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How to End Unfulfilling and Toxic Relationships

January 27, 2009

Over the last two years I’ve ended numerous toxic relationships in my life.

There are many ways you can end unfulfilling relationships. Some are tactful. Some are harsh. Some are easy. Some take a lot of courage. All have their place in the right circumstances.

I should clarify that by ‘relationships’ I’m not only referring to romantic relationships. I’m referring to professional relationships, relationships with friends, relationships with acquaintances, etc.

I personally use a few different methods to end relationships.

Drifting Apart

Drifting apart is natural consequence of life changes rather than a method. This is what happens in friendships when there is no argument, but over time it just becomes apparent that you have grown apart.  Your personalities and interests have diverged to such a degree that conversation is strained, your values or your friend’s values may have changed, and you just don’t have any real desire to maintain the relationship any longer.

Usually when you feel as though you are drifting apart, the other party will also feel the bond beginning to weaken. It happens quite naturally and over time. It’s not even necessary to confront the other party. Indeed, there may not even be a cause for confrontation. Of course, if it is a relationship you would like to be rid of sooner rather than later, it is always possible to speed up the process by gently and tactfully declining invitations to spend time with the person.

Cold Turkey on Toxic Relationships

This one is brutal – the complete opposite of drifting apart. I reserve going cold turkey for toxic relationships when my safety or emotional wellbeing is dependent on ending the relationship as quickly and cleanly as possible. You’ve probably guessed that this is the method I used to escape domestic violence. I’ve also used this method to eliminate a couple of very toxic friendships from my life.

Cold turkey is when you have absolutely no contact and no reminder of a person after you have decided to end the relationship. That means delete and block every phone number, get your calls screened (and tell whoever is screening for you not to tell you they rung – you don’t want to know), delete and block all of their email addresses and social sites, avoid places they frequent like the plague, throw out any pictures, presents, trinkets, etc. they bought you and always make sure you are accompanied by someone in public so it makes it difficult for them to approach you even if they do see you. Do this even if it is just walking to your car. Get people you trust in on this too – they can support you when you’re tempted to cave in.

The premise of this method is out of sight, out of mind. You will return to a state of emotional stability much more quickly if your mind isn’t frequently being peppered with hints of the person you want to avoid. You can cut back on the severity once you are emotionally stronger.

As a side note, the only exception I would make to the above is if you are suffering domestic violence and have written, photographic, or other proof of violence being inflicted upon you. If that is the case, keep the evidence and get to the nearest police station as soon as you can and file a Domestic Violence Order (QLD) or equivalent in your state.

Honest Confrontation

It takes a lot of courage to confront a person about what is upsetting you. Difficult for you because you may feel that you will upset or make them uncomfortable, and difficult for them because they have to hear that they haven’t met your expectations.

It is much easier if you just drift apart, but if you have an unresolved issue, the other person is very persistent, or you feel like you owe it to them to explain your choice, honest confrontation is a good option.

I have used this method to end a working relationship in a job where I was underpaid, my skills were under-utilised, and had to chase my pay cheque each week which frustrated me no end. I (tactfully) explained why I was leaving, gave my two weeks notice, and left feeling liberated. Do exercise discretion and tact if you choose to do this at your place of employment and require a reference.

Honest confrontation is also good for clarifying tension in a relationship.

Last year an acquaintance took to calling me constantly and then messaging to ask why I hadn’t picked up the phone. Irritated, I confronted him and said I was happy to be friends, but I didn’t appreciate being contacted so frequently and that quite frankly, it freaked me out. I was expecting to never hear another peep out him, but after his initial defensiveness he actually thanked me for being so upfront, and from then on we were able to talk without that underlying tension.

Letting go of Unfulfilling Relationships

You aren’t under any obligation to partake in a relationship that doesn’t enhance your life, whether romantic, professional, or otherwise. Learn to be totally comfortable with ending relationships which no longer benefit you.

Ask yourself how much time you would have wasted maintaining an unfulfilling relationship five years down the track? What are the perceivable benefits of maintaining this relationship as opposed to the consequences?

I asked myself these questions when logically trying to convince myself why I should leave an abusive relationship. The only ‘benefit’ was short term happiness in the honeymoon phase. Losing my family, friends, pets, health, job, sanity, and life were the potential consequences.

Relationships that are neutral or negative are an emotional drain. There is no good reason why you should tolerate them. Consciously choosing to end a relationship of any kind is a difficult decision to make. Look past the short term discomfort and towards a brighter future with relationships that fulfill you.

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3 Responses to “How to End Unfulfilling and Toxic Relationships”

  1. […] Think about how your interaction with this person makes you feel. Is it a positive experience filled with happiness, love, trust, affection, and respect? Or is it a negative experience, teeming with uncertainty, abuse, lies, jealousy, or anguish? The level of respect you receive from others mirrors the level of respect you have for yourself. Set the bar of respect you have for yourself high. If your interactions with a certain person are continually below par, there’s a very quick way to change that. Cut your emotional losses and leave. […]

  2. […] had plenty of people tell me that I’ve been an inspiration to them, ranging from helping them leave abusive relationships, to thinking about situations in new ways, to wanting to interact with other people more like I do. […]

  3. […] jobs or retire. You’ll grow out of hobbies and into new ones. You’ll make new friends and leave old ones behind. Relationships fail. Money is spent. Families die. Societal standards of beauty fade with age. It […]

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