How to Fix a Toxic Relationship: 8 Bible Verses to Consider

Looking to figure out how to fix a toxic relationship? Here are 8 Bible verses to consider while deciding if the relationship has any hope of continuing.

Being stuck in a toxic relationship

The cause of all toxic behavior is sin, which entered the world when Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, rebelled against God (Genesis 3). Because we are children of our first parents, we are all stained with this original sin.

We feel anger, pride, and selfishness, and we feel trapped. This causes us to constantly search for something to hope in or a way of escape. There is one hope only of escaping this sin: Jesus Christ who died for us so that we could be saved (Romans 5:8). With His grace, we can find out how to fix a toxic relationship.

Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? – 2 Corinthians 6:14

Paul admonished the church in Corinth for their lack of love and indifference toward him. This was because of their close connections with unbelievers. This had corrupted their spiritual growth.

Does this other person indulge people that distract from the gospel in your relationship? If this person or spouse is not being built up by believers, and is instead satisfied with being poured into by unbelievers, it is likely that you have a toxic relationship on your hands. Prayer is a great place to start as God promises He gives wisdom generously to all, without reproach as we ask Him with faith that He will provide it (James 1).

Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. – Hebrews 13:14

This was one of the final exhortations by Paul to his followers in his epistle while imprisoned. He wanted them to show hospitality to strangers, remember those mistreated in prison, shun the love of money, and be content with what they had, remembering the Lord is always there to love and guide you. He is there for us in marriage, too.

God founded the institution; therefore, its vows must be upheld. Nothing is to come between you and loving your spouse and holding them in high regard – not their attitude or behavior, not your kids, not a job or other activity, not another person in any way.

Today, this type of behavior is too prevalent, often resulting in the break-up of marriages. If you find there is anything in the way of loving your spouse, you need to pray to the Lord for help to fix this toxic relationship and help you to rely on Him to help you do it His way.

Do not be deceived; ‘bad company corrupts good morals.’ – 1 Corinthians 15:33

This is true in all relationships – family, friends, and work. Who are your “friends?” Do they support you in times of want; are they there for you no matter the circumstances? Or do they disappear, making you wonder who you can trust? The Lord will never leave your side. He is incorruptible.

As a Christian, you are called to love others. Loving means taking the right course of action, in accordance with God’s Word, and to not be corrupted or change your views. He is the Lord, and He will let you know how to fix a toxic relationship with others. Conform to God’s law, not the world’s.

If your brother sins against you, go, and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and tax collector. – Matthew 18:15-17

These are strong words, but they ensure accountability and effective conflict resolution. You must look at others as souls. Forgiving a person (family, friend, co-worker, etc.) or spouse means looking at them as a fellow “brother” or “sister” in Christ, a soul that has been redeemed and is called righteous just as you are.

Forgiving someone who is not a believer is loving our enemies just as we are instructed to, and looking at them as souls in need of a Savior. Wading through the consequences of the wrongs done might take longer. Knowing how to fix a toxic relationship can involve deeper issues that will take time to understand. Take it to the Lord in prayer, search His Word for wisdom, and seek out good, God-centered counsel.

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. – 1 Corinthians 6:8

When it comes to sex, we see that nothing is new under the sun. In Paul’s day, sex of all kinds was normal for most people. This included adultery, prostitution, pedophilia, homosexuality, etc. Sex outside of marriage was accepted as normal, just as it is today. Paul states you must flee from sexual immorality. It’s wiser to escape from this sin than be subdued by it (Genesis 39:7-12). You are only harming yourself and others involved.

Paul fought against the casual attitude toward it by some Christians and the pain it causes to both spouses. Today we still commit these sins. This causes friction, bad attitudes, and bad relationships. You will need to learn how to fix this toxic relationship.

Rely on the Lord. Pray for a resolution that will return the love you feel for your spouse and an escape from any relationship that does not honor God by respecting the design of sex to be between a married man and woman. Seek counsel to help point you to God’s will.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:3-4

Paul once more tells us to treat others’ needs as more important than our own, and other people as greater than us. By doing this, you will achieve the kind of humility that results in love and unity. His goal was to center attention on other people, not yourself. We need to do this in our personal relationships and marriages.

By treating people with respect, you will be influencing the relationship out of toxicity. There will be the most opportunity for harmony and understanding of each other’s needs when at least one person is honoring the Lord. There may still be conflict, but true love will, with God’s help, see you through such times as you look to suffer well and seek out the other soul’s good above your own.

I appeal to you brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve. – Romans 16:17-18

Paul begs the Christians in Rome to be on their guard against false teaching, by holding to the truth they know and protecting it at all costs. He knew that others would come after him and try to sow division and confusion in the church, seeking after their own selfish desires.

Fixing a toxic relationship is a manner of speaking the truth to one another, whether at home, the office, or with anyone. Cling to the gospel to see your way through any measure of toxic relationship. Put everything to the test of Scripture to make straight your paths.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

With this chapter, it’s easy to see that love conquers all. There is nothing it can’t overcome. This is the love of Christ. As followers of Christ, we strive to love like this by the power of the Holy Spirit. Knowing how to fix a toxic relationship is using this love for every relationship. The Lord will show you how if you ask Him. Evil is overcome by the power of love.

It is quite clear in these verses that love should dominate our thoughts and actions. How to fix a toxic relationship then becomes a simple matter of understanding God’s love and loving the other person with it.

Get help with your relationships today by reaching out to a therapist on our website.

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Mapping the Heart: Navigating Codependency and Establishing Boundaries

The accounts of Jesus’ time on earth provide a practical and spiritual template for those who follow Him. His approach to navigating challenges serves to encourage and infuse confidence in all we confront. He exhibited the principle of establishing healthy relationships, communication, and boundaries.

Prioritizing the Father’s will, Jesus’ desire to please His Father was the impetus that governed His ministry. He relentlessly pursued what would ultimately give God glory in every circumstance, regardless of the demands that others attempted to impose on Him.

The mirror of Scripture can help us to observe this as we watch Jesus engage with a pair of sisters hosting Jesus at their home. Martha was busy preparing for dinner, yet not enjoying the Lord’s presence.

While her sister Mary listened to Jesus teach, Martha lamented to the Savior. Instead of communicating directly with Mary, Martha circumvented her, by talking to Jesus about what Mary wasn’t doing and what she presumed should be happening instead. Jesus’ response exhibited a reflection of what healthy boundaries can look like in our own lives.

While Jesus didn’t negate the necessity of dinner, His emphasis in this account helps us to recognize, repent, and reset where our priorities misalign. He addressed Martha but refused to allow imposed guilt to usurp His priority.

As Messiah, He realized that Martha wanted to be validated and supported; Martha’s need for replenishment was apparent. It was what Mary had already chosen: to ease her codependent and anxious mind in rest and replenishment at Jesus’ feet.

No amount of work, regardless of how noble, fills us like spending time with Jesus. Christ presented the perfect example, illustrating that loving people and establishing boundaries are not mutually exclusive. We need both; and in fact, one informs the other.

We set boundaries because we want to protect the time in the presence of God and with loved ones and preserve these relationships. It is because of love that we establish boundaries as parameters to redirect our resources to nourish what we value.

When we are busying ourselves with what everyone else is or isn’t doing, we miss important face-to-face time with the Lord. There may be words and wisdom that He wants to share, but as long as we are codependently preoccupied with other people’s behaviors, we deflect attention from Christ.

Boundaries around our peace or priorities weaken the hold that worry and anxiety leverage. Yet, when we avoid marking boundaries on our time, we overextend ourselves and overcommit limited resources of energy and attention. Like Martha, this can be taxing for us as well as those in relationship with us.

Instead of engaging in life-giving exchanges, we keep score, ticking off our contributions and others’ perceived failures. We diminish them, even as we see in this story (Luke 10:38-42). There are two hostesses, yet they are both displaying a different kind of welcome for the Visitor in their home.

When we operate from a codependent mindset, we project what we want onto others, stepping over the boundaries around what they value. Instead, we misuse our relational influence to control them with guilt or emotion, presuming that they should respond to what we want and disregard their own unique needs and desires.

Codependency looks away from the areas to be reconfigured in our hearts. Furthermore, it minimizes the impact that our controlling words and actions have on those we love.

The speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye looms larger than the log bursting through our own when we allow codependency to govern and inform our mindset (Matthew 7:3-5). The result is that we won’t establish healthy boundaries that refocus us on what we need to manage with the Lord in our own lives. We place ourselves in the position of God by trying to rescue, redeem, or reprove other people for what they need to manage with the Savior.

It doesn’t have to be like this. We can make immediate pivots, recognizing where our codependent disregard for boundaries has spilled over into interactions with our loved ones. The Lord is our Counselor and Helper. Through His Holy Spirit, He will direct us to counseling resources to support us with making lasting change. Just like change came to Mary and Martha’s home, it can come to ours as well.

Next steps to establishing boundaries

Wherever you are, take courage and hope that change is possible. God has provided valid solutions and practical support for you to initiate it in your own life. Contact one of the counselors here at Huntington Beach Christian Counseling in California. Make your appointment to experience the beginning of life changes. You can begin to redraw the lines of your heart map, establishing boundaries that protect what matters most.

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Codependency Treatment for Partners: You Have Options

The term “codependency” describes a condition that was first identified in the context of alcoholism and chemical dependency. The family dynamics of alcoholics were actually playing a role in preventing them from becoming or staying sober.

Researchers began to study the spouses or intimate partners and members of the alcoholics’ families and identified a distinct disorder that exists alongside of addiction and makes it worse.

This disorder was labeled codependency. Discovering and defining codependency has led to the creation of treatment programs that work alongside addiction treatment. Professionals assess and treat family dynamics as well as the person struggling with addiction. Mental Health America defines codependency this way:

“Codependency is a learned behavior that can be passed down from one generation to another. It is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as ‘relationship addiction’ because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive.

The disorder was first identified about ten years ago as the result of years of studying interpersonal relationships in families of alcoholics. Codependent behavior is learned by watching and imitating other family members who display this type of behavior.”

A codependent person has an unusually high desire for emotional intimacy. To fulfill this desire, they play the part of caregiver or rescuer. They often find themselves in relationships with unreliable or abusive partners.

When a person is repeatedly attracted to unstable partners, this is a red flag for codependency. People who struggle with alcoholism or other forms of addiction are in dire need of help and rescuing. From an unhealthy perspective, they need a partner who will enable their addiction.

The addiction model describes the process of gratification followed by a withdrawal that addicts experience. The concept of codependency explains how codependents are also trapped in this cycle. They want to be passionately engaged with their partners, and if their partner creates distance, the codependent can go through withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety and desperation.

What causes the alcoholic to create distance? It’s when their cycle reaches the binge phase of self-indulgence in their chosen substance. Once they’ve achieved their fix or high, they inevitably face the consequences. At this point, the codependent can seek his or her own “fix,” achieving a sense of intimacy and being needed by “helping” the alcoholic and saving them from the consequences.

Outside of the cycle description, this dynamic has also been compared to a dance between the addict and the codependent. The codependent accepts a one-way relationship, but it doesn’t only hurt them. It also hurts the addict and contributes to the addiction taking a stronger hold in their life.

Not all experts agree that codependency should be called an addiction. Amir Levine, M.D., and Rachel Heller, M.A., in their book Attached, describe it this way:

“While the teachings of the codependency movement remain immensely helpful in dealing with family members who suffer from substance abuse (as was the initial intention), they can be misleading and even damaging when applied indiscriminately to all relationships.”

According to Levine and Heller, a seemingly excessive attachment need can be rooted in evolutionary biology. Their book describes codependency as a social construct based on a cultural norm of independence and self-reliance.

Research no longer supports the idea that healthy parent-child bonding requires complete self-reliance on the part of the child. Levine and Heller claim that codependency concepts, applied indiscriminately to non-addictive relationships, make even healthy dependency patterns seem questionable.

Attached posits a theory called “New Science of Adult Attachment,” suggesting that dependency is based on our DNA, not on addiction.

Christians may relate the theory of healthy dependency to the book of Genesis, which says, “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” Levine and Heller claim that we actually do receive happiness from our partners, not just from within ourselves:

“Numerous studies show that once we become attached to someone, the two of us form one physiological unit. Our partner regulates our blood pressure, our heart rate, our breathing, and the levels of hormones in our blood. We are no longer separate entities.

The emphasis on differentiation that is held by most of today’s popular psychology approaches to adult relationships does not hold water from a biological perspective. Dependency is a fact: it is not a choice or a preference.”

In Attached, the concept of “mutual reactivity” is described as an example of normal dependency. Partners become upset on each other’s behalf and respond to each other’s emotions and experiences like they are their own. But this description of mutual reactivity is viewed as a lack of boundaries or emotional enmeshment by codependency experts and the mental health community.

Attached does acknowledge the possibility of over-attachment, which the authors call an “activated attachment system.”

“Remember, an activated attachment system is not passionate love. Next time you date someone and find yourself feeling anxious, insecure, and obsessive – only to feel elated every once in a while – tell yourself this is most likely an activated attachment system and not love! True love, in the evolutionary sense, means peace of mind. ‘Still waters run deep’ is a good way of characterizing it.”

Attached proposes a more balanced approach than the common mental health emphasis on differentiation and emotional independence. Instead, the authors say we should acknowledge that we have an inherent need for attachment and dependence on our partners, and when this need is met, we will feel secure.

“Attachment principles teach us that most people are only as needy as their unmet needs. When their emotional needs are met, and the earlier the better, they usually turn their attention outward. This is sometimes referred to in attachment literature as the ‘dependency paradox’: the more effectively dependent people are on one another, the more independent and daring they become.”

This newer approach suggests that we simply recognize that looking to others to fulfill our needs is natural human behavior. Meanwhile, the concept of codependency sounds the warning that our attachment needs could be based on harmful patterns learned in childhood and that they may become addictive.

In both theories, the solution is similar: seek out the right partner, one that is emotionally available and willing to meet your needs.

Levine and Heller describe a needy person differently than an addiction expert might. In addiction circles, the needy party will be called a codependent or an addict. But those who speak in terms of attachment, such as Levine and Heller, would instead use words like anxious or avoidant.

Either way, the dance between the needy person and their partner looks the same. The person who says, “Love me, please!” and the person who says, “Go away” are often attracted to one another and end up in relationships.

Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW, has written an article called “Overcoming Codependency: Reclaiming Yourself in Relationships.” She says:

“Many people stay in self-defeating relationships too long because they are fearful of being alone or feel responsible for their partner’s happiness. They may say they want out – but they end up staying. Others may leave but repeat the same or a similar self-destructive pattern in a new relationship.

The adrenaline rush that they experience when they feel passionate toward someone can be addictive. For many people, the reason behind excessive emotional reliance on a partner is codependency – a tendency to put others’ needs before their own.”

The authors of Attached say that this neediness is rooted in biology, but that doesn’t mean recognizing its legitimacy will solve all our problems:

“The question is what happens when the person we rely on most–and in fact depend on emotionally and physically–doesn’t fulfill his or her attachment role?

After all, our brain assigns our partner the task of being our secure base, the person we use as an emotional anchor and a safe haven, the one we turn to in time of need. We are programmed to seek their emotional availability. But what if they aren’t consistently available?”

Gaspard lists several obstacles to finding true love, including self-defeating thoughts, self-sabotage, fear of rejection, self-judgments, and a lack of support. Levine and Heller offer explanations of different attachment styles to help people navigate competing needs in their relationships.

They devote several chapters to explaining the nuances of the different styles and how you can identify which one describes you and which describes your partner. They also give examples of how different types of attachment look in real life, along with solutions for improving your relationship and resolving conflict.

So what are the attachment styles Levine and Heller have identified? There are three: anxious, secure, and avoidant. (You may recognize that these are similar to the addiction model of codependent, interdependent, and detached.)

If you have an anxious attachment style…

You will place a high value on being close and intimate with your partner. You will fear to lose your partner. You will be attuned to the subtleties in your partner’s nonverbal communication, and you may take everything personally. This style can be overly sensitive, prone to getting upset and saying things they’ll regret.

If you have a secure attachment style…

You’ll be a loving partner who feels comfortable and secure in your relationship, balancing your sense of freedom with a healthy level of intimacy. You will also be good at communicating what you need and reading your partner’s emotional cues.

If you have an avoidant attachment style…

You will place a high value on your autonomy and independence. This doesn’t mean you won’t desire intimacy, but too much might make you feel uncomfortable. Your partner might often complain that you seem detached or don’t open up enough.

Levine and Heller suggest that the concept of codependency is more useful in relationships characterized by substance abuse, while their theory of attachment styles is better for non-addictive relationships.

Considering both theories can offer us a helpful balance and suggest relationship patterns to avoid, such as those described by Gaspard. Can you identify any of these patterns in your relationship?

  • Poor boundaries. Do you have trouble saying “no” to requests? Do you let others take advantage of you?
  • Ignoring red flags. Are you unwilling to confront major problems such as dishonesty, jealousy, or destructive habits?
  • People-pleasing. Do you overachieve just to make other people happy or win their approval? Are you afraid to bring up problems because you don’t want your partner to reject you?
  • Staying in a destructive relationship. Have you been abused or neglected in your relationship and felt like you couldn’t leave?
  • Giving too much. Are you in a one-sided relationship? Do you neglect self-care? Do you think that taking time for yourself is inherently selfish?
  • Defining your self-worth by what others think of you. Are you so focused on other people’s opinions that you don’t value your own opinion of yourself?

The theories in Attached are helpful ways to describe problematic relationship patterns in otherwise healthy couples. This avoids the stigma surrounding codependency and concepts that are intended to address issues related to substance abuse.

If you are not yet in a relationship, you can benefit from reading Attached and understanding how to find a partner who is willing to meet your emotional needs. If you are already married, Attached can help you identify the attachment styles in your relationship and how to overcome problems to have a more fulfilling connection.

Where family dynamics are extremely toxic or affected by substance abuse, the concept of codependency offers a road to freedom from destructive relationship patterns that affect both children and adults.

If you feel that there are attachment or codependency issues in your relationship, it may be helpful to make use of tools to assess any addiction problems in your family, such as:

  • The alcoholism/drug addiction self-test at the National Center for Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
  • The sexual addiction screening or other tests at the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals

Once the presence of addiction has been ruled out, Attached can be a helpful resource for understanding and growth of relationships.


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