By Tracey Ashcraft
Leaving an unhealthy, toxic, or abusive relationship can be hard—especially if it’s a marriage and our core values from childhood resonate with some version of the verbiage “until death do us part.”
If you find yourself in this situation, it may be time to break from the past and empower yourself to move on to create a healthier and happier life. Here’s the story of how one woman broke free and some tips and techniques to help make the transition easier if you find yourself in a similar situation.
Kelly grew up in a strict, traditional family. Her life path was set by her parents before she was even born: grow up, graduate from high school and college, get married, have kids, and then stay married through all the challenges—whether she is happy or not.
For a long time, Kelly followed the path as a married woman raising two creative, high-energy sons. While her husband was cranky at times and subtly put her down, overall she was content and then family was functional. But then one day Kelly’s husband lost his job. She was very supportive and gave him space to recover, but he was not motivated to look for a new job and started drinking more and more each day.
Kelly was able to secure a sales job with her former employer, a travel company. As she moved more into the joint roles of the provider, home manager, and parental guide, her husband’s self-esteem plummeted. He took it out on Kelly. His drinking had become daily and excessive. His verbal criticisms of her were abusive. She tried to get them into marriage counseling, but he refused. She talked with friends, family, and members of her church. People eventually shied away from her because of her constant indecision about whether or not to end the marriage, and she started to feel like she was going crazy.
She powered through her daily activities and kept the family afloat for two more years. Finally, her husband started to get violent. At first Kelly got angry and yelled back—but nothing was working. Based on her upbringing and family core values about marriage she felt trapped. Finally she realized that this situation was getting dangerous for her and her boys. Kelly ultimately realized that nothing was going to change unless she did.
The Courage to Break Free
As Kelly went through counseling and mustered the courage to break free from her increasingly abusive relationship, she realized that life is hard enough without having to put up with another’s misery. The process she followed included self-reflection and empowerment exercises. Here is a snapshot of her journey to freedom.
If you are in a bad relationship and are struggling with whether or not to leave it, ask yourself these questions:
- Am I happy?
- Do I laugh with him/her?
- Do we share similar life goals?
- Do I find myself wishing if my partner/spouse would just change then things would be great?
- Do I feel jealous of single friends or friends in happy relationships?
- Am I the person I want to be in this relationship?
- Am I a good partner?
- What will my life be like if I wake up with this person 10 years from now?
If any of your answers give you a wake-up call—keep reading!
There are many reasons people stay in bad relationships: time already invested in the partnership, guilt, fear of being alone, fear of hurting the other, fear of the other’s reaction, fear of change, staying for the kids. But the reasons we create in our mind for staying can become our own prison. As scary as change can be, in the long run, staying for the wrong reasons can be even scarier—especially if a relationship becomes verbally and/or physically abusive.
Here are some steps to summon the courage to leave a bad relationship:
1. Know that you deserve to be happy. Find friends who will validate this truth for you if you can’t believe it yourself.
2. Decide that you are not going to lose one more moment of your life in this bad relationship.
3. Make a plan. Decide what you want your life to look like and write it out.
4. Get support. Reach out to a trusted friend for support. Share your plan and ask for help.
5. Set a date. Be specific with a time frame and stick to it.
6. Push through your fear, and do it anyway. Know that as hard as it is to take the steps to leave can be, staying in a bad relationship will be worse.
6. Congratulate yourself! Many people feel shell shocked after leaving a bad relationship. Rebuilding may not be easy. Give yourself credit for starting over and changing your life.
7. Allow yourself to be happy. Find joy in the little things. Make your living space reflect your new empowered Self. Be creative and take time to appreciate your independence.
8. Work with a professional. A therapist or coach may be able to help you see how you may attract bad relationships into your life. Removing personal roadblocks can help you attract happier relationships in the future.
Life is short and we all deserve to life happy, healthy and productive lives in relationships filled with love and based on mutual respect and trust. If your partnership is withering rather than flourishing, then it might be time to say goodbye. Starting over is never easy, but with the right preparation and approach it can be the start of an amazing journey of self-empowerment.
Tracey Ashcraft, M.A., L.P.C., is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Coach. She specializes in helping adults and college students cope with emotionally intense people. With a Master’s Degree in Counseling, Tracey has been helping people heal from toxic relationships for more than 10 years. She brings her sense of humor and a tell-it-like-it-is style that helps people get to the truth quickly. Sessions are offered in Boulder, CO, and via phone or video chat. For more information visit www.bestlifetherapy.com.