One of the most challenging moments in a marriage is when you wake up to the fact that the person you were in love with, the first you had a child with, is actually toxic. Once you realize this and really know it, you’ll have very little recourse. Especially if you’ve had a child with them. How do you protect your child? How do you protect yourself from a toxic partner? What do you do to change the dynamic of the relationship? Fortunately, there are five clear steps you can take when you find yourself in this position.
My Experience as A Child and Parent
My training and expertise in toxic parents started at a young age. I was a child in a marriage with a toxic parent. Truthfully from my perspective, both of the parents were pretty toxic, but one of them was pretty outstanding. When I was in his presence, I would lose my sense of self. I became clay for him to mold and manipulate. I started to take on sociopathic behaviors that were his and cause myself and the people around me great pain. It was only when I was away from him that I would begin to discover what made me uniquely me. It took me decades to learn how to have a safe relationship with that parent. Safe so that I would not lose my sense of self, could hold on to what’s important to me, and still appreciate their positive qualities in addition to being wary of the negatives.
In my own marriage, I divorced a toxic partner and wrestled with how to do this in a way that would make our children feel safe. once the divorce was over that challenge was how to prepare our children for managing someone like their mother without actually pointing the finger at her. The following five-step program evolved out of that experience, my professional training, and years of helping others.
Step 1: Create a Safe Space
When separating yourself from a toxic partner, the first step is to get not only a safe physical space, but a safe emotional space. Identify the ways that their toxicity is poisoning you. Create a strategy for no longer allowing that toxicity to permeate your life. And get it that you will not change them. You can only stop receiving the things you no longer wish to receive from them. Having that safe space, some time, and some help are vital to this process.
Step Two: Protect Your Sacred Self
Your sacred itself is the part of yourself that you are never going to compromise on if you can help it. It’s your values, your principles, the things that are necessary for you to feel like a whole and complete, functioning human being in a very confusing world. These are also very principles that kept you in the toxic relationship for so long. Principles like not wanting to hurt your children. Wanting to keep your marriage routes, etc. Knowing what these principles are, and how they apply to your life once you’re separated from living with a toxic partner is vital. Vital so that you don’t allow yourself to be manipulated or controlled through your own values and principles in the future. Important so that you know where and when to make your stand in life, and where to release and give in.
Step Three: Embrace the Enemy
Embracing the enemy does not mean loving them or even liking them. It does not mean making them right. Nor does it not mean validating them. It means understanding who they are. Believe it or not, you want to start having empathy for how they became the way that they are. Empathy means to walk in their shoes, you don’t need to show this empathy nor do you need to translate it into compassion. You simply need to have a structure, or profile in your mind that represents who they are. A framework for how they function so that you will know how to deal with them in such a way that seems like a win for them and is certainly a win for you. This can be really challenging since many toxic partners see a win for them as a loss for you.
Step Four: Arm Your Children
Arming your children in this instance means educating them about aspects of their other parent’s toxicity without actual finger-pointing. Taking the behaviors that you have identified in your profiling so that you equip them to deal with the behaviors. Outing the other parent to the children is destructive to the children. Outing behavior prepares them for dealing with people like the other parent. And not only does it arm them for their relationship with the other parent, but it prepares them for all the other toxic people on the planet. There are actually quite a few!
Step 5: Your Network of Support
Having a network support is vital to any endeavor. You need people in your life who understand this problem. People who are familiar with it. People who know how to handle it quickly and efficiently. This is not the kind of thing that you want to bumble through over a long period of time. If you can find a mentor, a coach, or a therapist, all the better!
If you want to learn more about these five steps and how to incorporate them into your day-to-day life, check out our free masterclass, From Toxic to Triumphant!