How to Leave a Toxic Relationship

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Shorter Version

Est. Reading Time: 1 Minute

You love your partner, but how did your relationship become so toxic? You’ve tried everything to “fix” your relationship but nothing has worked – not counseling, not advice from friends and family, not talking to your partner about your concerns, and not even the things suggested in this article. You have seen the signs of a toxic relationship in your own relationship, but you’re not sure if these issues can be fixed.

Now what?

Well, sometimes, love and good intentions just don’t work – no matter how much you want them to. Sometimes two people just aren’t meant to be together forever. Maybe your partner simply can’t or won’t change…Or, maybe, neither can you.

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Longer Version

Est. Reading Time: 4 Minutes

How to Leave a Toxic Relationship

No one is immune to toxic relationships. In fact, people of all races, ethnicities, religions, ages, genders, educational statuses, and socio-economic backgrounds can fall victim to a toxic relationship.

What does a toxic relationship look like?

It can take on many different shapes; however, it typically involves control, intimidation, dominance, disrespect, abuse, mockery, taunting, and on-going conflict. For instance, if your partner laughs, criticizes, belittles, and/or ridicules you because your dream is to become a dog groomer, you may be in a toxic relationship. This especially true if your partner makes it apparent that he/she is not harmlessly teasing or joking with you.

Or, if your partner refuses to let you go hang out with your colleagues after work because he/she is positive you’ll cheat on him/her, then you may be in a toxic relationship. Or, if your partner calls you continuously at work, while at the gym, while out with friends and family, and while running simple errands – i.e. grocery shopping, shopping for clothes and shoes, getting a haircut, etc., you may be in an unhealthy relationship.

Maybe your partner criticizes your weight or calls you hurtful names like “stupid,” “dummy,” “fatso,” and/or “idiot.” Or, he/she is a narcissist who believes the world revolves around him/her. If you’ve discussed your concerns with your partner multiple times, and nothing has changed, it’s probably time to hit the road.

It is important to know the warning signs of a toxic relationship so you can decide if you want to work on it or leave it before it destroys your relationship and your life.

What if you want to save your relationship?

Now, if you really believe your partner can and will change his/her behavior, and you feel your relationship can be saved, then I suggest you seek couples or marriage counseling with a qualified relationship expert before leaving a toxic relationship

This professional will be able to help you and your partner communicate, problem-solve, and resolve issues in a healthier way. He/she will also teach you stress-management techniques for when the “going gets tough.”

Lastly, a counselor will help you rebuild trust in your relationship and reconnect as a couple. Once you have a few counseling sessions under your belt, you’ll be able to determine if your relationship really is salvageable. Until then, the best thing you can do is try to communicate (without bickering or physically fighting) as much as possible and keep expressing how the mocking, bullying, and constant bickering makes you feel.

The only way you can save your toxic relationship is if you and your partner mutually agree to work on it together. Both partners must be committed to repairing the damage.

If counseling does not work, then it is important that you re-evaluate your relationship and decide if the turmoil, angst, fear, and depression are really worth it.

It’s Hard to Know How to Leave a Toxic Relationship

Do you feel trapped in the relationship? Does being around your partner make you feel hopeless and helpless? Does your partner hit you? Do you hit your partner? Are you afraid of your partner? Do you think about or dream about leaving but you’re too scared to actually follow through?

If any of these statements are true, it’s time to end your toxic relationship.


If you stay, you’ll never be happy and your life will be miserable – forever. Plus, after a while, you won’t even recognize yourself. You’ll be a shell of your former self.

Once you realize that it’s time to leave your toxic relationship, the hardest part is actually leaving. It takes a hefty dose of determination and courage. You’ll probably feel lost, empty, sad, and confused at first. But, the good news is eventually the sadness and emptiness will fade and your heart will be filled with happiness, laughter, joy, and new experiences.

I believe that a piece of us is forever tied to our partners so the longer you stay on the toxic relationship train to nowhere, the stronger that bond becomes and the harder it is to say, “I’ve had enough!” 

First step?

Your ultimate goal in life is to experience love – all kinds of love. It’s also to develop a real connection with someone else – one that hopefully stands the test of time. However, before you can truly love someone else, you must first learn to love yourself, and loving yourself includes knowing when it’s time to leave a toxic relationship.

The truth is, romantic relationships take a lot of time, effort, and dedication to reach fruition; thus when a relationship goes south and becomes unhealthy, it causes a lot of pain and anguish. The first step is to love yourself – the good, bad, and the ugly. Only then will you find the strength to leave a relationship that is making you unhappy.

Actionable Steps

Here are some more tips on how to leave a toxic relationship:


Stop waiting for your partner to change

The first step you will need to take if you are thinking about leaving your toxic relationship is to stop waiting for your partner to change. At this point, things probably are not going to change. The longer you tell yourself that your partner will change one day, the harder it will be for you to leave your toxic relationship. Although this may be the hardest thing you’ll ever do in life, it’s time to make a plan to leave your toxic relationship.

The Plan

If you’re afraid to leave your partner because you aren’t sure how he/she will react, enlist help from your friends and family. Save money and arrange to live with a loved one for a while. Ask your friends, family, and co-workers to help you move, while your partner is at work or running errands. Talk to a couples counselor who can give you tips and suggestions on how to safely leave your toxic relationship.

Tell your boss what is happening in case your partner shows up at your work. Change your phone numbers and email addresses. I suggest you also deactivate your social media accounts until you feel your ex has moved on.


Accept that leaving will hurt

Leaving your partner, regardless of the amount of time you’ve been together, will most likely be painful. The best thing you can do for yourself is to wrap your head around the fact that breaking up will hurt and so will leaving a toxic relationship.
How can you get past the pain of a break-up? Keep busy. Go out with friends more often, join a gym or sports team, pick up a hobby or two, and make a schedule of what you’re going to do every day for the first couple of months. This will give you something to do and something to look forward each day.
Follow your normal routines – i.e. grocery shopping, working out, etc. and add in some new ones. When you feel sad or depressed, call a friend and “talk it out.” It is okay to grieve a lost relationship, but don’t let the grief control your life.


Reach out to family and friends

The best thing you can do once you actually leave a toxic relationship is reach out to family and friends for support. The great thing about these individuals is they have your best interest at heart and they love you. They probably also have great advice and tips for how to move on with your life.

Although it can be difficult to “hear” advice and suggestions from friends and family, the truth is you’ll never get a better support system. They love you and they only want what’s best for you; lean on them when you feel sad and disappointed.


Remind yourself you deserve better

Although you may love your partner deep down, sometimes, he/she just isn’t the right person for you. If your partner and relationship makes you miserable, it’s not the right one for you. No one deserves to be unhappy.

How can you remind yourself that you deserve better? Try placing positive affirmations (i.e. things you like about yourself and/or things others like about you) on Post-It-Notes around your room, in your bag, lunchbox, briefcase, purse, work cube, car, and on your fridge. No one deserves to live on a never-ending rollercoaster ride, so get off the ride, and go find someone who can offer you love, happiness, stability, and security.


Seek help

Sometimes, it’s just too hard to leave a toxic relationship on your own. If this is the case, I suggest you seek counseling with a relationship expert. A couples counselor can help you work through your fears of being alone. He/she will also teach how to cope with your feelings of regret and your urge to reconnect with your ex. Lastly this individual will help you identify the early warning signs of toxic relationships so you don’t fall back into an unhealthy relationship in the future.

If you are not quite ready to seek counseling there are self-help books that can help you identify the signs of an unhealthy or abusive relationship so you can avoid these types of relationships once you start dating again.

Self-help guides, such as: Toxic Relationships and How to Change Them: Health and Holiness in Everyday Life, Freedom from Toxic Relationships: Moving on from the Family, Work, and Relationship Issues that Bring You Down, The Relationship Dismount: How to Stick the Landing When Exiting a Toxic Relationship & Whole Again: Healing Your Heart and Rediscovering Your True Self After Toxic Relationships and Emotional Abuse can provide you with valuable tips and suggestions on how to recover after leaving a toxic relationship. 
Need help finding a counselor in your area?

The American Psychological Association (APA) offers a directory of licensed counselors that can help you on your quest to free yourself from your toxic relationship.

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About the Author

Dr. R. Y. Langham

Dr. R. Y. Langham

Ph.D. in Family Psychology

Ree has a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy (M.M.F.T.) and a Ph.D. in Family Psychology. She spent over ten years counseling families, couples, individuals, and children on adjustment issues such as blended families, same-sex couples, dysfunctional family relationships, relationship issues, etc. Now she writes for famous health organizations and is a published author.
Full Bio | LinkedIn

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