I’ve spent a lot of time writing about toxic relationships, be it with friends, family, or romantic partners. There’s an entire section of The Social Gladiator dedicated to evaluating the toxicity of relationships in your life.
This is a topic I keep repeating because it’s one of the most important lessons you could ever learn.
No matter how hard I try to hammer this point home, I see people around me make the same mistakes, trust the wrong people, and end up terribly hurt. I keep getting emails from people asking “What should I do?” when they’re in an obviously toxic relationship; yet, when I tell them, they ignore my advice and keep on being miserable.
The worst part is that I am no exception.
Despite knowing how an unhealthy relationship looks like, despite having written about it numerous times and having experienced it in the past, I still didn’t learn my lesson.
As you may know, if you’ve been following the Mind of Steel Newsletter for a while, in 2019 I set to travel Asia with my girlfriend. We had a bad breakup on the road and went our separate ways. It was during this time that I published the Toxic Relationship Test (originally part of the book The Social Gladiator), where I ask you a bunch of questions to help determine if you are in a toxic relationship.
The article was a wild hit. It was exactly the type of “harsh truth” Mind of Steel is known for. I’ve received a bunch of emails from people who used that article to snap themselves out of dubious and twisted ways of thinking and cut ties with people who were detrimental to their life and mental health.
What I didn’t know at the time was that, amongst the readers of that article, was my ex-girlfriend.
Can a toxic relationship be saved?
I’m not claiming my ex was a toxic person, but our relationship as a whole was. There were a bunch of incompatibility issues and red flags that I saw from day one but decided to ignore.
A few months after our breakup, she reached out. I wasn’t glad she did. All I wanted was to close that chapter of my life and move on. But being curious about some of the things she said, I started talking to her. Fast-forward a few months and we went out for drinks. Then we began dating again. And in about a month, we’ll be moving in together.
I know what you’re thinking: “What the fucking fuck Phil?!”
And I can’t blame you. For the first year, I was thinking the exact same thing. I avoided writing about this change of events because I was afraid that people would get the wrong message from it. But I promised to always tell you the truth. So here it is:
You should NEVER give a toxic person or a relationship another chance…
… unless they PROVE they have changed.
“Prove” is the key word here. If you’ve ever tried to end a toxic relationship, you know how hard it is and how manipulative the other person can be. They will promise that they have “learned their lesson” and that “they will change” and that things will “never happen the way they happened”.
The only thing they ask in return is that you stay with them — right now.
So you do. You give it another shot. But you soon realize their words fall flat. Once they get what they want, nothing really changes. Why would it? You’ve just proved to them that they can do anything — fucking ANYTHING — and that you will forgive them in a heartbeat, as long as they promise to change.
So how did I end up back together with my ex-girlfriend?
She didn’t promise to change. She didn’t promise anything. She didn’t push anything or beg me for anything. Instead, she SHOWED me her change. When we met for the first time after the breakup, she looked and acted like a different person. I don’t mean just the things she said, but the things she believed. Her whole mindset had changed.
You see, when she read my article on toxic relationships, it was an eye-opener for her. It made her aware of some things she wasn’t aware of. So she decided to change them.
Now we’ve been together for a year and a half and our relationship is anything but toxic. I used the time alone to work on myself, to figure out what I did wrong, and how to fix it; she did the same. So when we met once again, it was like two completely new people meeting each other for the first time.
How do you know if someone is an “exception”?
The reason I avoided talking about this story is that it can set a false narrative for people in toxic relationships. The truth is that 99.9% of such relationships should be buried in the deepest grave possible.
But as I previously explained, people often act stupidly. So I’m pretty sure that 100% of people in toxic relationships will read my story and say “Yes, but my relationship is that 0.01%”. By doing so, they will continue to be miserable and never escape.
Don’t worry, though. I’ve got a solution:
If you’re miserable in your relationship, but you’re convinced that the person you’re with is the exception and worth fighting for, here is what you should do: break up. Yes, break up with them. As soon as humanly possible. Then, wait three full months. Do not contact them, do not text them, call them, message them, or follow their social profiles. Put them out of your life completely and focus only on improving yourself.
Now, here’s the tricky part: explicitly tell them you need time alone and ask them to respect your wishes.
One of three things will happen:
- They will ignore your wishes and will persist on trying to contact you. This is an obvious red flag that shows they don’t respect your boundaries. At this point, be happy you made the right call and broke off a toxic relationship. All people in your life should respect your boundaries.
- They will respect your wishes but won’t do much else. You will spend the following three months improving yourself. They, however, will not. If, after three months, you haven’t changed your mind and still want to fight for that person, contact them. You will be changed, but they won’t be and you will realize that you deserve a better relationship. Once again, you made the right decision calling things off.
- They will respect your wishes and both of you will change. If your relationship really is the 0.01%, both of you will end up changing yourself for the better. If, at this point, both of you feel like giving it another shot, do it. Just remember not to repeat the same mistakes from before.
You may be tempted to tell the other person the whole plan. Something like “if you don’t respect my wishes, it shows you’re bad for me” or “I want you to work on yourself while we’re apart”. Just… don’t. If someone genuinely wants to change, they will change on their own. Otherwise, there is no point.
If you’re thinking “Yeah, right, I’m not going to do that”, that’s the first sign you’re full of shit.
Think you’re the exception? Prove it. Not to me, to yourself. If your relationship is really strong enough to handle a breakup, this is something that will make both of you happier. If you’re worried this is going to completely destroy your relationship, well… then your relationship isn’t as strong as you think.
My girlfriend and I are happy because we broke up. If we had stayed together in 2019, we wouldn’t have grown and our relationship would have kept getting worse. It was the time, distance, and solitude that gave us a much-needed perspective.
Neither of us planned on getting back together. We are, in a sense, different people. And those different people found their way back to each other.
Trust me when I say that staying in toxic relationships is the only decision in life where it is 100% the absolutely wrong choice. I went through it with friends, romantic partners, even family members.
Cutting out someone toxic from your life instantly makes your life better. It’s one of the hardest things you will ever have to do, but goddamn it, it will change your life more than anything else.
P.S. If you’re looking for more details on how to meet people and build healthy relationships, check out The Social Gladiator.