Learning how to break up with someone you love is a difficult thing to do, especially if you’re seeing signs of a toxic relationship.
Let’s face it, ending any relationship is difficult, but adding toxic elements to one makes it even harder.
This may seem counterintuitive because upon reflection, ending a relationship with someone who is not good for you may seem like a no-brainer. But, actually, the surprising reality is that breaking up with someone you love who is toxic usually involves more mixed feelings and doubts than ending a healthier one.
The reason for this lies in our healthy urge to mend, repair, and make peace with people we are bonded to. In toxic relationships, this instinct is thwarted.
If two people in a relationship treat each other fairly, they are actually able to come to a reasonable understanding of why they should end a relationship. This conclusion is harder to come by when the relationship is unhealthy.
Why? Because in toxic and unhealthy relationships, nothing is clear.
There is a great deal of manipulation, often involving gaslighting, denial, and disproportionate blame. When these manipulative techniques are employed by one or two people, neither person feels they can see clearly what the real problem is.
This perpetual murkiness can make it difficult to trust your perceptions. It can also lead you back into these cloudy waters over and over again, searching for clarity, justice, and mutuality that always seems beyond your reach.
If you are in this dynamic and yet are genuinely seeking understanding and fairness, you will be frustrated!
In order to break up with someone you love but are in a toxic relationship with, you need to take these important 5 steps.
1. Stop looking for “closure” in the form of mutual understanding
In a healthy relationship, an ending should include a mutual understanding of the reasons for the breakup, even if you each have different motivations.
Ideally and often, this can include feelings of goodwill towards one another and an appreciation for what was good in the connection and/or what was learned in the successes and failures of the connection.
A toxic relationship by definition lacks mutual understanding, ongoing mutual empathy, and a mutual and fair assumption of responsibility. Consequently, know that the breakup will also look different than a healthy breakup.
People who are by nature fair, empathic, and willing to accept responsibility often get caught in a loop searching for a healthy ending that doesn’t exist. Accept this fact and move forward.
2. Spend some time away from the dynamic of the relationship
Remind yourself what lies on the other side of a breakup. People who do end toxic relationships are almost always surprised at the extent to which they feel relieved and better off.
The irony of a toxic relationship is that when you’re in it, you can’t see this clearly. This reality is clouded by self-doubt, loss of self-esteem, and confusion.
People in toxic relationships often imagine that life will be unbearable without the relationship. In some abusive relationships, one person has willfully suggested that the other will not find love again, is not deserving of love, and will be miserable or lost without them.
Some time away from the dynamic of the toxic relationship will help you to put reality into perspective and remind you that life will be better on the other side of the breakup.
3. Reach out to your support system so healthy friends know what you are going through
Remind your support system that you need active reminders of why the relationship is unhealthy for you and what you have to gain by going through the breakup.
Your support system can help you keep your direction and momentum during times of confusion, self-doubt, and second-guessing.
Again, because a toxic relationship will reduce self-esteem, cloud your judgment, and often cause depression, you need external sources of motivation, encouragement, and clarity.
Rely on people whom you trust and who understand the transition you are going through. Actively ask these people for the reminders that keep you on your path.
4. Deliver a clear but simple message to your soon-to-be-ex
Once you have the clarity and support to end the relationship with a toxic person, send a clear and simple message. Again, resist the urge to “talk it out” or find a mutual understanding.
A message like “I feel it is better for both of us to separate and I want to do that now” is simple and straightforward.
When you are naming why you are making this decision, consider naming that the relationship is not functioning with mutual respect and understanding and that you don’t believe further efforts will help the relationship reach that goal.
The reason to be simple and straightforward is that the details can be used to rope you back into a toxic cycle of blame and deflection.
5. Establish and maintain very clear boundaries with your now-ex
When any relationship ends, the boundaries are redefined. When you are ending a toxic relationship, these boundaries need to be more clear and provide more distance.
For instance, a healthy breakup may lead to an amicable friendship or acquaintanceship. When you are ending a toxic relationship, cut off any communication that isn’t absolutely necessary (such as communication about shared parenting, shared business relations, etc.)
When you cut off communication you give yourself the best opportunity to feel what life is like without the toxic cycle. This will further motivate you to move forward in your life and establish more healthy connections.
The more toxic the relationship was, the more absolute you need to be about your boundaries and distance.
If you know you’re in an unhealthy relationship and need to end it, get support finding your clarity and plan. Don’t dawdle, your health is at risk. If your house was on top of a toxic waste dump, you would move quickly! Do the same here, and don’t be afraid to ask for help doing so.