How to leave a toxic relationship? Reminds me of Eminem’s rap from Rihanna’s Love the way you lie, “I can’t tell you what it really is. I can only tell you what it feels like. And right now, there’s a steel knife in my windpipe. I can’t breathe, but I still fight while I can fight. As long as the wrong feels right, it’s like I’m in flight.
High off of love, drunk from her hate. It’s like I’m huffing paint and I love her, the more I suffer I suffocate and right before I’m about to drown. She resuscitates me, she fucking hates me. And I love it.”
Leaving a toxic relationship like this might seem like the wrong thing to do, even though deep inside, you know you should leave. Before you know it, you fall in love with the ‘love-hate’ or ‘pleasure-pain’ dynamic. There is so much pain, that the small doses of pleasure start giving you a kick and you convince yourself that it is all worth it. As Rihanna puts it, you start liking the way it hurts. You start to fall in love with the toxicity.
So, ending toxic relationships requires a lot of willpower, self-control, and a solid support system. Such relationships test you, and you sometimes have to go against what you want in order to save your mental health. How to leave a toxic relationship even when you are in love with your partner?
For this, we talked to emotional wellness and mindfulness coach Pooja Priyamvada (certified in Psychological and Mental Health First Aid from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the University of Sydney). She specializes in counseling for extramarital affairs, breakups, separation, grief and loss, to name a few.
When To Leave A Toxic Relationship
According to Pooja, “Whenever you feel threatened or disconnected, it’s time to talk to your partner about it. If they are not ready to mend their ways, it is time to leave. Abuse is non-negotiable, leave immediately.”
If you are experiencing physical or emotional abuse at the hands of your partner, it’s a clear sign that you need help leaving a toxic relationship. Studies point out that when it comes to emotional abuse, 40% of women and 32% of men reported expressive aggression (name-calling), and 41% of women and 43% of men reported coercive control (isolation tactics or threats of harm).
When to leave a toxic relationship? Ask yourself some difficult questions. Are you so addicted to your partner that letting go of them almost feels like a drug withdrawal? Has the relationship isolated you from the world and your own self? Do you lose your self-worth everyday and feel like you are not respected by your partner?
What are the signs that you should leave? Pooja points out, “Mistrust, disrespect, gaslighting, fear, shame, guilt – all these emotions are an inherent part of an unhealthy relationship. A healthy relationship enhances you while an unhealthy one diminishes and erases you.”
When should you consider getting out of a toxic relationship? When your partner keeps telling you they will change but you see no evidence of it. When you notice that your partner is not even committed to or motivated to evolve, it is one of the signs you need help leaving a toxic relationship.
7 Steps to Leave a Toxic Relationship
As the lyrics of the Miley Cyrus song go, “I came in like a wrecking ball. I never hit so hard in love. All I wanted was to break your walls. All you ever did was wreck me.”
Toxic relationships can literally feel like you’re breaking from the inside. Leaving a toxic relationship is not as easy as it seems. Let’s dig into a step-by-step guide on how to leave a toxic relationship.
1. Focus on the facts
Getting out of toxic relationships starts with focusing on the facts. Pooja emphasizes, “Acknowledge that your partner is toxic. Make a list of all the things that they do to you or don’t do that are abusive or harmful. Make a stepwise plan to distance yourself from them.”
Is your partner dependent on drugs? Do you notice signs your partner is lying about cheating? Are they passive aggressive and condescending? Is your partner one way in public but a totally different person behind closed doors?
How to leave a toxic relationship? You must first inherently feel that your relationship is toxic. Staying in denial and not seeing things as they are would just hamper your growth and healing. Don’t idolize your partner and reminisce about their good qualities only. Think realistically about your relationship. What are the compromises that you are making? What are the activities that you loved but have stopped indulging in because of their unwanted intervention? Did you distance your friends because of your partner? Write these things down.
2. How to leave a toxic relationship? Notice the impact on your mental health
Take a piece of paper and start writing down your feelings. Anchor yourself to the true nature of your relationship and what you are actually trying to escape. You have to ground yourself to the reality of how you and your body feel around them, and what this relationship is actually doing to you and your mental health.
How to leave a toxic relationship? You can write, “When he called me a bitch, I felt…” or “When she threw the ashtray, I felt…” or “When he screamed at the kids, I felt…” or “When she was flirting with my friends again, I felt…” or “When they were calling me names, I felt…” or “When I found out she was cheating on me, I felt…”
This exercise can make you realize that you are suffering due to subtle forms of emotional abuse. Don’t live in this mental hell. Know for a fact that you deserve to feel happy, worthy, loved, and respected.
3. Have the difficult conversation
Pooja points out, “Yes, it is okay to empathize with your partner since they may have gone through a lot as a child. It is also okay to support your partner in their struggles with their trauma, but if it is unhealthy or toxic for your mental health, you need to draw a boundary.
“Toxic people can change, if they want to work on themselves. They can change with therapy, self-work, and self-discipline but a victim cannot be asked to wait till they do. They must not suffer unnecessarily.”
As Pooja has mentioned, you have to realize that it is not your job to ‘fix’ someone or wait around for them to change or evolve. Take control of your own life. Start working on the goals that you have set for yourself. It has been famously said, “Your self-respect has to be stronger than your feelings.”
When expressing to them why you don’t want to continue the relationship anymore, remember that you don’t need the permission of your narcissistic partner to leave. Also, choose a safe public place to break up just in case your partner’s reaction becomes violent and aggressive. “Look what you made me do” is one of the classic things toxic partners often say.
They will obviously try to diminish your experience. For example, if they cheated on you, they might blame you and minimize your whole experience of being betrayed. Don’t pay heed to this. Don’t let them convince you. Ask yourself how many times you have gone through this loop. Has anything changed? Most importantly, is it worth it?
How to leave a toxic relationship? No matter whatever they say, stay in your body, stay in your mind, and stay in your skin. You have the right to make a decision for yourself. No one is the boss of you and you don’t need to seek validation for your decision.
4. Stick to your decision of no-contact rule
Ending toxic relationships is not easy. Reminds me of the movie Blue Valentine and its crushing final scene in which Dean walks away from his wife, Cindy, and his daughter, Frankie, for good.
The ending feels devastating because they both fell in love years ago but looking at how broken their relationship had become, giving up seemed like the logical conclusion. This movie shows us how toxic relationships are inevitably meant to end. Overstaying is of the most common relationship mistakes you actually can avoid.
But how to stick to the decision of ending the bond? How to leave a toxic relationship? Block that number. Delete those pictures. Control your urge to go back to their place. Know that it only gets easier after this. Meditate and write in your journal to calm your anxiety and overthinking.
Every time you feel like texting or calling them, just think of those times you felt so worthless that you couldn’t even get out of bed. Just think of how much stability you want and deserve. Unblocking them will only block your happiness. Do you want to continue being miserable?
5. Seek support
My friend, Paul, is a rational person. He is smart enough to know that his relationship is damaging his mental health. He is extremely self-aware and wants to leave. But at the same time, Paul has started falling in love with the toxicity and the pleasure-pain rollercoaster. What should Paul do in such a situation?
Pooja answers, “This is an unhealthy and unsafe space to be in. Often, when one begins to think that they deserve to be treated poorly or begin to enjoy the toxicity, it can be related to childhood trauma or poor self-esteem. You need professional intervention.”
How to leave a toxic relationship? After all, getting out of toxic relationships can give you withdrawals, since your relationship might be extremely volatile and unsafe. It is not easy to break free from this addiction or trauma bonding all by yourself.
A therapist can help you understand your insecure attachment style. They can help you understand your childhood trauma better. They can also give you ways to break your patterns by making you aware of what gets activated in you when you are with certain people and in certain relationships.
Apart from professional support, you also need some trustworthy people who can listen to you rant. You need friends who can help you cope with this pain in a healthy manner and who can non-judgmentally be there for you. You need people and activities that make you feel good about yourself.
6. How to leave a toxic relationship? Sit with your emotions
This step requires you to introspect. Have you tried breaking up a million times but find yourself going back to your partner each time? Are you losing all your self-control? Why does this happen?
Pooja answers, “This one of the indisputable signs of a codependent relationship. Because there is no other safe space to go or because your self-esteem is so low, you need them for validation and you keep going back. Work on your self-esteem and seek help about your own behavior pattern.”
This toxic relationship is trying to teach you some deep and valuable lessons about yourself. Your relationship with yourself needs healing. Instead of going down the black hole of blame and resentment, engage in self-reflection. What were the problems and how can you avoid them in the future? Were you also toxic in any way? What steps do you need to take to work on that?
Also, to heal from all these overwhelming emotions, engage in self-care. Eat right. Exercise daily. Take a solo trip. Get adequate sleep. Meditate. These little changes can make a huge difference to your mental health.
7. Know that it is not the end of the world
Getting out of a toxic relationship might make you feel a lot of emotions. I know it hurts a lot right now and you might also feel like you will never be able to have such a connection with anyone ever again. You might even lose faith in love and develop deep fear of relationships.
To this, Pooja emphasizes, “You might feel this way at some point but it isn’t true. As they say, never say never. Life takes its own course and you will find new, interesting, and healthier people and situations if you go into them without this bias.”
Even months or years after the breakup, you might have urges to get back together with your partner. It is normal to feel so. But remember, you made this decision after a lot of thinking. You had valid reasons for it, the most important one being that your relationship made you doubt and betray your own self.
It was not an impulsive decision, and that is why you made the right choice. Stick to it. Whenever you have withdrawals, seek support from a friend, family member or professional. Also, read all the reasons you wrote in your journal on why you left the relationship.
Related Reading: Post-Breakup Depression – Meaning, Signs, And Tips To Cope
Moving On From A Toxic Relationship
Moving on from a toxic relationship when you’re still in love with your partner may end up creating a huge void inside you. Fill this void by developing a healthy coping mechanism. Perform better at work. Meet your friends often. Develop new hobbies or just get back to old ones. Be patient with yourself as you go through the stages of grief after a breakup.
Moving on from a toxic relationship requires you to develop self-worth and self-love. Once you start respecting yourself, your fear of losing your current partner will start to evaporate. Don’t go into circuitous loops of self-criticism by asking yourself questions like – “Am I not attractive enough?”, “Am I not loving or lovable enough?” or “Am I not good enough?”
A toxic relationship can cripple your self-esteem, so please don’t fall into that trap. Instead, be kind to yourself. How to leave a toxic relationship and move on, in its truest sense? Make a list of all your good qualities. Highlight all that you have achieved and start counting your blessings. This will boost your self-esteem and help you move on.
Meditation and exercise can help you a lot when it comes to letting go of someone you love deeply and moving on from a toxic relationship. They will help you balance your mind, body, and soul. Working out is a great way to channel all your pain. Meditation can help you stay calm when you overthink too much.
How to leave a toxic relationship and move on? Don’t wait and suffer. You have every right to explore other options, whenever you feel ready. Know that it is not the end of the world. You will surely find another person that works for you. You will meet different types of soulmates at different points in your life. Don’t lose hope. Also, find happiness in being by yourself. Master self-love and look for sources other than relationships to derive your happiness from.
To conclude, a famous quote goes like, “As you heal, your attractions change too. Toxicity stops looking like excitement and peace stops feeling like boredom.” So, focus on your healing and evolution. Do the inner work. Take your time. Whenever you feel stuck, don’t shy away from reaching out. Our counselors from Bonobology’s panel are just a click away.
Come out of denial and see things as they are – write down facts about how this relationship has altered your relationship with yourself. Take the help of a therapist and some friends who can show you the reality and give you support. Walk away for good and then stick to your decision, no matter what.
Maybe, with the help of therapy and years of working on themselves. But you don’t have to wait and suffer. You are not a reform school for them. Look out for yourself first.
Pay serious attention to how you feel when you are with them. Remember, you can show compassion but it is NOT your job to fix them. Work on your self-worth and self-esteem so that you learn to say no and establish boundaries.