As Rwanda joins the rest of the world to mark 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, perhaps it is also time to talk about one of the most prevalent challenges many people face but rarely talk about—toxic relationships. The challenge with toxic relationships, very often people in one will not know or have normalised it, which makes it even more dangerous. The worst part with toxic relationships, they are hard to leave. You need to be brave enough and have the guts to walk out even when your partner thinks that you cannot survive without them. Toxic relationships are built on one party knowing that they can get away with whatever they do, because they’ve manipulated you into believing that your life depends on them. Ornella Mugwaneza went through a toxic relationship while studying abroad, where she dated and lived with a man from West Africa, who in a way thought that he had full control of her life. “He would mistreat me, manipulate me into believing whatever he said and later on he began acting insecure and overprotective, accusing me of seeing other men and wanting to control every movement,” Mugwaneza recalls. Studying abroad and to some extent relying on him for survival and for company, she stayed in the relationship until things started getting violent as he turned over possessive. “For some reason, I got used to his ways, tolerated his conduct and before I knew it, he started acting that way in public. I decided to stand up to him. But later I realised that the more I stayed, the more toxic it became,” she says. One morning in 2019, with about six months left to graduate, Mugwaneza woke up and picked her belongings and moved in with a female friend without notice. Caught off guard, the man did everything to win her back but she was determined to move on from the toxic relationship. Rejected and scorned, he started acting creepy, stalking her, going through friends to get to her and acting all desperate. “I had to seek a restraining order and move to another state before returning home. Even when I got to Rwanda,he kept sending me ridiculous messages and even at one point got a flight to come here,” she says, reiterating how difficult quitting a toxic relationship can be. When do you know it is toxic? Experts say violence is not necessarily the main definition of a toxic relationship. In fact, most toxic relationships may not involve physical fights, but rather situations which can be damaging psychologically and emotionally. Toxic relationships are defined by disagreements between a couple that can’t be resolved and, in some cases, become more intense leading to a certain pattern of abuse, suffering and lack of total freedom. Toxicity describes the environment created by all these things and the more they pile up, the more difficult it becomes to resolve. Victims in a toxic relationship feel invalidated, uncertain, stressed, drained, and isolated, resented and abused, yet they cannot do much to get out of the situation. The damage can sometimes be too much and irreversible, to the extent that the victim feels like they’ve resigned to the situation while the perpetrator starts feeling that what they are doing is normal. People in a toxic relationship can feel angry, sad, helpless and dejected. It can be physically, emotionally, mentally, psychologically and morally draining that healing from its effects can take a while. Giving each other a hand One of the best ways couples can heal from a toxic relationship includes showing the willingness to support each other, but it begins with honesty and acknowledging all the negative things that make your relationship toxic. It also takes effort because most of the things that make a relationship toxic are ingrained in one’s character. As they say, old habits die hard. Traits developed in a toxic relationship are rarely transferable to a healthy one. There has to be a deliberate effort to eliminate them or they will come back to haunt you. However, the most impactful aspect is communication. Toxicity is mostly expressed in words that are damaging and to change that, couples need to start by]changing the way they communicate. It starts with listening and understanding each other, showing empathy, being accountable and most importantly, being honest and also making sure that you restrain from the very things that lead to arguments. It is also important for couples to focus on the present. It means understanding that your coping habits weren’t formed in your current relationship. Mindfulness exercises can help ground our thoughts in the now, not the past. By doing this, you give yourself the clarity to react to your current reality. It creates a boundary between the toxic relationship and the connection you’re trying to build with your new partner. Last but not least, be supportive to each other.