- The first step to leaving a toxic situation is analyzing your relationship and identifying red flags.
- You should then come up with a plan for where to break up with them — ideally, in a public place.
- After you end it, you should completely disengage by blocking them on social media.
Toxic behavior is unfortunately very common in romantic relationships. The CDC estimates that 47.1% of women and 47.3% of men have at some point in their lifetime experienced emotional abuse and aggression from a partner.
Furthermore, around one in three women and one in four men are victims of physical violence, rape, or stalking by their partner.
Toxic relationships are hard to navigate since there are mixed feelings involved. You’ll feel happiness and love, but on the flip side, self-doubt, guilt, and loneliness. This is what makes a toxic relationship difficult to leave — when the relationship is good, it can make you forget abusive or manipulative behavior. But when it’s bad, it can be dangerous
“Because of this challenge, when you are ready to leave a toxic relationship, it may require you to be strategic,” says Jayne Green, a licensed professional counselor who specializes in couples counseling with Choosing Therapy.
Here are eight tips for strategically and safely leaving a toxic relationship.
1. Analyze the relationship
The first step to leaving a toxic relationship is to explore the inner workings of it to understand what exactly makes it toxic, says Gregory Cheney, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Valiant Couples Therapy and Consulting.
Toxic relationships come in many forms, but Cheney says some specific red flags to look out for are:
- Manipulative behavior, like using guilt as a tactic to get what they want
- Demeaning behavior, like calling you names such as “stupid”
- Disrespectful behavior, like not listening to you when you talk
- Gaslighting, like telling you you’re being overdramatic when you try to express hurt.
Writing a list of these behaviors and concerns helps you focus on making clear, concise points, ultimately providing a reference for future decision-making, Cheney says.
This will help solidify your reasoning to end the relationship, giving you more power to leave.
2. Identify how you feel now and how you would like to feel
On top of identifying what toxic behaviors are present in your relationship, it’s important to also identify how those behaviors make you feel. For example, if your partner uses demeaning language or insults to talk to you — it could make you feel confused, disrespected, and hurt.
You must be able to recognize these feelings and understand that the toxic behaviors in the relationship are making you feel this way — and you deserve better.
Next, Green says you should identify how you do want to feel in a healthy relationship. For example, you might want a partner who:
- Values compromise, so you don’t feel like you’re constantly being controlled.
- Takes the time to listen to you, so you feel understood and validated.
- Prioritizes your relationship, so you’re always progressing and finding a healthy way to work through conflicts.
3. Assess for safety
Toxic relationships are typically abusive, whether emotionally, physically, or both. Cheney says since abusers use various means of power to control their victims, they may resort to drastic measures if they sense a loss of control in the relationship, which may include dangerous physical abuse.
Therefore, it’s crucial to assess for physical safety when you’re leaving a toxic, abusive relationship. It’s best to enlist the help of a third-party to help you, since you might be too close to the situation to judge the risk.
Your loved ones can help you assess the situation and come up with solutions. You may also want to enlist a therapist who has professional training in creating safety plans for escaping abusive relationships, says Cheney.
4. Create a plan to leave the relationship
Come up with a solid plan so you feel confident and prepared to end the relationship. “An exit strategy is necessary since most toxic relationships feel very difficult to leave,” Green says.
You should plan for:
- Where and when you want to break the news to them. Green says it’s ideal to have the conversation face-to-face in a public location for your safety.
- Logistical challenges — for example, if you live together, you need to come up with a plan for finances, bills, leases, or mortgages.
- Having a support system. Depending on your assessment of safety, leaving a toxic relationship could be dangerous. Keep your support system in the loop and tell at least one person what’s going on to ensure your safety.
While you’re coming up with this plan, Green recommends remembering the reasons why you want to end the relationship to remain focused on the end goal of leaving.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to your loved ones at this time for their help, since they may have ideas to contribute or see blind spots outside of your awareness, Cheney says.
5. End the relationship
Following the exit strategy you came up with and having a safety plan in place, it’s time to end the relationship. Be firm and stand your ground. Use the opportunity to express your feelings about how toxic the relationship has been, and let your partner know that you cannot continue this relationship any longer.
Of course, this is easier said than done. “Taking this step can feel like taking a leap off a high dive or parachuting out of a plane for the first time. Fear, uncertainty, and doubt can peak,” Cheney says. This is why it’s so important to have a solid plan in place beforehand so you can feel more prepared when this moment comes.
6. Cope with emotional confusion
Toxic relationships often create a confusing dynamic, since there tends to be a lot of hurt, but also a desire to continue the relationship despite this.
Cheney says you should mentally prepare to have a wide array of confusing emotions and thoughts, including second-guessing your decision to leave, or grieving the loss of the relationship, even though you know it wasn’t healthy. “Being prepared for this emotional confusion may not make it easier to leave, but it will help to prevent returning to the toxic relationship and not leaving at all,” Cheney says.
Stick to the facts by revisiting your analysis of the toxic relationship and how your partner’s behavior has made you feel to maintain your drive to leave. A 2018 study found that looking back on your ex’s negative qualities can help you move on and get over a breakup.
You may also want to open up to your support network and share your confusion with them so they can help you cope with your emotions while you move forward with ending the relationship.
7. Completely disengage
While it’s difficult to cut off someone who’s been a big part of your life, your best bet is to terminate all forms of contact, Green says.
Since abusers are likely to manipulate you or gaslight you, they might try to get you to further question your decision to leave and lure you right back in. But once you’ve decided a toxic relationship is over, it should be over. Any additional conversations will only result in more pain and confusion.
This may mean you have to
- Block their number.
- Avoid going anywhere that you know they will be.
- Avoid lurking on your ex’s profiles, as this can prolong the hurt. A 2012 study found that those who kept up with their ex’s Facebook page experienced more longing and distress.
8. Get the right support
It can be challenging to overcome a toxic relationship, since you may find yourself feeling doubtful about your decision, wondering if you made the right choice, and reminiscing on the good memories, says Green.
During this time, it’s important to have a strong support system to provide you with reassurance that you did the right thing and allow you to vent. You can do this with trusted friends and family, or with the help of a licensed mental health professional.
While you may feel like isolating and withdrawing, it’s invaluable to connect with others post-breakup — whether it’s to talk about the breakup or to provide a fun, welcome distraction.
Toxic relationships can be painful, confusing, and tricky to leave. However, you have to remember that it’s in your best interest to end it.
From determining what aspects of the relationship are toxic to creating a plan to connecting with your support network, there are steps you can take that will make you feel more confident in your decision and ability to leave.
While leaving a toxic relationship isn’t easy, it certainly is worth it. You deserve a healthy relationship, and leaving a toxic one opens this possibility, Cheney says.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to your loved ones or a mental health professional at any stage of this process to help you through this difficult time.
Leave a Reply