Originally published 16 September 2019. Last updated 12 Jan 2021. On how to get out of a toxic relationship.
If you see signs that you’re in a toxic relationship and would like to break free from it, here are some steps you can follow to stay on track.
Remember that you’re not alone and that you are being honest and brave with wanting to leave a negative situation.
* Editor's Note: Listen to Joc Marie narrate the “5 Worst Breakup Mistakes You Must Avoid” in Episode 187 of Optimal Relationships Daily. If you're a new listener, check out all the shows in the Optimal Living Daily podcast network!
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1. Get Help if You Need To
Deciding to leave a relationship is an overwhelming process. It can have an impact on many areas of your life, from your self-perception to your finances or where you’re going to live.
Recognize that these challenges can make your stress and anxiety levels pile up.
Professional help includes seeing a therapist who can give you guidance on the process with leaving a bad relationship. A therapist can also help you create and maintain personal boundaries so that you have a better chance of finding a healthier relationship in the future.
Your community may have support groups for relationship issues (if you’re living in the U.S., one website you can search for such groups is Psychology Today). An online support group can also provide some much-needed insight and advice from people who have gone through a similar experience.
If your partner is physically violent or abusive, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline to speak to a highly-trained advocate. Their safety plan has more tips on how you can protect yourself as you’re planning to leave an abusive relationship. Get information and consider your options carefully before you file a restraining order, as they can often be more harmful than helpful.
Your close friends and family can be a source of help and support during this time too. Let them know the type of help you’re seeking, and that you need someone to listen or reassure you that you’re not alone.
UPDATE (12 Jan 2021): A website visitor kindly passed along this link to an International Domestic Violence Resource Guide. Domestic abuse has risen worldwide during the Covid-19 outbreak. If you're a victim or want to help someone who's living in another country, this is a list of global phone numbers and contacts to organizations that can help.
2. Build Your Self Worth
When a partner constantly puts you down and reminds you how much of a disappointment you are, it can lead you to believe that what your partner says is true.
Remember that you don’t owe your partner your sense of self-worth or self-perception just because you’ve been in a relationship with them.
Building your self-worth begins with the relationship you have with yourself.
You can read more in our follow-up article which has more specific tips on how to improve your self-worth.
3. Be Realistic about Your Partner
You may think that your partner will be willing to meet you halfway, or that you’re a bad person if you leave because you still love your partner.
People choose to stay in toxic relationships for many reasons. They may be scared to break things off and be single for the first time in a long while. They may believe that that’s how all their relationships are going to be like, or their partner may convince them why it’s better to stay.
Change is possible with a toxic partner, but for true change to happen, your partner has to admit that their actions are unhealthy. They then have to seek support and be committed to making the change a lasting one. The toxic behavior is not likely to stop if your partner doesn’t see how they’re part of the problem or has no desire to change their behavior.
Instead of believing you can “save” them, think about whether you’re being fair to yourself if you decide to stay in the relationship.
4. Have a Financial Plan
Lacking money and resources may make you feel that it’s impossible to escape from a toxic relationship.
Think of what your life would be like ten years ahead. Do you want to live out that decade with the misery and stress of being with a toxic partner?
It’s never too late to start learning about personal finance. If you’re able to support yourself financially, you don’t need to rely on someone else to fund your basic security needs like food and shelter.
Know how much you need to save up to be able to leave and move somewhere else if you want a fresh start. Get creative with how you market yourself and your skills set. After all, you don’t need an expensive degree to succeed these days.
Reading up on legitimate work from home jobs may give you some ideas on how you can earn money. Remote work often offers flexibility and location independence which a regular job may not offer.
5. Don’t Backpedal
Once you’ve made up your mind about leaving, let your partner know it’s over and don’t be wishy-washy about your decision. Leave a text or note if you feel this is safer than letting your partner know in person.
Apply the no contact rule that breakup recovery expert Eddie Corbano advises. Corbano recommends having “no contact” with your ex for at least sixty days to give your heart a chance to heal and recover, and to keep your head “in charge” during an emotionally difficult time.
If you have kids and are wondering if you should stay in a toxic relationship for the sake of your children, the following comment might give you a different perspective:
The commenter above realized that her kids would grow up “thinking it’s okay to tolerate unacceptable behavior” from their partners. Is this the type of mindset or frame of reference you want your kids to have?
This is a time where you prioritize self-care and your safety.
A simple exercise is to write down your deal breakers when you’re reflecting on your toxic relationship. If your partner disrespected your personal boundaries, was emotionally manipulative towards you, placed the blame on you for everything wrong in their lives, or kept saying they would change when they did not, write that down. These are some of the things you’ve learned about your personal needs, and this knowledge will help guide you when you’re ready to start dating again some time down the road.
A toxic relationship saps your energy and keeps you from living life to the fullest. Taylor Swift wrote in the foreword to her Lover album that she wanted to be defined by the things she loved. Likewise, you wouldn’t want to define you or your life by a relationship that brings you down or makes you feel less than what you are as a person.
Get Out of A Toxic Relationship: Conclusion
Leaving a toxic situation will give you the freedom to work towards maintaining healthy relationships and habits as you move forward.
May you become that much stronger and wiser in your journey towards better relationship territory.