Finding facts about how to break toxic relationship patterns is easy; dozens of books and articles teach couples and families how to change bad relationship habits. Much harder is finding the energy and strength you need to put knowledge into practice!
Toxic relationship patterns from name-calling to the silent treatment, subtle criticisms to verbal abuse. Here’s a recent example of a common communication problem from a She Blossoms reader:
“My wife has been giving me the ‘silent treatment’ for almost 2 months,” he says on How Do You Deal With the Silent Treatment in Your Relationship? “I have never given her silent treatment no matter what and I am always willing to talk. I can’t say it doesn’t bother me. It does, but I just enjoy my life with my son and let my wife be. But she is like this all the time. The thought of just moving on also comes to my mind often.”
Even the healthiest, happiest married couples can fall into bad habits or — worse — toxic relationship patterns that destroy each other’s self-esteem, self-identity, and love for each other. And even worse than that is when a couple’s toxic relationship affects other people, such as children, family members, or even coworkers or neighbors.
I know how difficult it is to find courage and strength to break toxic patterns in a relationship that was once filled with love, joy, peace and passion. I also know how much energy it takes to find and sustain healthier ways of relating to one another! And I have good news: there is a source of life, energy and strength that can help us heal our relationships and live in peace and joy.
The Strength You Need to Break Toxic Relationship Patterns
If you’ve read my recent blog posts or newsletters, you know I’m working on a She Blossoms Through the Bible project. I’m writing an article for every chapter in every book of Scripture, and today is Leviticus 17: Prohibited Pagan Practices. Talk about toxic relationship patterns! Holy bananas.
You don’t need to believe in God or follow Jesus to benefit from my tips for breaking bad relationship habits. Just keep an open mind and spirit, and be willing to plant whatever seeds of truth and wisdom you find in the ideas below.
1. Decide that you will do what you can to change the toxic pattern
The book of Leviticus describes how God wants His chosen people — the Israelites — to live. He told them to be separate, to distance themselves from the behavior of their neighbors, and to not look back at the way they used to live. Here’s what God said to Moses in Leviticus 18:1-5: “Speak to the Israelites and tell them: I am the Lord your God. Do not follow the practices of the land of Egypt, where you used to live, or follow the practices of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. You must not follow their customs. You are to practice my ordinances and you are to keep my statutes by following them; I am the Lord your God. Keep my statutes and ordinances; a person will live if he does them. I am the Lord.”
How are your bad relationship habits affecting your life? The toxic patterns in your relationship — whether it’s with your partner, family member, friend, coworker or neighbor — has a direct, dramatic, damaging effect on your life. What emotional pain, spiritual confusion, physical suffering or social damage is it causing for you and others? How are your problems affecting your children, health, daily life? Before you can find the strength to change bad habits, you have to stop pretending to be happy in your relationship. You need to decide that you don’t want your relationship to keep spinning this way, that you want your life to be healthier and happier. Deciding to change will give you strength by alerting your brain and body that you’re ready to move forward.
2. Identify one toxic relationship pattern you have the power to affect
More than 20 verses in Leviticus 18 describe toxic relationships, unhealthy habits, immoral acts, and despicable behavior in the eyes of the Lord. Even the land was defiled by the relationships. In Leviticus 20:25 God says, “The land has become defiled, so I am punishing it for its iniquity, and the land will vomit out its inhabitants.” The land — our earth — is so sensitive to toxic ways of relating and bad relationship habits that it stops being bountiful and beautiful. Worse, the land ejected people because of how evil and toxic they became. God didn’t leave any shades of gray; He listed the exact type of unhealthy, detestable relationships that the Israelites needed to change.
Focus on one bad habit at a time. You may have a list of toxic relationship patterns, such as constant criticism, the silent treatment, superficial conversations, or even physical or verbal abuse. If you try to fix everything at once, you’ll quickly become overwhelmed and discouraged. Instead, identify one toxic relationship pattern that you can affect in positive, healthy ways. This might be responding to the person in a gentler, kinder way — or perhaps not responding at all. Maybe you need to take three deep breaths before reacting, or even ask for time to think about what just happened. Remember that you don’t have the strength or ability to change other people. But, you can change your role in the toxic pattern…and by changing your response, you can change the relationship.
3. Embrace God’s eternal love, strength, and power
The Old Testament clearly stated the Israelites’ source of power, strength, hope and faith: the Lord God. In Leviticus 18 God says “I am Yahweh” at least six times, depending on the translation. The New Testament adds additional strength and power through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, both sent by God to instill believers with faith, hope, joy, peace, freedom, forgiveness and grace that surpasses all understanding. With Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the Jews could find the strength they needed to break toxic relationship patterns and live happier, healthier, holier lives. Without Jesus and Spirit, it was impossible. The Israelites couldn’t keep God’s laws because they just didn’t have His love and grace, Jesus’ obedience and sacrifice, or the Holy Spirit’s wisdom and strength.
Surrender to God’s call on your heart, and your relationships will change. You’re here — both here on earth and reading this She Blossoms blog post — because of God. The Holy Spirit is here, too, eager and willing to fill you with His love, forgiveness, and freedom. Take time to listen. Learn who Jesus Christ was in His relationships with people when He lived with them, and how He is today with believers. Jesus is alive, and He wants to welcome you back home. Surrender. Embrace Him. His love and forgiveness will give you the strength you need to break toxic relationships patterns and change your life forever.
Your thoughts — big or little, in agreement or otherwise — are welcome below. Even more important: talk to Jesus about your relationship. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you identify and change your role in the toxic pattern. Know that you matter to God, that He created you for a purpose. Look up, and you will see Him gazing down at you with love, hope, and joy.
With His love,
P.S. If you’re estranged from a family member because of toxic relationship patterns, read How to Start Healing Broken Family Relationships.