How to Leave a Toxic Relationship (Even When You’re Not Ready)

By Michelle Farris, Licensed Psychotherapist.

Leaving a toxic relationship should be simple… but it’s definitely not.

No matter how bad it gets, when there is codependency there is a high tolerance for toxic behavior. You put up with almost anything in relationships because it’s easier than being alone.

In this article you’ll learn five key tasks to help you leave a toxic relationship. If you’re not ready, that’s okay too. These tips will still help.

1. Are You Ready to Leave Your Toxic Relationship?

The first step when contemplating whether to leave a toxic relationship is assessing the relationship. Ask yourself this important question:

Are you REALLY ready to leave the relationship? You already know that this is not a simple yes or no answer. 

To clarify, give yourself a percentage. For instance, are you 50% ready to leave or closer to 95%? No matter what the number is, this simple exercise provides you with a quick gut check. 

Be honest with yourself because pretending you’re somewhere that you’re not won’t move you forward. It’ll keep you stuck.

For instance, many people say they are ready but when they give it an actual number they’re only 50% ready – which means they aren’t ready yet – and THAT’S OKAY!! Trying to push yourself to leave before you’re truly ready is never a good idea.

Making decisions when you’re on the fence can make you feel worse. You end up going back and forth in the relationship out of fear, and I don’t want that for you.

Accept where you’re at in the relationship because THAT’S healing.

2. Assess Your Toxic Relationship 

Next, assess the toxic relationship. Again, be honest with yourself. How much of the relationship is working for you versus working against you? 

Here are some important questions to help you decide if the relationship is salvageable. These are vital traits of healthy, mutually respectful relationships. 

  1. Does the person care about your feelings and what’s important to you?
  2. Does the relationship have a reasonable amount of give and take?
  3. Are they willing to look at their part even if they aren’t great at it?
  4. Do they support your spending time with family and friends?
  5. Do they treat you with respect and take efforts to avoid abuse?

In healthy relationships, all five of these questions would be answered yes, but in toxic relationships, most of the answers would be no. 

If this is true for you, you’re not alone and it’s not your fault. Admitting the health of the relationship is a step in the right direction. Awareness follows action so you’re doing great!

3. Have Realistic Expectations of Yourself (Not the Relationship)

The fear of being alone can be paralyzing. Expecting yourself to leave the relationship quickly isn’t fair or realistic. No one lets go without a fight. Typically, people let go when there is no other choice. 

Negative assumptions that no one will want you makes leaving even harder. Unfortunately, in toxic relationships, the toxic person goes to great lengths to convince you that you’re the problem. This gives them control while also creating self-doubt. 

In codependency, you will do almost anything to avoid being alone including sacrificing your values and putting up with unacceptable behavior.

To leave a toxic relationship, the pain must become greater than the fear of leaving. This can be a long, painstaking process so please don’t make yourself wrong. The struggle is real.

4. Practice Separating the Toxic Person’s Energy from Yours

When trying to leave a toxic relationship, you may spend most of your time obsessing about the other person. “Should I stay, or should I go?” becomes the theme. Instead, you need to shift the goal.

The first step in leaving a relationship isn’t leaving physically, it’s emotionally separating your energy from theirs! This requires getting the focus off them and back on to you.

Here is a powerful exercise to help get you started. Start by closing your eyes and imagining your loved one sitting right beside you. Then, when you’re ready (this could take days or weeks) imagine that person moving further and further away from you. 

In your imagination, move them to a different room, then outside of your home, then at the end of your block, etc. This will likely trigger feelings of loss, that’s normal. Let the tears fall because even when you practice letting go, it will hurt. 

Do this practice daily until you notice it getting easier. Eventually, when you’re ready, something will change. You may decide to leave or detach emotionally from that person. Both ways can provide relief. 

5. When You’re Not Ready, Do This!

When you’re not ready to leave, take precautions to protect yourself from any potential abuse. Make a safety plan with a pre-packed bag ready to go–just in case. Make sure you have a safe place to stay if abuse happens.

In toxic relationships, the primary goal is to protect yourself, not improve the relationship. Avoid hot topics and remove yourself before things become too intense. No one deserves to be abused and staying will only reinforce the abusive behavior.

Get additional support. Family and friends aren’t always enough. You may be embarrassed to talk about it or feel pressured to leave, but you can’t.  There are wonderful groups like Al-Anon or CODA for healing from codependent, toxic relationships. 

Find ways to cultivate your own life outside of the relationship. Go back to the gym or pursue a new hobby. Spend time with friends. Do things for yourself that will make you happy. The more you start to depend on yourself, the easier it will be to decrease your dependency on others.

Final thoughts:

While toxic relationships are difficult to leave, let yourself go through the process without judgment. Practice letting go and cultivate a stronger relationship with yourself. Have compassion for yourself. Waiting until the relationship is rotten happens not because you should know better but because it hurts that much to let go.

Michelle Farris, Relationship, Expert and Psychotherapist. Grab her Free Guide — 7 Signs of a Codependent Relationships ( and How to Heal Them ) here:

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