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Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom: Do you need a relationship cleanse?

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, NBC News Health editor Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom lays out a roadmap for getting rid of the negative relationships in your life.
NBC News health editor, Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom, talks to Know Your Value founder Mika Brzezinski.
NBC News health editor, Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom, talks to Know Your Value founder Mika Brzezinski.Miller Hawkins

We form relationships of all types throughout our lives. Many of us assume these connections will last forever, and they often do. But when you’re feeling troubled, it’s a sign to pay attention to all of the relationships on your life, whether it’s with your partner, boss, co-worker, friend or a family member.

After you’ve sized up what’s important for your personal emotional wellbeing, try my five-step plan for a “relationship cleanse.” It will help you get rid of negative relationships, and nurture the positive ones!

1. Be honest with yourself.

Sort out which relationships are truly uncomfortable for you, even if you don’t know the reason. Think about what qualities you valued in that person at the start, and how the relationship has changed over time. Defining “the problem” is the best first step.

2. Understand the problem.

Next, it’s important to understand and evaluate your own role in the relationship. While healthy relationships have some “give and take” and are not always in perfect balance, ask yourself some key questions: Have your own needs always been the same? Do you feel you are putting too much energy in, that’s not ever given back? Do you sense you are growing in different directions?

3. Establish boundaries.

If you’re not willing to break off the relationship and still find some value in it, try setting some limits on the relationship by interacting less frequently, as an interim step. If you feel it’s time to cut the relationship completely, it’s important to recognize and act on that. This can be tough to do one your own, and many people seek added support and guidance from a trusted family member, friend or professional.

4. Nurture your valued relationships.

Sometimes we become so caught up in a toxic relationship that we don’t make time for the connections we truly value. As you rid yourself of the negative relationship, reach out and reconnect, or continue to strengthen the relationships that bring joy to your life.

5. Be kind to yourself, and don’t feel guilty!

This is tough for many people. Often, our kind-hearted nature takes over with the thinking that only a “mean girl” would do a relationship cleanse. Not at all! Be good to yourself, just as you do for others, and try treating yourself to whatever makes you happy and provides comfort. It might be a walk in a park, lunch with a valued friend, a beauty treatment or fitness class. Or, maybe it’s simply giving yourself some personal time to do nothing!

While it takes a lot of mental focus to assess your relationships, if your well-being is dampened by one or more people in your life, it’s surely worth the effort.

And don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help when you need it. Your health and happiness depend on it.

Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D. is the NBC News Health Editor. Follow her on Twitter @drfernstrom.