Jocelyn Lane and Yves Montand in Goodbye Again (1961)
Leaving a toxic relationship can often feel more painful than staying with the person who triggers all of your insecurities and fears, all the while knowing he’s going to continue to hit your rawest nerve … most likely on purpose.
To someone on the outside who’s never experienced this kind of toxicity, it seems obvious to simply GTFO, but leaving what feels familiar yet torturous is terrifying to the woman who craves those rare pockets of love that feel like the highest of highs.
The concept of giving herself the love she’s so desperately seeking from her toxic partner feels most foreign, and the crippling fear of being alone with her unworthy thoughts makes staying in the relationship seem like a more viable option.
So, what’s it going to take to actually leave?
Maybe the dysfunction has gotten so bad that it starts to affect your job, your health, or your finances, or family and friends start to back away as they no longer wish to take a front seat to your self-destruction.
It’s beyond time to leave, but you are completely stuck on how to do it …
This heartbreak coach ain’t gonna sugarcoat leaving a toxic relationship for you. Weaning off the guy your brain intellectually knows is Mr. Wrong, while your body’s chemical pull cues “Mr. RIGHT!,” makes leaving a toxic relationship excruciatingly hard but definitely POOSHIBLE by following these eight steps:
Editor’s note: Although this article uses male pronouns, the advice applies to all sexual orientations and gender identities.
I often hear: “I’m afraid I’m going to go back to him.” Don’t give your brain and/or another person the power to make decisions for you. What if YOU make the decision to be done and STICK TO IT? People don’t just end up in your bed. The sugar and alcohol don’t jump into your mouth when you’re trying to quit. You have the power to DECIDE to say no, and lean into the urge of wanting to connect with him or answer his call, WITHOUT SATISFYING IT. Yes, it’s hard, but isn’t it harder to repeatedly go back, knowing nothing will change?
2) CUT OFF ALL FORMS OF CONTACT.
Yes, this includes social media and disconnecting from his friends and family on social media. Even if the relationship was non-toxic, a clean break without contact is the healthy thing to do when you initially part ways—especially if you know you’ll stalk all the pages, preventing you from healing and moving forward. It doesn’t matter if it’s his birthday, your would-be anniversary, or if his dog is sick. You are no longer his partner, so it’s time to start acting like it.
3) CONSCIOUSLY PROCESS YOUR PAIN.
This will look different for everyone, but it’s crucial that you avoid covering over, escaping, or numbing your pain. We as humans are SUPPOSED to experience negative emotion. It’s not fun, but it’s also not avoidable. Meditation, mindfulness practices, and bodywork, like tapping, breathwork, or yoga, are great ways to meet your pain with attentive self-compassion and love. This can bring up a lot of unhealed trauma and feel very uncomfortable for some, but moving through the pain in a conscious manner will bring lightness, clarity, and an awakening of the mind and soul on the other side, to the point where you might actually be grateful this toxic relationship unfolded in the first place.
4) MAKE A LIST OF ALL THE THINGS THAT DIDN’T WORK.
His words not lining up with his actions. His shady interaction with women on Instagram. His hot and cold behavior. His criticism of your appearance. His disappearing acts. His dismissal of your feelings and needs. Make multiple copies of this list, so that when the inevitable moments of longing for the fake fantasy creep up, you’ve got the TRUTH right at your fingertips, bringing you back to reality.
5) ENLIST LOVED ONES TO SUPPORT YOUR MISSION.
You’re going to have weak moments. Your brain is going to forget all the bad and only remember the good. Ask loved ones to hold you accountable to choosing YOU over him. Tell your best friend to remind you of how NOT great he was, when you’re spiraling into an aching longing for the little bit of good there was. And if you know he’s going to be somewhere all your friends will be, be vulnerable and ask your closest friend to choose the night with you instead.
6) SEEK OUT A PROFESSIONAL.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a strong support system of family and friends, fantastic, but there’s nothing like seeking help from a life coach or therapist, who’s trained to hold the space and guide you through conscious healing and transformation from this toxic relationship. Your loved ones will always have an agenda for you, even if it’s coming from a good place. What’s most important is having a clean and clear agenda for YOURSELF. A trusted professional will do just that for you.
7) BRACE YOURSELF FOR HIS RETURN.
Toxic partners smell it when you’ve moved on. We’ve all been there. You finally start falling for someone else, or you didn’t even realize it, but you’re not waking up with him on your brain first thing in the morning, and then DING DING DING … he’s blowing up your phone. Or you bump into him in the most random place because the universe thinks it’ll be a great test for you, and he knows exactly how to suck you back in. HAVE A PLAN! Don’t convince yourself that you can be “cool” with him if you bump into him. Remove yourself from the situation immediately, the way someone who’s newly clean should remove herself from a party where there’s drugs. Don’t get too confident. And if your true intention is to move forward, ask yourself if responding when he reaches out will actually serve your greatest good.
8) BE CONSISTENT IN YOUR RECOVERY.
Don’t just meditate once, attend three sessions with a healer, read half a self-help book, and skip one event where you know he’ll be, thinking that you’ve “done the work.” Consistency with your healing is key when it comes to transforming any kind of deep-rooted pain. TRUST the process. It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, there’d be no work to do. But whatever you do, don’t give up. This work absolutely works, but you’ve got to believe in it, trust it, and WANT the healing more than you want him.
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Claire Byrne is a heartbreak/finding-love coach, and the host of her podcast, Stop Wanting Him Back & Find Someone Better. Click here for more information on her group program.