How to Heal a Toxic Relationship


Relationships can turn toxic.  The release of bitterness, hurt, abuse, poverty, anger, and a host of emotional carcinogens can completely “pollute” a relationship environment.

On their desert journey, Israel came to a bitter, toxic lake named “Marah” (Hebrew for “bitter”). They tried to drink of the water.  It was too polluted.  God showed Moses a “tree” that he threw into the water, and the water became clear, sweet, and drinkable.

Here are three “trees” you can put into any toxic relationship and begin the process of healing:

The tree of HONOR

Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing HONOR to the wife…” (1 Pet. 3:7).  “Honor” is looking past the person to the position they hold.  

Husbands and wives must look beyond the weaknesses, failures, and imperfections of their spouse.  They must see them as made in the image of God.  

If you will show “honor” to any person, regardless of their ethnicity, gender, or station in life, the environment of that relationship will change.  Peter said it this way:  “Honor everyone” (1 Pet. 2:17).

The tree of TRUST

Andy Stanley helped me to understand trust.  He defined “trust” in terms of a “gap” and what we put in that gap. 

When trust is broken, a “gap” is formed between what is expected and what is done.  How you respond to that gap is what restores relationships.  In a toxic relationship, you assume that their character is bad and accuse them.  You place “suspicion” in that gap.

In a trusting relationship, you say, “I’m sure you have a good reason for this gap.  Help me to understand.”  WE CHOOSE WHAT TO PLACE IN THAT GAP.  “Decide” what to fill the gap with:  “Trust.”

The tree of LOYALTY 

We cannot have “disposable relationships.”  Less than 30% of divorces are for toxic circumstances (adultery, abuse, abandonment, etc.).  70% are just a decision by emotions and the divorce creates as many problems as it solves. (Linda Waite, The Case for Marriage).

In fact, Linda reports in her book that “86 percent of unhappily married people who stick it out find that, five years later, their marriages are happier,” according to an analysis of the National Survey of Families and Households.  She concluded, “Permanent marital unhappiness is surprisingly rare among the couples who stick it out.”

God is a God of “hesed” (Hebrew word for “covenant loyalty.”).   It’s a solid, unmoveable love.  It is based upon forgiveness, compassion, grace, and serving. 

These three words build on top of each other in healing a toxic relationship.  First comes HONOR (a decision), then comes TRUST (a process), and finally you reach LOYALTY (covenant commitment, constant forgiveness, and continual serving).

If you are in what feels like a toxic relationship, put the “tree of life” (the cross of Christ) into that cesspool of conflict.  His honor, his trust, and his forgiveness can turn that bitter, deadly water into a clear, refreshing relational river of life.