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12 Tips on Leaving a Toxic Relationship
By Divorce.com staff
Updated Mar 01, 2023
It’s never too late to leave a toxic relationship for the sake of your well-being or the well-being of your children. The only thing worse than being with a toxic person for five years is being with a toxic person for five years and one week.
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been enduring emotional abuse — the moment you see the red flags and toxic behaviors and recognize that the dynamic is unhealthy, it’s time to let go of your abusive partner and focus on self-care.
Leaving a toxic relationship can be more difficult than leaving a deteriorating, albeit healthy, relationship for a variety of reasons, such as considerations involving your safety. Here’s what you’ll need to do to successfully exit your toxic relationship and start the healing process.
1. Assess Your Safety Level First
Is your relationship toxic or abusive? There are a lot of similarities between the signs of a toxic relationship and the signs of an abusive relationship.
In a toxic romantic relationship, there are issues of codependency, mistrust, and arguing. These issues can easily escalate to levels of physical abuse, gaslighting, or intimidation. If your unhealthy relationship has become so toxic that it’s reached the level of abuse, you’ll need to carefully plan your exit for your own safety and the safety of your children.
Tell a close friend, co-worker, or family member that you trust that you intend to leave your relationship. It may be best to take your belongings, pets, and children (if you have children) to a safe place slowly before splitting from your partner.
2. Keep a Record of What Happened
Toxic relationships often end in spite or revenge. You don’t want to find yourself on the receiving end of untruths about yourself or your situation. It may be wise to walk away civilly and politely, documenting everything as it happens.
If you can, limit your conversations with your partner to text messages, as text messages will leave a running record of everything you’ve discussed. If you do speak to your partner on the phone, speak in front of a trusted person who can provide emotional support.
3. Don’t Wait for Permission To Leave
According to relationship experts, staying in your relationship longer isn’t going to fix the situation. Your partner needs professional help that you aren’t in a position to provide. Waiting for the “right time” to leave or hoping that your narcissistic or abusive partner leaves first will only prolong the length of time you’re staying in a toxic situation.
You need to be the one to make the move. Don’t consider when it’s right; consider the soonest opportunity you have to feasibly end the relationship. If you don’t live together, you can choose to leave the relationship right now.
If you live with your partner, take the first opportunity you have. Even if it means sleeping on a loved one’s couch for a few weeks until you find a new place to live, it’s better than loving someone who doesn’t know how to love you back.
4. Have Someone With You When You Move Out
If you live with your partner, moving out is the biggest step you’ll take in ending your toxic relationship. It helps to have someone with you when you move out, even if you do it while your partner isn’t home.
If you have another person with you, you’ll have a witness to what happens. If your partner comes back in the middle of your move and gets upset that you’re leaving, your witness can call for help if things begin to get out of control.
It’s very important that you only take items that belong to you and that you don’t leave the home or apartment a mess when you’re on your way out. Taking pictures of your packed boxes before you close them and taking plenty of pictures of your apartment the way you left it can prove that you were respectful in your exit if your partner tries to retaliate.
Include your witness in your pictures. Have them show their phone screen with the date and time in each room. These might come in handy later in the event that your toxic spouse claims that you damaged the property or took things that didn’t belong to you while moving out.
5. Remove Reminders From Your Life
Let the memories go: Don’t save sentimental items or keep sentimental photos on your phone. A toxic relationship isn’t something worth wistfully remembering.
For example, instead of wearing jewelry or clothing gifted to you by the other person, treat yourself to a new piece of jewelry or a new piece of clothing to replace the ones you’ve thrown away. You aren’t giving up — you’re starting fresh.
6. Consider Therapy
Toxic relationships leave people with a lot to unpack, both literally and metaphorically. The metaphorical unpacking can take place with a therapist or counselor who can help you navigate the feelings you’re experiencing. If you’re able to better recognize the signs that a relationship has become unhealthy, you’re less likely to enter a toxic relationship again.
It’s important to note that being in a toxic relationship is never your fault — it can be difficult to see the signs of a manipulative partner until you’re already in too deep. In addition to helping you better understand the signs of a toxic relationship, therapy can also help you heal following this period of emotional abuse.
7. Clean Up Your Social Media
You don’t need to know what your former partner is saying or doing. They may be making social media posts pointed at you or seeking sympathy, or they could use social media as a way to reach out to you. Protecting your peace can go a long way when leaving a toxic situation.
Likewise, you deserve your own privacy. You don’t want your former partner to know what you’re doing or where you are. In the event that you enter into another relationship soon, you also don’t want them to pry or bother the new person you’re dating.
Removing your former significant other from your social media follower and following lists will create healthy new boundaries for an independent life. You won’t feel tempted to look if you can’t, and they can’t look if you eliminate the option.
8. Take Time To Work on Yourself
When you’re in a toxic relationship, you were likely placed in unusual situations in which you didn’t always act like yourself. You might have acted out of anger or done things you weren’t proud of when the situation got out of hand.
It’s important to acknowledge which behaviors were a reaction to your toxic partner and not bring those responses into your existing relationships and friendships.
On the other side of the same situation, you also need to recognize how you deserve to be treated. It’s not okay to allow someone to make you feel unworthy, especially if you know you’re doing your best to be a good partner. It’s not okay to allow someone to manipulate you into acting against your own best interest.
You can bring this in with a therapist if you choose to go to therapy. You can also start a journal to document your feelings and explore what it would take to make you feel happy and secure in a relationship.
You may decide to wait until you’re in a better headspace to pursue a new relationship. You don’t want to walk from one bad situation into another, and the time you spend working on yourself will prepare you for recognizing healthier partners.
9. Hold Your Ground
Your toxic partner might promise that they will change or attempt to intimidate you into coming back into the relationship. They may go to great lengths to convince you that you should return to them — don’t give in. Plant your heels in the ground and commit to the idea that no matter what they say or do, you won’t change your mind.
It’s okay to hope that the other person does well in life. You can want them to get help if they need help. You can hope that they learn and they won’t mistreat their next partner. You don’t need to harbor any ill will to know that you won’t walk back into that situation.
If you need to block that person from contacting you, that’s what you should do. It’s okay to close down all avenues of conversation when you have nothing left to talk about.
10. If You’re Married, Get a Divorce as Soon as Possible
If you’re married to your toxic partner, don’t drag out the process. File for divorce as soon as you’re ready to leave. If you stay married to your partner and wait on a divorce, you’re only giving yourself time to second guess the situation. If ending your toxic relationship will allow you to be a happier and healthier person, you’ve already made the right choice. Commit to the choice by starting the divorce process.
Combining your breakup and your divorce into a single process can save you a lot of time, money, and stress. If you break up and wait several months before you file the paperwork, it might feel like you’ve broken up with the same toxic partner twice.
Your partner may not be willing to give you an uncontested divorce. If that’s the case, you’ll need the help of a family law attorney to explore your options for divorce.
11. Consider a Restraining Order If You Need One
If you fear retaliation from your former spouse or if they begin threatening you, save any text messages that they send. Use photo and video evidence to support your claims, and file for a protective order against your former spouse. If it would put you in danger for your former spouse to know where you’re living, you won’t be required to include your address on the restraining order.
12. Rely on Your Healthy Support System
Everyone needs a little bit of time alone to process difficult situations, but don’t isolate yourself. Spend more time with the positive people in your life who uplift and support you. Your family can be helpful during this time, and your parents and siblings might be eager to help you through the situation.
Turn to friends who won’t say, “I told you so,” especially if they’re friends you’ve had since before you entered your toxic relationship.
Leaving a Toxic Relationship Is Worth the Stress
Leaving a toxic relationship can be one of the most difficult things you’ll do, but remember this: This is the last difficult situation you’ll ever need to experience with that partner. Once the breakup or divorce is complete, you’re free to pursue the things you love in life. Keep your eye on the light at the end of the tunnel.