Leaving a difficult or toxic relationship can be very difficult, especially if you haven’t left a relationship before, or if you have had a traumatic experience in the past.
Often we can be worried about how the person will react and how they will cope.
Making the decision to leave can be for many reasons; some reasons may seem trivial to others but are important to you.
It is important to know that leaving relationships is a skill as much as developing a new relationship. Social confidence plays a very important part of how you might feel while trying to end the relationship – if you are confident in your skills, you will find it easier than if you doubt yourself. As we age, our social confidence can often increase and leaving relationships can become easier and we can become more skilled.
Here are some of the questions you might ask yourself in regards to the relationship you are considering leaving:
- Do you feel worthless, scared, anxious, worn out or insecure around the particular person – but not others?
- Do you feel like you are compromising your life goals being around this person, or that you are not taking care of yourself mentally, physically or spiritually?
Toxic relationships do not have to be romantic relationships, they can be between a parent and child, boss and employee, or close friends. This article is information about how to leave but staying and renegotiating the relationship can be another option not covered in this article.
How to Leave a Toxic Relationship
Once you become deeply involved in a toxic relationship, you may gradually lose the ability to recognise behaviour that is unhealthy or unacceptable.
If you have invested a lot of time, energy and hope into the relationship, you may find yourself beginning to make excuses about how you are really feeling. For example, if the toxic relationship is between you and your spouse, you may begin to blame your unhappiness or fear on being stressed at work or too busy with the kids.
It is also common to cling to the hope that the other person will change. Sometimes prolonging the fear, anxiety or depression that can result from a toxic relationship may make you physically or emotionally unwell.
Once you know you are in a toxic relationship you can consciously choose something better for yourself. Some steps you might take to leave a toxic relationship include:
- Cease making excuses for the other person’s behaviour – instead, focus on your own behaviour and actions you can take.
- Perhaps decrease the time you spend with the person prior to leaving, so that the effects on you are minimised.
- Keep a journal: Make a note of your thoughts, feelings and behaviours throughout the day or over a week. Work out what emotions you have when you are around the other person, and when you are alone or with friends.
- Seek support: Find friends, family or a professional to talk to about your experience. Sometimes talking about what life could be like without the other person in it, can give you the courage to leave. A support person can also help you after you have left the relationship. They may be able to offer you emotional support, help you find a new job, or let you stay at their house while you look for a new one after leaving your spouse.
- Find alternative sources of happiness and wholeness: Do things for yourself that make you feel relaxed and happy, such as spending time with friends and family, meditation, or taking your dog for a walk. Surround yourself with positivity. For example, you could write sticky notes to yourself with positive sayings or inspiring quotes and put them up around the house (on your fridge or your bathroom mirror), to remind yourself that you are a good person and you deserve good things.
- Embrace change: Change is your opportunity to create the life you want. Do things for yourself that you may not have done while in a relationship with the other person eg take a holiday, start studying, change your career, join a club, start a new hobby or take up an old one.
- Reward yourself: Set achievable goals for yourself and when you reach them, reward yourself. For example a goal may be to not initiate contact with the other person for a week, and you may reward yourself by taking yourself out for a nice lunch or a massage.
What about Domestic Violence?
If the toxic relationship is with someone who has committed serious domestic violence in the past, then it is helpful to seek professional advice or support.
In rare situations, some individuals can become enraged when a romantic partner leaves and it may be necessary to have a safety plan, or share your plan to leave in front of a professional such as a psychologist or counsellor with expertise in relationship counselling. DV Connect is the helpline in Queensland that provides free help to leave a dangerous relationship. They can provide emergency housing, help you to remove your belongings and pets safely, and provide advice about how the police or other services may help in a crisis.
Most toxic relationships can be left safely. The emotions that follow can often include confusion, relief, grief, fear of the future, excitement and sadness. The cascade of emotions in most situations is normal, and the support of family or friends will be enough to help you recover.
In some situations especially when there has been trauma in the relationship, it can be helpful to discuss this with a professional. It is common to be concerned about whether it may happen again, or to know if there is anything that can be done to prevent another such experience.
Author: Vivian Jarrett, B Psych (Hons), MAPS, MAICD.
Vivian Jarrett is the Clinic Director at Vision Psychology in Wishart and now M1 Psychology at Loganholme. She is passionate about providing high quality psychology services to Australians from all walks of life.
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