Creating Healthy Boundaries In Unhealthy Relationships

I see across all of my social media platforms memes about getting rid of toxic people from your life. In theory, I believe that ridding your life of people who cause you stress and hurt absolutely improves your personal happiness. But I also believe that these statements can make some people feel like complete crap because they are unable to cut ties as easily as those that can click “share”.

I hope if you are one of the ones that have shared these kinds of posts on FaceBook and are lucky enough not to have any toxic people in your life, that you

a) count your lucky stars and

b) that you learn something from me today.

Please don’t just click exit because you think this advice doesn’t pertain to you. You may have a friend that might need your help. I am hoping that you will see that just “get rid of toxic people” is not so simple and will make your friend feel isolated, defeated and stupid for not being able to do what you believe is so effortless to do. A better plan would be for you to help them cope with their toxic relationship by assisting them to construct healthy boundaries until they can leave and/or create a safe, open environment for them to share their feelings with you if leaving is not an option.

There are many people living in less than favourable situations. For their own reasons, they are either unable to just leave these toxic people out of their lives or are just not ready to do so. It may be easy to dump a friend or co-worker but it gets really complicated when that person is a close relative like a parent, spouse or child, especially when illness is involved.

It is difficult to drop someone out of your life when your life is so closely intertwined with theirs, as in the case of caregivers of family members. My husband has bipolar. Most of the time we have a great marriage but there are times that our relationship can be unhealthy for me. Some would jump to advising me to just leave him. I feel it is up to me to decide when and if that will happen and I don’t want the pressure of what others think is right to cloud what I will and will not do. I know that I am not alone in my predicament.

I am not a therapist or a licensed professional. I am sharing with you some of the strategies I use in my own relationship. My tips are specific to living with a bipolar spouse but you may be able to adapt them to fit your own situation. I hope my tips help you but please understand that they in no way replace your getting real, professional help. I encourage you to go and get guidance for yourself if you are over-whelmed or just need someone to help you cope and develop strategies specific to your own circumstances. I urge you to contact authorities if you are ever in physical danger.

My plan is not about drawing lines in the sand. My plan is not about ultimatums. My plan is about creating healthy boundaries for yourself. You can only control how you respond, act and think when your partner/family member is treating you poorly. You can not control them! What you can do is create a treatment plan for yourself and implement it as needed.

Sometimes it is not so simple or easy to eliminate toxic people from your life. Use my personal strategy for creating healthy boundaries.

Here’s is my personal strategy:

5 Point Plan For Creating Healthy Boundaries

1. Do Not Isolate Yourself.

As much as your partner needs support, so do you. Create a group of friends, family or professionals that you can turn to, to discuss how you are feeling. You need to have healthy conversations with other people to maintain your own sanity or maybe you just need to vent. I know it is hard sometimes because you don’t want anyone to know what is going on in your home. But trust me, if they are a close family member or friend, you aren’t hiding anything. Bipolar symptoms are pretty obvious to everyone.

2. Keep Your Own Interests.

It is so easy to allow mental disorders to become all-consuming for the caregivers. Don’t forget who you are and what you enjoy to do. Make adjustments if required. If that’s going to the gym, go for half the time. If you usually go out for meals with friends, go for a coffee. Don’t cut the things you normally love to do completely out. If you do, you will have to deal with your own feelings of resentment on top of everything else.

3. Do Not Engage In Unhealthy Behaviour.

Especially in times of mania, it becomes very difficult to not lash out when your partner is being critical, calling you names or just not making sense. Fighting fire with fire will not work. Do not respond to verbal abuse with the like. Say something like “I know you are upset but I can not have a conversation with you if you are calling me names/yelling at me.” And walk away. Remember that they are incapable of rational thought and arguing with them would be the equivalent of talking to a tree.

4. Take A Time Out.

Sometimes, regardless of how supportive you are, you can be a trigger for some of your partners’ behaviour. Don’t take this personally. When you are with each other a lot, response patterns develop. You have the same argument over and over. Figure out a way to take a break from each other, for a few hours, overnight or longer. Whatever you can figure out but keep in mind your partners’ safety. On two occasions I did just that. Once, I put my husband in a hotel around the corner for three nights and another time I sent him to his uncles for a few weeks. I was able to get some sleep, take care of myself and not think about his needs for a bit. When he returned, I was a more compassionate, understanding person again.

5. Know When You’re In Over Your Head.

If at any time you believe that you, your family or your partner are in any danger, it’s time to call in the professionals. If you are in physical danger, do not hesitate to call the police. I have and now my partner knows that. I have never had the need to do it again. It was not a pleasant experience for him but he knows now that if he becomes a threat, police will be called. Likewise, if symptoms are way past your comfort level and you see them escalating, it’s time to call the doctor and/or go to the ER. The sooner you do it, the sooner your partner will be on the path to recovery.

Keep in mind that you may become overwhelmed by your own flood of emotions in times of crisis. You can easily become disabled yourself from the drain physically and mentally. It is important that you take the time to take care of yourself. If you do, you will be able to support your partner more effectively and be able to make rational, intelligent, informed decisions for everyone involved.

Disclaimer: I am not a therapist or a doctor. This post is based solely on my personal experiences and should not be deemed as advice or counsel. Please seek appropriate medical attention from a licensed professional.

Recommended Reading: (affiliate links)
Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder: Understanding and Helping Your Partner
Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder: A 4-Step Plan for You and Your Loved Ones to Manage the Illness and Create Lasting Stability
Bipolar Disorder: A Guide for Patients and Families


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Watch my videos about bipolar on You Tube here.

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22 thoughts on “Creating Healthy Boundaries In Unhealthy Relationships

  1. Hi! I so needed this right now. I too have read or seen the articles but it’s my mother and I’m the only one here to take care of her. These are great suggestions and I do have friends that I talk with and have seen a therapist. The therapist never seems to tell me what to do however to handle these situations so this last confrontation I didn’t go.
    Nice to hear from someone with some suggestions on how to handle these situations in our lives.

    Like

  2. This was very helpful. I am in a relationship with someone like this and I myself have issues. I know it goes both ways and although I believe things may be coming to an end, I am ok if they do. This article also made me feel ok if they dont, and that is something I have struggled with the entire relationship. So thank you!

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  3. Absolutely agree! There is no easy way to cut your entire close family out. Thank you for posting such valuable tips. I found it easier to deal with them, when I started understanding where the problems come from and when I started cultivating compassion for them.

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    1. I never understand it when people say to just cut people out. How would it look if I left a cancer striken friend that was toxic? We must have compassion and understand where some of the unhealthy habits come from.

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  4. “You can only control how you respond, act and think when your partner/family member is treating you poorly. You can not control them!” Great observations, Elena, that I will consider as future coping tools, as someone who has talked to the “trees.”

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  5. Thanks for sharing, not always easy when it’s so close to your heart. It took me awhile to end my toxic relationship, because not many could see that it was and so I started to think that it was all in my head. The ones who saw him as he was wondered why I stayed so long and the ones who couldn’t see it wondered why we divorced.

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  6. Very good post. I’ve had to hang up on my son for abusing me on the phone and also have had to tell him to move out because he kept verbally attacking his father and I. Boundaries are important with volatile people.

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    1. Yes, they are. I’m so sorry that you have that kind of relationship with him. Hopefully, now that he no longer lives with you, your relationship may improve.

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  7. This is all such good advice, Elena. We are traveling back from a family wedding outof town. My brother in law has a girlfriend who is toxic. He’s blind to it. She’s an alcoholic and a liar and jealous of me because I’m married to his brother. She want to be married but he wont. Sad.

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    1. It sounds very difficult. All you can do is help him through this time. I’ve learnt long ago that people have to come to their own conclusions, in their own time.

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