Today we will be looking at how to leave a toxic relationship and what to do to help ourselves recover in the best way possible. I won’t say in the fastest way possible, because I believe we all deal with the grief differently and we should not hurry this process up- the suppressed feelings will come back to haunt us when we least expect it.
Many of us will find ourselves in some sort of unhealthy relationship at some point of our lives. Whether it’s attracting an alcoholic or dating an overly jealous person, there are a number of unhealthy situations we can find yourself in. I’m no exception; I have been in a very unhealthy relationship with a pathologically jealous partner. And I can tell you from my own experience, it was hell; both during the relationship and after.
So what’s the best way to leave an unhealthy relationship?
1. If you’re still unsure about leaving your partner despite being unhappy, I strongly recommend logging your feelings on daily basis so that you have a solid evidence of how your partner makes you feel. This can be in a form of a diary or a logbook. We often confuse feelings with facts, we tend to make excuses for our loved ones (‘but he was so tired that day, perhaps that’s why he drank too much and lashed out’). Having it written down provides undisputed evidence of how you felt, what was said, what your partner did to hurt you and so on. Evidence, evidence, evidence. Keep it going for a week or two; at the end of that time, take an honest look at your thoughts, actions and feelings. Does this person appreciate you? Does he deserve you? Does he treat you the way you deserve to be treated? Making that final decision to leave is tough, but you must put yourself first and be honest with yourself.
2. Once you do decide to leave, give yourself time to prepare. Plan ahead. Prepare for overwhelming feelings of sadness that break-ups bring and promise to be kind to yourself during that grieving period. Think about how and when to leave your partner; much will depend on your partners’ issues. If he/she is an alcoholic, choose the time when he’s sober. If you’re afraid of your partner, you might consider breaking up with him or her via a phone. While it’s not ideal, you should do what makes you feel safe. Prepare your reasons for leaving and write them down if you can. They should be written in an assertive manner, not accusing or blaming. Rehearse them.
3. Choose a safe place to break up with your partner. Toxic relationships often involve intensity, both emotional and physical, so choose a place where your partner would be embarrassed to get out of control.
4. State your reasons calmly and firmly; stick to your points. Remain assertive; don’t let your partner push you into a passive or an aggressive state. Be empathetic, but not sympathetic towards him or her. Think of yourself and what you’ve been through. At this stage you may be feeling sad the relationship is ending but your self-respect will be taking over, guarding you and giving you the strength and motivation to stick to your guns.
5. Prepare yourself for a mixture of unpredictable feelings over the next few days: an initial relief might be replaced by an overwhelming sadness. This initial break-up phase is also called ‘depression stage’. How you deal with the grief will depend on how you handled grief previously; chances are, other suppressed grief episodes will now resurface, adding to the overall seemingly helpless situation. Remaining strong at this point is crucial and it can take weeks, even months, for this grief to last. Don’t suppress your feelings; give in to them. Be kind to yourself; don’t put yourself down because you miss your ex or you cry too much. Surround yourself with people who love you and support you in these difficult times.
At this stage it is likely you might be tempted to give your ex a second chance. Be kind to yourself if that happens; you are only human. Maybe it’ll take a few times for you to leave him or her for good. It’s not helping you to give your ex a second chance; but there’s no point in beating yourself up if you do go back for a short period of time.
However, if you develop a pattern of going back and forth to your ex, all the self-healing work you have done will be undone and each time you leave you will have to start again from scratch. I normally advice my clients to write down both good and bad qualities of their ex-partner. This really helps to put things into perspective for them because these are stone-cold facts, not feelings.
6. Once the grief starts fading a little, you may experience feelings of anger setting in. This is, again, perfectly normal. You may find yourself self-blaming for how long you stayed in the relationship, blaming your partner for treating you badly and blaming everyone else for everything else. You might not be the nicest person to have around at this stage, but so what? It’s your right to feel like this, it’s a grieving process. Again, this irrational period of anger is normal and will pass. With anger you will feel your energy returning, so it’s not all bad news!
7. After this period, you should start feeling some sort of acceptance of the situation. You may even feel like dating again. But a word of warning: it’s very important to give yourself plenty of time before you get involved with a new partner. Make sure your self-respect, self-worth and self-acceptance levels are high enough for you to know you won’t settle this time. Because you’ve been in an unhealthy relationship, you may be subconsciously looking for someone with similar issues to your ex’s. For instance, if you were dating an alcoholic, you might be attracted to someone with a substance misuse again. You must be aware of ‘dating patterns’ you now follow. Perhaps, subconsciously, you might be looking for a ‘project, someone to fix or help’. Take a step back as soon as you realise this is happening and evaluate why you felt attracted to that person. If needs be, look for a suitable therapist to help you break that pattern and make you realise you deserve more.