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People find themselves in toxic or even abusive relationships for a multitude of reasons.
Sometimes, our partner's behavior changes slowly over time, and we don't realize just how bad it has become. Sometimes, we're drawn to toxic personalities because, at the beginning, they come off as charming and interesting.
Noted licensed psychotherapist LeslieBeth Wish, Ed. D, author of Smart Relationships and Founder of Love Victory, says that in her work, she has seen thousands of women, from all ranges of income and education, who accepted "abusive, toxic behaviors in their partners."
"It was disheartening and worrisome," says Dr. Wish.
If you've recognized that your relationship is toxic, you may be wondering how to finally get out of it. Here are some expert tips on how to leave a toxic relationship.
1. Make The Decision
Before you actually leave a toxic relationship, you need to decide that you are ready to leave it completely behind. Dr. Wish says that it's important to know that you really want to leave.
If you find yourself in doubt, Dr. Wish says you can ask yourself these questions:
1. Do I have a 'voice and say' in this relationship? 2. Do I like how I am in this relationship? 3. Do I fear my partner? 4. Do I feel suffocated, ignored or disrespected? 5. Do I accept unacceptable behavior from my partner- because I fear he/she will leave me? 6. Am I holding on to this person because I fear being alone--or being "wrong" in having chosen this partner in the first place?
Fran Greene, licensed clinical social worker (LCSWR) and author of Dating Again, says that as part of this process, you need to "let go of the dream."
"Take a huge deep breath and accept the cold, harsh truth that what you see is what you get," says Greene. "No matter how hard [you] wish that things will change, history is the best predictor of future behavior."
If you aren't sure, Dr. Wish says it may be a good idea to seek professional counseling. If you're even questioning whether your relationship could be toxic, you may benefit from another opinion.
2. Once You've Decided To Leave, Write Down The Reasons You Are Ready To Leave
Greene says in order to feel what you need to leave the relationship, you should write down all the ways your partner has "let you down, pulled you down, intimidated you, disappointed you, betrayed you, hurt you, or ridiculed you."
Keeping this list in written form close by will encourage you when you feel your strength wavering. Not only that, but Greene says it's a good strategy to read the list right before you actually end it.
"Refer to this right before you tell him it's over. It will give you the strength and the power you desperately need," she says.
Reminding yourself of all the ways your partner has been a bad partner to you will keep you from looking back on the good times and thinking they can change.
3. Create A Breakup Safety Plan
According to Dr. Wish, the most important thing you can do when you are even considering leaving a toxic relationship is to develop a "Breakup Safety Plan."
Even if your relationship isn't physically abusive, it's still vital to have a plan for how to handle the breakup.
Dr. Wish says a Breakup Safety Plan should include reminders of information for yourself, as well as practical steps for your plan to leave the relationship. For example, she says,
In a safety deposit box at your bank, keep cash and copies of your credit cards, driver's license, passport, health insurance and any other documents. Store the phone number of your local women's shelter in a safe place in your car, in your work desk, and in a disguised identifier in your mobile phone. Keep some extra prescription medication and copies of refill information in your work desk and/or with a trusted friend — preferably with someone your partner doesn't know about!
For an emotionally abusive relationship, but one where you may not be worried about your physical safety, you can include methods of self-care in your plan and ways to ensure that you won't sink back into the toxic pattern.
4. Get Help From Any Health Source You Can
Sarah Watson, licensed professional counselor and certified sex therapist (LPC & CST), says, "Leaving a toxic relationship can be completely overwhelming." With that said, getting help is very critical during this time.
"Have someone to support you, emotionally," says Watson. "This could be a therapist, friend, family member, etc. Most likely, the idea of sharing your most vulnerable feelings with others isn't going to be easy, but having people around you that support your decision and safety will be very helpful."
You should also continue to remind yourself that it's not about you.
"Toxic relationships happen for so many reasons," says Watson. "Remember this isn't your fault, and there are people that will support you."'
5. Leave As Soon As Possible
Once you have made the decision and taken the steps necessary to protect yourself as you leave, then leave as soon as possible.
Greene says toxic relationships normally have "little to do with you." And leaving is a critical step in getting back to who you are.
Further, there's no need to draw it out.
"Make it brief and direct," says Greene. "If you have any fears about your safety, do not hesitate to get help."
Dr. Wish says if you live together, get out as soon as possible: "If you are ready to leave, then leave before he/she comes home."
Overall, you should seize the opportunity to leave as soon as you have everything you need in place. Tomorrow won't make it any easier.
Once you've left the toxic relationship, don't look back and get as far away from it (emotionally, physically, digitally) as possible.
Dr. Wish says, "Do not go to a place where your partner knows to find you. Tell your boss and co-workers that you have left your partner and that under no circumstances should they let him in and/or say you are in."
Furthermore, if you are worried about your physical safety, Dr. Wish explains that you should do everything you can to protect yourself: "If you fear harm, ask your boss if he/she could move you to another office, branch, etc."
Greene says it's important to cut your ex off completely: "Cut off all social media contact; unfriend, unfollow, untag, block him, delete his texts, emails etc. Do not have any contact with him."
Communicating with him or keeping tabs on him in any way could be emotionally detrimental, according to Greene.
"It is oh-so-tempting to think that if you stay connected, you will know everything that's going on with him," she says. "Quite the contrary, you will only get pieces of info, and then, your imagination will take you to a place that is not good for you."
To get away from the relationship forever, disconnect as much as you possibly can.
Leaving a toxic relationship certainly won't be easy. But by having a plan, getting the support you need, and disconnecting for good, you can begin your path to healing.