequences are meaningless and perpetuate toxic cycles.

Your Non-Negotiables

To honor reality clearly, it’s also helpful to clarify your non-negotiables. These are a few core needs you have that without you will never feel safe or satisfied in a relationship.

For example, if you need commitment but your partner refuses to be monogamous or label the relationship, this relationship is unsalvageable. The only toxic relationships that have any chance of healing are the ones in which your non-negotiable needs are met. Otherwise, this is a case of irreconcilable differences.

And you don’t have the right to force your partner to change by the way. This is a violation of their boundaries – and ultimately, a futile effort that reinforces your toxic relationship.

Question 3 to Discover if a Toxic Relationship Can Be Fixed: What Does Your Gut Say?

You may feel uncomfortable when asked to tune into your gut or intuition. In a patriarchal society, intuition and feelings are devalued. Majo Molfino in her powerful book, Break the Good Girl Myth, calls this the Myth of Logic. She explains,

“When we’re under the spell of the Myth of Logic, we risk making disempowering life decisions. When we follow logic over intuition, we marry the person or take the job that makes sense on paper instead of what feels true in our gut.”

Majo Molfino, Break the Good Girl Myth

Sadly, all too often, I’ve worked with therapy clients who knew deep down that they shouldn’t marry the person they did. When they ignored themselves, the felt even more stuck in unhealthy and harmful relationships – and judged themselves for their inability to honor their truth.

You Know Your Truth

Deep down, you likely have a knowing about what the right path is for you related to your relationship.

Take a few deep breaths and ask yourself a few questions:

  • Would I want to spend the rest of my life stuck in this toxic relationship?
  • Do I really believe, deep down, that my partner is healthy for me?
  • When I envision being older are they with me?
  • If my best friend were in this same situation, what would I tell her? How would I feel about her partner? What would I think she should do?

Take some time to journal about your responses. Think about the pros/cons of ignoring your intuition and the pros/cons of following your truth.

Fixing a Toxic Relationship

Ultimately, if you are going to fix a toxic relationship, you must heal the parts of you that have contributed to its problems.

You must stop minimizing or denying the issues. Also, you must stop sweeping things under the rug and begin communicating directly with your partner. You must set boundaries with consequences. If your partner respects your limits, there is hope for a healthy relationship. If not, they are reinforcing they are unsafe or unhealthy for you.

You cannot change other people, rather you can only influence them by your own positive change. The people that are meant to be in your life will positively change, and heal, with you. The ones who are not in your highest and best will remain stagnant while you grow.

Attending Therapy

To fix a toxic relationship, therapy is invaluable. Admittedly, therapy can be expensive. However, you can save yourself years of feeling stuck in your toxic relationship if you are able to find a way to go to therapy.

If your partner is unwilling to go with you, please still seek individual therapy. You can still positively influence your relationship with your own healing.

If You Stop Trying to Fix Your Toxic Relationship

When you take time to assess your toxic relationship, you may realize that it’s healthier for you to cut your losses.

There are people in this world who you may have a healthy relationship with, and your partner may not be capable of providing this.

It is true wisdom and an act of self-love to accept when it’s time to stop trying to make a relationship work. Of course, even if your relationship is toxic, if you decide to breakup it’s natural to still feel sad. Give yourself time to grieve and practice self-compassion.

It can hurt and still be a tremendous act of healing and self-love to leave.

About The Author

Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to heal from unhealthy relationship processes. She does this by teaching the skills and tools necessary to have a life filled with healthy and loving relationships.

This passion led her to write her best-selling books and create courses. Her books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many people heal.

She is currently working on her book, Self-Love Made Possible: The 5-Step Guide to Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy and Become Your Own Best Friend. To be notified of its release, please join the waitlist here.

If you have any personal dating or relationship questions, Krystal is happy to provide advice using her expertise and compassion. If you feel comfortable, feel free to leave any questions in the comments of this post. Otherwise, you may send an email to or DM her on Instagram.

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