Bad relationships don’t help you thrive (even if they have, in the past, helped you survive). However, just because a relationship is unhealthy or uninspiring doesn’t mean the relationship didn’t serve some of your needs. All relationships have their benefits. Before you dive into the breakup, be specific about what you got out of the relationship. Make a list of the reasons you’ve stayed. For example, your boss abuses you in the same way your parents did, and this is oddly comforting. Maybe hanging out with your best friend’s children makes you feel less guilty for never having the children your parents hoped you’d have. Perhaps your religious affiliation gives you something to do every Sunday morning, and you like to have a place to go. Once you figure out what you get out of the relationship, you can figure out how to replace that “special” something.
Developing Empathy for Toxic People through a Breakup
You may also find ways to have empathy for the toxic people in your life. That doesn’t mean you give in to their insecurities, but toxicity usually comes from a sense of not feeling deserving of love. Or it comes from a place of not feeling like anyone else will be there for them. Being narcissistic, negative, critical, dominating, overbearing, and disappointed is definitely a part of the problem, but usually the toxic person has a bigger problem they need to work on.
Breaking up, or talking about the breakup, can generally be a push to either resolve issues or live with the consequences. Reconciling a toxic relationship isn’t completely hopeless; however, it is hard to get out of the cycle of bad without first breaking it off completely. If you want them back, odds are you have a better chance of doing so by getting rid of the gunk first. You will gain more of their respect and more of your own power by taking a break verses sticking around and feeding fuel to their fire. If you don’t leave the relationship, then your toxic person will always remember they can call your bluff.
Considerations for Reconnecting After a Breakup
After the breakup, give it a month, or three, before you even think about contacting them again. If you choose to reconvene, maybe approach the first meeting with a short list of what you’d need to move forward; a list of what you need to see happen in order to be able to stay in the relationship will help you focus on fixing things. If neither a trial separation nor a clear list of needs resolves the issues, but you still can’t say goodbye, then you can always limit the amount of time you spend together.
Even spending limited time together may not be a perfect solution. No change or breakup is super simple, but you’ll have more clarity after the breakup. Find support and surround yourself with positivity in order to let go of the negative forces holding you back in your life. You can expect a fight until the end, so be prepared to fight with love and kindness if you can.
Ultimately, only you – and the recipient of your breakup – know why your relationship is ending. You don’t have to tell everyone that it’s toxic. But if you’re feeling like a servant to the relationship, it’s time to become the master of your world.
Be your own Toxic Avenger.
Considerations for the Broken Up
- It takes two (or more) people to have an unhealthy relationship, so although you play an important role in the unraveling, the other person knows they need to own their role, too.
- Try to really listen to what is not working so you can work on ways to enjoy your other relationships more.
- Don’t fight the breakup. It may be the best way to change the relationship as it stands.
- Ruminate on what it is that makes you act the way you act. Is your role comforting to you in some way?
- Appreciate the opportunity to learn from the relationship and say thank you for the other person’s bravery and respect.
- You will be okay, too.
Excerpted from How to Break Up with Anyone: Letting Go of Friends, Family, and Everyone In-Between (September 2015) by Jamye Waxman, with permission from Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. © 2015
Jamye Waxman, M.Ed is a sex educator, speaker, and media consultant who has been interviewed by top media outlets on human sexuality and relationships. The author of Getting Off: A Woman’s Guide to Masturbation and co-author of Hot Sex: Over 200 Things You Can Try Tonight, Jamye is pursuing an MA in counseling psychology and a PhD in human sexuality education.