By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW
Letting go of toxic relationships is never easy. Yet with self-awareness and tools, you can begin to value yourself enough to set better boundaries with a partner. It is possible to end a romantic relationship that is self-defeating, abusive, or self-destructive.
You may be at risk for a destructive relationship if you become so absorbed in your partner’s problems you don’t often have time to identify, or solve, your own. Or, you care so deeply about your partner that you’ve lost track of your own needs.
People Pleasing is a Common Pattern
Are you a people pleaser who feels that you have to be in a good mood or always positive when you are with your friends, family, or an intimate partner? If you have this tendency, you may find setting limits hard and have trouble asking for what you need from your partner. The good news is that this pattern, which often begins in childhood, can be reversed.
Before you can begin to build successful relationships, you must have healthy self-esteem – which means believing in yourself. One of the key things to consider is: how do you treat yourself? No one will treat you with respect if you devalue yourself. You must rid yourself of self-defeating thoughts such as “I’m stupid” or “No one will ever love me” if you want to build relationships based on love, trust, and intimacy.
If your romantic relationship or marriage brings out your insecurities and causes you to mistrust your own judgment this relationship may not be the best one for you. Many people become involved or even obsessed with the wrong partner – someone who is emotionally unavailable, romantically involved with other partners, addicted to substances – or who cannot love them back.
7 Ways to Let Go of Toxic Relationships:
- Gain self-awareness about your former partner’s personalities and willingness to meet your emotional and personal needs. Counseling, blogging, and/or coaching can help you with this.
- Seek a partner you can be authentic and vulnerable with. In other words, you don’t have to walk on eggshells with him or her. You feel safe in the relationship and free to express your thoughts, feelings, and desires openly without fear of rejection.
- Set an expectation of mutual respect. You can accept, admire, and respect each other for who you are. If you don’t have respect for your partner, it will eat away at chemistry until you have nothing left. But if he or she values you, gives you compliments, and encourages you to do things that are in your best interest, your partner will be a boost to your self-esteem.
- Don’t compromise your values. Figure out your core beliefs and stand by them. Ask for what you need and speak up when something bothers you.
- Be more assertive (not aggressive) in romantic relationships. If you want to form a new relationship based on trust you need to speak up when you have a concern or a request. Dating can help you learn what your non-negotiable or deal breakers are.
- Extend trust to a partner who is trustworthy. Does your partner call when they say they’re going to? Do they take you out when they say they’re going to do so? When someone is interested in a relationship, they keep their agreements. Look for consistency between someone’s words and actions.
- Select a partner who is interested in planning a future with you. If he or she says they’re not ready for a commitment, take them seriously – they’re just not the right person for you. Don’t waste your time on a relationship that doesn’t have a future.
People who are attracted to partners who hurt them often confuse chemistry and compatibility. In fact, they are both essential to a long-lasting healthy intimate relationship. Whereas chemistry (how interesting and stimulating you find the person) is essential to keeping couples interested, compatibility (sharing common values, goals, and having fun together) will help a couple get through tough times.
According to author Jill P. Weber, many girls learn to tune out their own inner voice due to their family experiences, and this prepares them for one-sided relationships in adulthood. Weber writes, “As a woman develops a strong core sense of self, fulfilling relationships will follow.”
Jill P. Weber posits that many women consistently put other’s needs first and end up in one-sided relationships. The consequence for girls can be profound, with girls and women dismissing their own needs and ending up with a depleted sense of self.
For instance, Ericka, an outgoing twenty-six-year old, provided Brian with unconditional love and did her best to make up for his dysfunctional upbringing by trying to meet his every need. After they moved in together, she devoted herself to meeting Brian’s needs – even helped take care of his six-year old twins on weekends.
Ericka puts it like this: “It took a breakup for me to realize that I was not responsible for Brian’s happiness and can only truly make myself happy. He never gave much of his time or energy to me. Ericka realized that she didn’t have any energy left for herself when she was so focused on Brad’s well-being. Since their split, she has been able to put more energy into her college classes, other relationships, and hobbies.
Are You Settling for Less than You Deserve from Your Partner?
Both men and women stay in relationships that are destructive due to fears about being alone. Our culture promotes the idea that you have to be part of a couple and there is a lot of stigma about being single.
If you are currently in a romantic relationship, ask yourself: Am I settling for less than I deserve in the relationship? Research shows that one of the main reasons why people stay in bad relationships is the fear of being single. If this is the case, gently remind yourself that you are a worthwhile person regardless of whether or not you are in a romantic relationship.
Keep in mind that emotional intimacy is not emotional dependency. If your relationship causes you to be anxious or causes you to question your sense of self, it may not be the best relationship for you.
Many people stay in destructive relationships because they consistently put their partner’s needs before their own. Often women are raised to focus on others and defer their own needs. Too often they are left with a depleted sense of self and they look for their partner to validate them.
Unless you have self-acceptance and self-love, you cannot believe you are worth loving just as you are. You might try to prove your worth through giving too much to others and being overly tolerant and patient. Author Jill P. Weber writes: “The more you view others’ mistreatment of you as something you have the ability to fix, tweak, or amend, the harder it is to develop a positive sense of yourself. Seeing yourself exclusively from the eyes of others disconnects you from the day-to-day, moment-to-moment experience of your life.”
Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website.
Terry’s new book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, will be published by Sounds True in February of 2020 and can be pre-ordered here.