Love is an addiction. Therefore, relationships are addictive, and sometimes they become self-destructive. When a relationship becomes dangerous, loveless, or hostile, you’d think it’d be easy to walk away from. But bad relationships can be the hardest relationships to leave. Bad relationships aren’t about usual ups and downs. They consistently steal your joy, and haunt you with undeniable commotion that this is not the way things are meant to be.
Sometimes the signals are clear: cheating, lying, physical and emotional abuse. Other times, there’s nothing overtly obvious; things just don’t feel right: loneliness, a constant heartache, distance between you, or a lack of intimacy, connection, or security.
Whatever is involved, there are crucial needs for both people in a relationship. If all the relationship does is exist—and sometimes it barely even does that—then it’s not thriving or nurturing. It’s being maintained not by connection and love, but by habit.
Sometimes, circumstances may exist that make it difficult to leave a relationship. Leaving may require just as much strength, energy, and resourcefulness as staying in it. Shifting your expectations, experiences, and mindset allows you to reallocate the resources you’ve been using to stay, allowing you to propel forward.
Here are some steps to help you discern if you’re in a bad relationship that you need to leave:
- Live in the now.
The temptation to live in the past or in the future can be overwhelming, but all the energy you need to thrive exists right now, in the present. It’s always available, but you must live in the now to access it. Fully experience things as they are, without focusing on how to control it or change it. Relationships are, by nature, imperfect. But if you have to focus on the past or the future in order to stay and tolerate the present, it’s time to leave.
- Keep a record.
Keep a written record of how you’re feeling in the relationship. If journaling isn’t for you, try instead to take a photo of yourself at the same time each day. Journaling and selfies will help you capture the intimate details of yourself in the relationship.
After a few weeks or months, look over your writing or photos. Are there patterns? What things that hurt you? What felt good? Then ask yourself, is this who you want to be, or is it a sadder, faded version? This process will help you perceive your experiences in the relationship for what they are.
- Pay attention to your body.
The mind-body connection is powerful. If you shut out messages your mind is sending, then your physical self will take over. Signs are evident in the way you carry yourself—sensations such as heaviness, heartache—and the way it functions. Are there physical aches and pain? Do you feel heaviness, restlessness or tired? Does your body feel withered, crushed, or like it’s being held back? Your body does speak. What is it telling you?
- Give the relationship a deadline.
It’s easy to lose sight of how long you’ve been putting up with the way things are, in the hopes that they’ll get better. So, set a deadline. Until then, give the relationship all you have. When deadline day comes, be honest. Evaluate with self-love, self-respect, and strength. Your answer will be obvious.
- What’s your relationship role?
There are rhythms in relationships that keep them breathing the way they do. Each partner acts in a way that allows the behavior. This doesn’t mean that neither of you is at fault, or that you both deserve to be treated the way you’re being treated. What it does mean is that as time passes, you’ve fallen into patterns that make dysfunctions more tolerable.
To fix this, explore your roles. Which one of you fears commitment, or doesn’t communicate? Who’s the abuser, the enabler, or the victim? Try to shift out of these roles. This will alter the relationship’s dynamics, make the dysfunction more obvious, and force changes.
- Accept what is.
It’s a paradox, but the more you accept where you are, the greater your capacity to change will be. This allows your decisions to be motivated by accurate and real information. Accepting truth allows you to live it. This will increase your strength, courage, and capacity to discern whether or not the relationship is good for you. You will gain clarity to propel you forward.
- Fight for yourself.
You must fight for things you love and believe in. One of those things must be yourself. What would you tell somebody you love if they were feeling the deadness or pain you’re feeling? You deserve happiness. But you have to fight for it. Fight for yourself the way you’d fight for those you love: bravely, boldly, and fiercely.
- Quit making excuses.
Be honest: first, what is it that you want from the relationship? Second, how is this different from what you have? Even in difficult times, loving relationships still feel loving. Despite exhaustion, stress, things you do or say, and so on, loving relationships have a foundation of respect, security, and safety, even when things get rough. If your relationship doesn’t feel good for you, it isn’t.
If the relationship feels bad, it is bad.
All relationships go through make-or-break times. Healthy relationships recover, grow closer, and become more resilient. Relationships have limited amounts of financial, physical, and emotional resources available. Tough times may use up a significant proportion of the resources that have been stored up over time. If the relationship is a healthy one, it will only take time to replenish those resources. If it’s unhealthy, the resources will get used up and the relationship will starve to death.
Only you can choose whether to stay or leave. Sometimes the most life-changing, brave, and difficult things are not what we do, but what we stop doing.