How To Leave A Toxic Relationship: Recognize The Signs And Walk Away

By Sparklle Rainne (They/Them)|Updated June 23, 2022

Content warning: this article contains the mention of abuse. If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse of any kind or might be, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

Toxic relationships can take different forms. Although it is a broad term, a toxic relationship generally refers to a relationship that is unhealthy in some capacity. Sometimes, people don’t realize that the relationship is unhealthy - while one may feel effects such as stress or strained self-esteem, they may blame themselves, internalize what is going on, or try to fix things to no avail. What are the possible indications of a toxic relationship? Furthermore, how does one walk away?

How Can You Recognize The Signs Of A Toxic Relationship?

There’s A Safe Space To Discuss What’s On Your Mind

Recognizing the signs of a toxic relationship is crucial, and it might be the first step to ending a connection that hurts your mental health, whether the harm done is intentional or unintentional. Here are some of the potential signs of a toxic relationship:

  • You’ve changed in ways that you don’t like. If you feel that you’re less close with yourself, less true to yourself, or feel that this partnership directly impacts your confidence and self-esteem, it’s a sign to walk away.
  • There’s instability or intense ups and downs. Toxic relationships are often unstable. This may mean extreme ups and downs in your relationship; maybe, a person oscillates between showing you love and affection, then becomes cold or treats you poorly. They may use kindness and express love just enough to make you think things are getting better, but the harmful patterns persist after the fact. This instability can be confusing and make it hard to let go, but it is very much of a sign of a toxic relationship and can most certainly cause emotional harm.
  • The relationship includes patterns of jealousy, controlling behavior, or possessiveness. Maybe, your partner puts down your ability to make life choices, or they attempt to control you in one way or more. They may get jealous of other people in your life, or they may get jealous of you. They may get upset when you engage in an activity you enjoy or spend time with others you love, such as family. They may try to dictate what you can do, who you can see, or manipulate you into doing or not doing certain things. None of these things are okay.
  • There’s lying, deception, or uncalled-for accusation. One sign of an unhealthy relationship is that they don’t trust you, or you don’t trust them, especially if there’s not an equal sense of effort for this to change on both sides. It’s one thing if you’re working to build or mend trust; this is possible. However, you must both be willing and dedicated. A lack of trust and the need to rebuild it can be valid. If a partner accuses you repeatedly, with no cause and no avail, when you are innocent, or if there are repetitive patterns of lying, it could be a sign that this relationship isn’t healthy for you to be in.
  • There’s an otherwise unhealthy communication pattern. Perhaps, one or both of you turn to passive-aggressive behaviors rather than properly communicating with each other. Maybe, you expect that the other person should be able to read your mind (you may think, “They should know!”) or vice versa. These are both things that can be worked on and healed with effort. It is important to talk openly and work together to get to a place where your communication is healthy and leaves you both feeling heard.
  • You notice emotional or verbal abuse warning signs. Maybe, they attempt to strip you of your self-confidence through belittling or name-calling. Perhaps they gaslight you, leading you to question your reality. Do you feel as though you’re no longer sure of yourself? Does the person belittle you or treat you as less than, even covertly? Do you feel as though you’re walking on eggshells around them? These may be signs of emotional or verbal abuse, which can have serious impacts and are not okay or healthy.
  • There are other forms of abuse. We talked a bit about emotional and verbal abuse, but other forms of abuse can also be present in toxic relationships. Not all toxic relationships are abusive, which is important to remember, but all abusive relationships are toxic. Other forms of abuse to look out for include but aren’t limited to physical, sexual, and financial abuse. Financial abuse occurs in almost all abusive relationships and is a warning sign to consider.

What makes a relationship toxic can vary extensively, so you must note that these are only some possible signs you might notice. All in all, it’s crucial to get in touch with how you feel, if the other person is or is not willing to make a change with you, and if the best choice you can make for yourself is to call it quits. It may also be beneficial to look at what a healthy relationship may look like in comparison. In a healthy relationship, you’ll likely feel secure, a sense that you are respected as an equal, maintain your sense of autonomy while feeling close to one another, and know that you are supported as an individual, and have, or are working toward, an open line of communication.

How To Walk Away From A Toxic Relationship

Sometimes you will need to walk away from a relationship, which can be a painful experience, even if the relationship was or is toxic. So, how do you do it? Here are some steps you might take:

  • Cut off communication. Many people find that it is vital to cut off contact so that you can fully engage in the healing process and will not have reminders of the other person or temptations to return. If you have children with this person, or if there’s another reason that you must have some level of communication, keep it as minimal as humanly possible and do not engage with any attempts on their end to communicate further. Professional or legal help (IE, very clear terms on child custody/visitation) may be beneficial in some cases.
  • Remain firm in your choice to walk away. Do not allow the other person to debate your departure. If you face the temptation to work things out but know it isn’t a healthy choice, set a firm boundary with yourself (IE, “It’s okay to feel this grief and temptation, but I know that this is what I need to do”). In your final message or statement to the other person, you may say, “please do not contact me,” to clarify your boundaries. If they reach out repetitively after you do this despite a lack of response on your end, it may be considered harassment. It can be challenging, especially at first, to adjust, but you will likely feel better long-term.
  • Turn toward your support system. You may choose to have someone with you when you cut off contact or ask a friend to be there for you to call right after your final conversation. In the following weeks, days, or months, continue to turn to your support system. You may also find support groups, whether online or in-person, beneficial. Support matters when you leave a toxic relationship, and it might be something you want to increase in various areas.

If the situation is an abusive one, or if you are at all concerned for your safety, put your wellbeing first. As you heal, it’s vital to feel your feelings and give yourself the space to do so.

Healing After You Let Go

Healing after you let go of a toxic relationship can take time. You might experience grief related to the loss of the relationship, which could mean that you move through some or all the stages of grief, which include denial, bargaining, depression, anger, and acceptance. Depending on the circumstances, you may experience concerns such as difficulty trusting others and impacted or lowered self-esteem. It is possible to heal from the effects of a toxic relationship; again, support can make a world of difference. A therapist or counselor can help you move past the effects of a toxic relationship, which can be lasting. Mental health professionals such as therapists and counselors can also help you move toward the future you want. You may be able to find a therapist to work with in person, or you may opt to work with a therapist using remote options, such as through an online therapy platform. No matter what you choose, the important part is getting the support you need.

Online Therapy

There’s A Safe Space To Discuss What’s On Your Mind

Internet-based or online therapy is well-studied and can help people who want to work on a range of different concerns with the help of a professional. BetterHelp has continued to improve throughout the years, and over 20,000 licensed, independent providers currently offer therapy through the BetterHelp platform. When you sign up, you will take a brief questionnaire to help our team match you with a professional who meets your needs. If you need to cancel your BetterHelp plan or change therapists at any point in the process, we make it easy to do so. Online therapy through BetterHelp is convenient and is often more affordable than traditional, in-person therapy or counseling without health insurance applications. Even better, financial aid may be available for those who need it.

Are you ready to try it? Click here to get started, or read the FAQs and therapist reviews on the BetterHelp website to learn more about our platform and the professionals who use it.

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