Your 7-Step Guide to Healing Unhealthy Relationships

Couple sitting on floor together.
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No one wants to be in a bad relationship, but few of us are given the tools to fix relationships that aren't working. What follows is an in-depth but extremely effective way creating a healthy relationship, one step at a time. Whether the two of you are on the verge of breaking up, or if you just feel something is amiss and needs to be looked at further, the words that follow are meant to get you out of your rut and have you enjoying your relationship again.

However, healing your relationship means that you'll have to review how you've contributed to the problem - and what you need to to do fix it. Not what the two of you need to do, or even what your partner should do. Essentially, fixing a bad relationship means reconnecting with yourself.

What's Going On?

When asked, few people can explain what's wrong with their relationship. They can explain in great detail what has happened, and who has done what to whom, however! But hashing out the details doesn't move your relationship forward. Instead, it places blame, creates anger and induces anxiety, none of which are conducive to your goal of a healthy relationship. As well, you need to diagnose the problem so as to troubleshoot, accept responsibility, and fix it.

Related: Couples Communication Skills Quiz, Test Your Relationship Chemistry

So, what can you do instead? Well, keep on reading.

Accept Responsibility

Bad relationships don't just "happen". Like healthy relationships, bad relationships are born, fed and nurtured into becoming what they are. Therefore, in order to fix a "bad" relationship, you must first look at how you've contributed to the problem as well as accept responsibility for your actions, intentional or otherwise.

The easiest way to accept responsibility? Review your role, first. I suggest doing a meditation to get yourself focused and seeing things clearly. When we're in the throes of a difficult partnership, it's tricky to just sit down and *poof* get an answer.

So, instead, grab a free app like Insight Timer, or just sit and calm yourself. Focus on your breathing. Tell yourself you're going to have only ten (or twenty) minutes to do nothing, and that you can come back to whatever you need to attend to when you're done.

Then, once you're calm, review your relationship as if you were an editor of a movie, reviewing the tape of the entire experience. Do so quickly, because you're literally just scanning the "tapes" for the overarching feelings. Is it, overall, a good relationship? Have you grown more than you've stagnated? Do you feel happy, sad, frustrated, or angry reviewing your "tapes"? If you had a word to describe the tape of this relationship, what would it be?

Next, ask yourself how you contributed to this situation. If you called the tapes, "Messy," what did you do, say, or feel to make it so? Just you, no one else. Let it also fall over you like a "tape"; the point here isn't to make you feel bad, but rather, to get some clarity. 

If you can't get clarity on your situation, try again. Use a guided meditation about self love, or metta, and see if you get further benefits and guidance about your responsibility in the relationship's success or failure to date. 

Review Your Beliefs

Most people believe that there are dating rules with which to follow to ensure a healthy relationship. For the most part, there are. Where the problems lie are not in following these dating rules, but rather in following the wrong rules: myths, preconceived notions or outright falsehoods.

I find the easiest way to review your beliefs is to ask yourself, point blank, "What's keeping me from having the relationship of my dreams?" Whatever comes up, write it down. Make a huge list if you'd like - anything that you write down is perfectly okay, and valid. 

For instance, a lot of people will say, "I'm too old," or, "I don't believe my partner can change," or, "I'm not the problem". 

These, my friends, are beliefs, and they could easily be holding you back. Are they truly serving you?

Erase Self-Sabotaging Behaviors

Everyone has self-sabotaging behaviors. Whether or not your relationship succeeds depends on how well you are able to identify them, review the reasoning behind them, and conquer them. And creating a healthy relationship is dependent on you outlining these destructive behaviors with the intent of demolishing them.

So if we go back to the beliefs section, I'll bet that you've got a few in there that you can easily see are self-sabotaging. Using myself as an example, I find I often get stuck in the past. So, if my partner actively makes an effort to better themselves, I'm the one refusing to see it. Instead, I believed, "They'll never change". Of course, when you come from this place, they never can - because you'll never let yourself see it.

How can you erase these kinds of self-sabotaging behaviors? Simple. 

  • Look at the behavior, and figure out where the belief attached to it came from. EX: I can't let go of the past, because I believe my partner will never change.
  • When did you first feel this way? (Hint: it likely won't seem related at all, go with it anyway). EX: My Mom yelled at my Dad, "You're never going to change!" and then threw something at him. My Dad spent the month on the couch after that, crying, and my parents' relationship was never the same.
  • Is there any other, better-feeling reason as to why this might have happened? You'll need to brainstorm here, and it might take a bit. I find when I hit upon the "right" answer for me or my clients, we all start laughing and the energy shifts. It, literally, feels better. EX: My Dad was just doing the best he could, and my Mom was ridiculously stressed about money. She felt out of control about everything in her life, and it came out in abusive ways. Also, my Dad did change; in fact, the whole relationship changed.
  • Look for the better-feeling thought exclusively for the next 48 hours. EX: I need to look for "proof" that people can change, my partner can change (and actually wants to), that we're all constantly changing, and for the better. 

Okay, I didn't say it was easy.

Adopt New Relationship Rules

Once you've moved past your relationship myths and self-sabotaging behaviors, your next step is to replace these defeatist actions and thoughts with positive, self-supporting and healthy rules to enable the kind of relationship you've always wanted.

in practice, this means you'd adopt your new belief as true, and make it a rule in your relationship. In my case, this meant, "We no longer speak of the past". Yep, super tricky. And yes, completely within my own control. My partner didn't have to do a thing, and still, I could transform the entire relationship.

Create a Healthy Connection

Moving to this stage of the relationship healing process means you've adopted some new ways of thinking, being and doing, and are now ready to start putting your work into action. It also means finally taking stock of both you and your partner, and what each of you needs and wants in a healthy relationship.

Related: 20 Questions About Communication to Ask Your Partner 

In reality, this just means reviewing your new beliefs constantly, and making sure you aren't self-sabotaging in different, new, more inventive ways. Of course it happens. We're human. It's just a matter of constantly evolving and allowing for the connection between the two of you to grow, evolve, and build to greater heights.

Reconnect Lovingly

Finally it's time to reconnect with your partner, and maybe even fall in love again. No more writing things down in your journal or working things out in your head. The insight you've gained will now be put to work to help both of you get what you need and want in your relationship. That being said, this last step definitely isn't easy, and it takes a considerable amount of time. 

Still, isn't it worth it? 

Related: What is True Love?, Love vs. Being in Love, Breathing Techniques to Fall in Love Again