How To Leave A Toxic Relationship

A relationship should be a loving and warm, happy place. But for some people, it is a toxic trap they get into without knowing what to expect. Are you one of those people?

Realizing you’re in a toxic relationship is a crucial step when trying to escape. But after you recognize the toxicity, you’re met with an important question: how do you leave?

Why is it so hard to leave?

Even if it sounds like the most logical solution, simply breaking up and leaving a toxic partner is really not that easy. You know that very well if you’ve tried to leave that relationship before. Some circumstances, emotional problems or your (or your partners) personality traits could make leaving as hard as actually being in a toxic environment.

Here are some of the reasons why leaving can be so difficult.

You’re in a fantasy bond

Do you feel like you can’t break up with them because it feels like you’d lose a part of yourself? In a fantasy bond you lose a sense of individuality and feel as if you’re one, a unit, connected with your partner. It could feel like you just can’t exist if they’re not by your side, no matter how toxic the relationship is. But that feeling is not true – it is a defense mechanism that we develop when we feel lonely or insecure. This illusion of closeness could help you ease your fear of being alone by creating an imaginative fantasy of love, which makes it hard to escape the fantasy.

You’re in a codependent relationship

Do you feel like you depend on your partner? Or maybe they depend on you in some way? In a codependent relationship one partner (or both) doesn’t have the autonomy in a relationship, they cling on their partner and feel like the only way for them to feel fulfilled is through their partner’s love. If you’re the codependent partner you may feel too afraid to leave because you feel you need their love, and if they’re the codependent one, you may be too scared of their reaction if you break it up.

You’re hoping one day they’ll change

When you’ve been with someone for a long time, no matter how toxic the relationship, you can’t help yourself but think “what if things get better if I just stay a little longer?”. You may use this way of thinking as a way to justify (to yourself or others) why you’ve even stayed in the relationship for so long. But the truth is, unfortunately, if you gave them endless possibilities to change, and they never took them, it’s not likely they will if you forgive them this time.

You have children or share a home

If you’ve been in a more serious relationship, you may have children, or maybe you live together. This makes it a hundred times harder to leave, since you can’t just get up and never talk to them again. 

You’re afraid of them

Toxic relationships are often abusive. Whether there’s verbal abuse, manipulation or gaslighting, or even physical abuse. You may be afraid of what your partner would do to you if you decide to leave them. You may also fear they just wouldn’t let you break up with them, so you don’t even see any hope in trying.

IMPORTANT: If you’re a victim of domestic abuse, we encourage you to seek professional help, either from a psychologist, social worker or police. This article is not a substitute for a professional advice and protection. You can find some of the resources for victims and survivors on this link.

How to break it up?

Knowing the reasons why it’s so hard to leave you could make it a bit easier for you to understand what exactly is it that keeps you from leaving, even though you know they’re bad for you. But you still probably feel scared, not knowing where to start. 

Following these 6 steps could help you stick to your decision.

1. Seek support

Do your friends and family know about the problems you’re facing? If not, now it’s the time to open up, no matter how hard or embarrassing it may feel. You need a person of trust, not just to give you psychological comfort, but also to help keep you safe. It can be a family member, a friend, a colleague… Or a professional, if you feel like you’re not really close to anyone else. Skipping this important step will make it even harder for you, so make sure you share your secret.

2. Make a plan

After you’ve asked for help, think about everything you have to do once you leave. This will not only help you be prepared, but it will also make it real in your head, leaving little room for possible excuses. Do you need to pack your things? Do you need to stay at someone’s place? Do you need someone to stay with you instead? Is there anything that could make them need to talk to you again – such as shared bills, Netflix password etc? Make sure you don’t leave out any detail.

3. Cut off contact

Unless it is absolutely necessary that you stay in contact (for example if you have kids together), the best thing to do would be to completely cut off any ways for them to contact you. This might seem petty or childish at first, but toxic people often master manipulation and gaslighting. If you leave them the opportunity to contact you, they might play their manipulation card and pull you into their toxic circle once again. It is very important to take control and not let them get close again.

4. Write it all down

When you make a decision to leave, you will probably have second thoughts. That’s completely normal and expected. But it is also a bit dangerous, as it could make you change your mind or be unable to follow through with your plans. When that happens, it could be useful to write down your feelings or journal about your experience. Draw a table with a “plus” and a “minus” column, writing down everything good and everything bad about the relationship. The “minus” column will probably be much longer than the “plus”, and it is also likely you will have trouble recalling positive things about your toxic partner. This could help you get a visual representation of why you made the decision to leave in the first place, and help you stick to it when times get hard!

5. Actively seek positivity

Escaping a toxic relationship means to escape all the negativity that comes with it. Cutting off that toxic person is one way to free yourself, but you also need to build your new life from the ground up. Was there anything you had to neglect while you were in that relationship? Hobbies, hanging out with friends, alone time for self care…? Now is the time to completely dive into those things. This step is hard because you might feel like you’re not in the mood for anything. It is actually most likely you won’t feel like doing anything. But it’s very important that you put all the bad moments behind you and actively work on replacing the negativity with positivity.

6. Be proud of yourself

Just making this huge decision is hard enough. Many people procrastinate even thinking about it. If you made the decision to leave and are researching resources, be proud of yourself! You really decided to take care of yourself and get yourself out of the toxic situation! There’s nothing like being your own superhero. So whenever it gets hard and you feel like you won’t make it without them – just remember you were the one who saved yourself from them.

Closing thoughts

Of course, there is much more to leaving a toxic relationship. You will face many difficulties and challenges. Steps that were mentioned can serve you as a general guideline. As always, you are strongly encouraged to seek professional help with dealing with a situation like this. With proper support you can take life into your own hands and achieve the love and happiness you deserve!

Thank you for reading!
Written by:
Stela Košić

References:

  • Berry, J. (2017, October 31). What’s to know about codependent relationships? MedicalNewsToday. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319873#how-does-a-codependent-relationship-develop
  • ChoosingTherapy.com. (2022, January 30). How to Leave a Toxic Relationship. Choosing Therapy. https://www.choosingtherapy.com/how-to-leave-a-toxic-relationship/
  • The Fantasy Bond. (2021, February 25). PsychAlive. https://www.psychalive.org/fantasy-bond/
  • Feuerman, M. (2021, April 5). 6 Steps to Leave a Toxic Relationship. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-leave-a-toxic-marriage-4091900
  • Firestone, L. (2017, July 20). A Guide to the Fantasy Bond. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/compassion-matters/201707/guide-the-fantasy-bond
  • Fuller, K. (2017, September 20). How to Leave a Toxic Relationship and Still Love Yourself. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/happiness-is-state-mind/201709/how-leave-toxic-relationship-and-still-love-yourself
  • M1 Psychology. (2021, July 13). How to Leave a Toxic Relationship | M1 Psychology. M1 Psychology Loganholme. https://m1psychology.com/how-to-leave-a-toxic-relationship/
  • Sun, F. (2011, April 29). Are You in a Codependent Relationship? WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/sex-relationships/features/signs-of-a-codependent-relationship

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