As an experienced marriage and family therapist, one of the questions I often get is how to end unhealthy relationships.
Why we stay in a toxic relationship
Sometimes we stay in a relationship would shouldn’t. There are several things that keep us from ending the relationship and finding a healthy relationship instead. Let’s take a look at some of these.
We have been together so long, I can’t quit now
I know, I know, it’s hard to let someone go when you’ve been together a long time. This is an example of the sunk cost fallacy. The sunk cost fallacy simply means you are unwilling to abandon a person or course of action if you’ve invested a lot of time or money in it.
This way of thinking keeps people stuck in all manner of unwise decisions. It no different in keeping a bad relationship because you have been there for a while than it is keeping a stock that continually loses money. Make sure you’re not working out of the sunk cost fallacy when you make your decisions.
No one else will love me
Some people don’t want to leave an unhealthy relationship because they believe that no one else will love them. Often times, their current partner is the one who has given them this idea in the first place to keep them from leaving. This is far from the truth. It’s a big world out there and there is someone for you. If someone makes you feel like you aren’t lovable, then this is probably a toxic relationship.
They promised to change
One of the reasons many people don’t break up when they are in unhealthy relationships is that their partner promises to change. It’s one thing if it’s the first mistake. However, a lot of times they don’t change and just continue to promise over and over. This is a very controlling move, and you will want to realize that if all you get are promises and no change, then it’s not likely to happen. Look to behavior and not words to make your decisions.
I love them
We all want love, it’s great! But let’s be realistic, it isn’t enough to keep a relationship healthy. Let me run that back for you. LOVE IS NOT ENOUGH! If you are aren’t getting treated with love and respect, it doesn’t matter how much you care forthem. The partnership is on shaky ground. Don’t let your emotions be the only thing you take into account when you decide if you should leave.
I’m afraid of what will happen to them without me
Maybe you are the person who keeps your partner on the straight and narrow. Maybe you’re the breadwinner. Maybe they tell you they can’t live without you. No matter what the case, fear for someone’s future is not a reason to stay in a relationship where you aren’t treated how you deserve.
Your partner is an adult. They are not your responsibility, and neither is their future. Thinking you should/need to take care of them is a sign of poor boundaries, not love. Their future health and happiness is their own responsibility. Sometimes, if you set boundaries here they will leave on their own because you’re no longer serving their needs.
I’m afraid of what they will do if I leave
Some people in unhealthy relationship are literally afraid of their partner. Maybe their partner is abusive or has threatened violence. Fear of abuse is a common reason that people stay in a toxic relationship. If this is you, then it’s time to contact a professional about getting help, or getting out.
The sex is phenomenal
Let’s face it, sex is great. And maybe sex with your partner is the best ever. However, sexual tension is not enough to make a healthy relationship. If this is all that’s keeping you in a toxic relationship, it’s time to cut the cord.
We have children together
Many a toxic relationship breaks up after the kids leave home. A lot of people stay together for the sake of the kids. The question I want you to ask yourself at this point, is what does it do to your children seeing their parents treat each other like this? Is having both parents in the home better, or are you setting the kids up to be in unhealthy relationships when they grow up?
Tips for preparing to end an unhealthy relationship
If you know that the relationship needs to end, there are some steps you can take first to make the breakup easier, safer and more likely to stick.
Tell people what is going on
If you are in a toxic relationship, chances are no one knows exactly what you are going through or how your partner can make you feel. At times, your partner has told you that you have a mental health problem and you’re afraid people will think you are crazy if you tell.
Other people keep their emotional pain a secret because they are ashamed. This is especially the case when someone is being emotionally or physically abused. It is not your fault that you are being treated poorly. Abuse hides in the dark, bring it into the light so you can be free.
Build your support system
One of the things that makes leaving someone hard is lack of support. Often someone who has been in an abusive relationship has been isolated from friends and family. People isolate you because they know it makes it harder for you to leave and easier for them to manipulate your emotions.
Building up your support system makes it easier for you to end the relationship and to keep from boomeranging back into it when you feel lonely. Start by reaching out to friends and family. You can also start meeting new people when possible to make sure there are supportive others in your life.
Start taking care of yourself
People in a toxic relationship often spent all their time taking care of others and have no time or energy left for themself. This makes it harder to leave or get help. It’s ok for you to put yourself first. Spend time taking care of your own mental health, your own emotional and physical needs, and spend time just being you.
Identify all the positive things about leaving
It’s ok to feel good about an ending. Whether it’s a job, a life phase or a romantic relationship, endings can be incredibly positive. Listen to your feelings and let yourself see all the things that can go right for you if you’re no longer with that person. Often, a big positive for ending a toxic relationship is an improvement in mental health!
Write down how they treat you
As with looking at the positives, looking at the negative things can be helpful in a breakup. Sometimes it’s easier to look at feelings, but often your partner’s actions tell a bigger story. Write down how they treat you. Write sown all of the signs the relationship is bad, like them making you feel alone, and unlovable, the bad communication, the emotional and physical abuse, and the things they do that harm your health. Often writing these items down gives you more reason to leave and make the breakup much easier. It also makes you harder to gaslight back into the relationship.
Make a detailed plan to leave and a safety plan if needed
Sometimes you want to leave but it’s not safe. This is when a safety plan comes in. You can either do this alone, or with the help of a therapist or counselor. If you are in fear for your physical safety leaving may seem impossible, but you can do it with the right safety plan and support.
Get help from a therapist
If you are having trouble ending a toxic relationship, then you might need the help of a therapist. A therapist or counselor can provide the support you need in doing all of the above steps, as well as helping you figure out what has you stuck in the relationship. A therapist can also help you not rebound back into the toxic relationship.
Getting out of a toxic relationship
When it’s time to leave, there is a lot to do. Sometimes, it’s not just a one-and-done. Here are some tips to help you break up the relationship and stay out of it.
Have the conversation
Sometimes the hardest part of ending a romantic relationship is having the discussion that ends it. However, you can’t move forward with out this talk. I want to note that this conversation doesn’t have to be had in person with the person you are dating. If you don’t feel safe having the discussion, or you feel that your person will try to talk you back into the relationship, then you can have a call, text or email conversation to end the relationship.
In some relationships you can have a discussion in person. However, some partners make this a bad idea as it could lead to emotional, mental or physical abuse or manipulation.
In these relationships, do not have the conversation in person. Instead, get the help of friends or family and have someone sit with you while you communicate with the person. If doing this via phone, get your friend there with you for support while you make the call. If you want, you can even let the person know you aren’t by yourself. This keeps some partners from using manipulation tactics because they don’t want a witness.
If you are concerned that things are so toxic that a call will be toxic for you, you can text. Again, support of a friend of family member is vital.
Some partners aren’t even a good candidate for a text breakup. At this point you will want to send an email. Again, having a friend there for support can really help in ending toxic relationships. Send the email, and if you get a reply, you know they’ve seen it. If they try to engage further, you can always block their email address.
Cut off contact with them
For many of us, this is the hardest part of ending toxic relationships. When leaving toxic relationships, it is best to cut off communication completely with that person so that you can process the damage they caused and heal. Whatever you do, my advice is to not continue to engage with them moving forward or you will not heal. Continuing to keep contact with them is also one of the signs that you’ve not healed from the relationship.
Staying in contact may give you a feeling that you are still in their life, or continue creating a sense of intimacy that doesn’t exist, making it easier to slide back into a relationship. In addition to creating that feeling of intimacy, it gives them an avenue to still hurt you
Unfriend and block them on social media, cell phone and email
Going to the above, you may not be contacting them, but you maybe still have them on social media and haven’t blocked the person. This may seem like a good idea, even like taking the mature road. It’s not.
This could also be giving your ex a sense of satisfaction and control over you since they know they can still reach out to you whenever they want, and that you see what they post. Those posts may also be meant to hurt you or manipulate your emotions. It also gives them a view into your life, and with toxic relationships this is the last thing you want. The ex could use information about you to stalk you, trash talk you or hurt your sense of self.
Change up your routine and do new, fun things
Changing up your routine can help you be safe, but most people don’t even know that it can also help you heal. Doing new, fun things can help you determine who you are and what is your self, instead of what was your partner’s manipulation. It can even help distract you from the pain of the relationship.
Work on yourself
The main thing you want to do when ending a toxic relationship is work on yourself. The self can get damaged in these relationships. At times it can get bad enough that you even need to rebuild the self from the ground up, determining who you are without them. Whatever you do, please continue to work on you and grow as a person. This will also help you to not fall back into the relationship, or get one where you repeat the same pattern with a different partner.
If you need to get out of a toxic relationship and can’t quite manage to do it on your own, it’s time to get help. If you are in Ohio, we at Columbus Therapy and Hypnosis would like to help.
If you haven’t decided if the relationship is bad enough to leave, we can also help by providing individual therapy or couple therapy. Also, if you have trauma from the relationship, EMDR therapy can help you feel better.
We offer online therapy sessions throughout the state of Ohio. We also offer in-person sessions at our Columbus, Ohio office. If you would like to speak with a therapist, you can reach us here.