Leaving a Toxic Relationship
You've finally recognized your partner as an individual who needs to control and manipulate you. After time and many promises, you realize nothing has really changed, and you realize it isn't likely to. Recognizing you will never be the captain of your own ship until you take your life back can be difficult, but you can do it.
This article mostly assumes there are no children - parental rights must be maintained unless it is dangerous to the children. In that case, you will need professional law enforcement assistance and/or mental health help.
- Don't beat yourself up or consider yourself foolish. In recognizing your partner as controlling and manipulative, you must also recognize this: Though they can at first be charming, controlling and manipulative people are the unfortunate product of a high, incisive intellect and low self esteem. They are intelligent, usually charismatic people who, at first blush, seem to be confident, charming and together. It's no wonder you found him or her attractive.
- Get to the point and don't try to cushion the blow or beat around the bush.Your first instinct is to do it in person (not always advisable) and try to hurt your soon-to-be ex as little as possible, but this will only result in prolonging his/her agony - and yours. Come right out with your decision frankly, without hostility or cruelty. S/he will likely be stunned and/or shocked, and may question, attempt to bargain, cry, or become enraged - all are possible reactions. Be prepared for anything.
- Your leaving is often best explained in a note. Be clear about your decision, and then leave at once. Example: "I'm so sorry, but this is not working for me any more, so I'm ending our relationship here. I will always care about you and wish you well, but it's over." Do not say, "I Will Always Love You, XXOO Marty," or "I'll be at my mom's" or "If you need anything let me know." This can become the tiny bit of hope s/he needs to continue the obsession with winning you back.
- If you must do this face to face, be brief and as dispassionate as possible. (And it's wise to have your things packed and in your car already so that you just need to walk out.) Example: "I just wanted to say this in person. I'm leaving, our relationship has not worked out for me. I wish you well, but I can't continue this," then walk out. Don't look back, despite the fact that s/he is freaking out, shrieking that you can't go, hanging from your pant leg, throwing various objects at you, threatening suicide, and generally having a complete meltdown.
- The less personal you can bring yourself to be, the better. It seems cold when your inclination is not to want to hurt your former love, but the less emotional you are, the less you will escalate the pain. Believe it. Your ex wants to control you and everything you do, and the more s/he realizes that s/he is no longer able to control you, the more intense and hysterical s/he is likely to become. It's an effort to engage your feelings of guilt for hurting him/her, compassion for his or her pain, etc. S/he will want to get you to respond as any polite or compassionate person wants to, but once you show any sort of mercy or positive response to this, s/he knows his/her rant has worked, and leaving becomes more difficult for you.
- Be decisive and don't fall for promises to change. Once you have identified your relationship as toxic to your individuality and future, you must take decisive steps. Wishy-washy, weak attempts to leave will be steamrolled, and you will be overrun by the will of your partner. Talking things over with your partner will not be likely to help: remember the crucial identifier - this is a controlling manipulator.As soon as you start making noises about being unhappy with controlling behaviors and preparing him or her for the fact you are thinking of ending the relationship, s/he will gladly give in to your desires - just long enough to keep you attached. Stringing you along with little bits of what you need or want makes you want to believe that s/he has heard you, understands your needs, and is willing to change. The problem is that s/he is probably not really capable of changing (as evidenced by no change, despite many so-called efforts, over and over again). As soon as you settle back into the relationship, s/he knows you're back on the hook and the bad behaviors resume. It's all just been a kind of ploy to keep you around, continuing a vicious cycle and allowing him or her to re-establish control.
- Leave at once. Having made your decision, waste no time. Notice, this is something like the third time the exhortation to leave is made. That's because it's so hard to leave - particularly if you decided a face-to-face farewell was necessary. But you really must go. Please believe that your attempts to leave on good terms will most likely not pan out. The truth is, these efforts will only make it less likely that you will ever be able to have even the most casual of contact with your ex without it turning into a terrible, embarrassing scene. Your caring response instills hope that control can be re-established, and so feeds the obsession with getting you back. - so much so that your partner may abandon all dignity and beg, cry, bargain, scream, etc. If you leave before your ex has completely humiliated him/herself, it really will end better. No matter how hard it is, turn your back on this person, ignore the begging, sobbing, threatening and yelling, and put some steel in your back. Walk out the door. Shut it behind you.
- Stay away. Don't accept phone calls, answer emails, IMs or text messages from him/her. Doing so will only create hope. It's likely to end in an unholy debacle, and things will be worse than ever - you won't just have an angry, upset ex, you'll likely end up with a shrieking harpy freaking out and screeching for your blood. Remember again: this is a controlling, manipulative person who will say anything to win, and that is all this contact will be about. Once you have broken away, stayaway. Having dinner, "just to talk" or "for the kids' sake" will destroy your resolve, and will also give your controlling ex the power s/he seeks again. Cut it clean, and let it go.
- Avoid mutual friends who are still in contact with your ex for some time after the breakup. The last thing you need is the passing, even inadvertently, of fuel into the fire in the weeks and months after the end of the affair. If you can't avoid contact with these friends, keep your remarks to them carefully neutral, and don't share details of the breakup, your feelings, or your insights on your ex with them - you can almost be assured these remarks will find their way back to your ex, and that will not be a good thing.
- Remain detached. In order to reassert control, your ex will look for signs that you are receptive to crying, begging, threats of self-harm, etc. If you simply do not react, you will give no fuel to your ex's belief that s/he can win you back, and it will be truly over much sooner. S/he will cry, rage, rant, become hysterical if you allow him/her to. Being compassionate and trying to spare your ex further pain will only make it more difficult to break away. Every minute that you stay, talk, commiserate, apologize, or otherwise play along is a win for your ex, because s/he knows you feel helpless to leave him/her in such an awful state. Key word: helpless. Other key word: YOU. Generally think of your ex as a sleeping dragon. The more time s/he stays asleep (e.g., thinks about things other than you), the more likely s/he will stayasleep.
- Not every controlling or manipulative person is dangerous, but some are. Most will respond to a show of strength - if you show up with friends or relatives to back you up, or if you refuse all contact, 9 times out of 10, this will be enough to make your point and put an end to things. If not, enlist help, either from police (a restraining order) or from a mental health specialist who may be able to help you identify whether your ex is a danger to you or others, or to him or herself, and will know the appropriate steps to take in that case.
- Get your support network back. Go to the friends and family you will inevitably have been disconnected from by your controller, fall on your sword, and ask them to take you back. Without trash-talking (or letting others do it, either), you can say, "The bottom line is, you were right, the relationship was toxic, and once I realized it, I got out. I appreciate you taking the risk you did by sharing your misgivings about it with me."
- Controlling and manipulative people are often produced by external factors that you have no control over. You cannot hope to change or rescue such a person, as much as you may care for him/her; the best help you can give him/her is to (A), refuse to be a victim, and (B), direct him/her to professional help.
- Often, these people re-live significant events in their lives, re-writing along the way and changing the details to suit themselves. His/her recollection of conversations, impressions of you or others during the event, etc., are terribly skewed, and can make him/her even angrier the more time goes by. If your ex is at all prone to violent outbursts, exercise extreme caution at any chance meeting.
- Don't assume that a mild, calm encounter with this person will end well for you; it may be weeks or months, but it's virtually guaranteed that you'll hear something horrible about yourself from a mutual acquaintance somewhere. Resist the urge to re-engage with your ex for the sake of "setting the record straight". Just let it go - the people who know you will figure out which of you is the more truthful, more by your responses and actions than anything else. Simply say, "That's just not true, but if it makes him/her feel better to say it... whatever." Just shrug and show them there's nothing you can do to stop your ex from saying such things, and then move on.
- Watch for stalking or menacing behaviors, and if you notice anything, report them to the police immediately. This person is probably just difficult and not dangerous. But don't take any chances. If necessary, get a restraining or protective order and call the police each and every time it's violated; you will need the paper trail if the stalking escalates. S/he may try to destroy any action that indicates you moving on with your life, such as your career, a new relationship; s/he may deny access to your personal belongings or things that are important to you (which is why it's best to take them all and leave nothing behind when you go). S/he may even ask for a meeting to discuss re-paying you for credit card or other debt you incurred as a couple. This is a tool to maintain contact - DONT GIVE IN! It may be an expensive lesson, but it's actually better to just pay the debt off yourself rather than hook yourself into a payment arrangement that requires monthly contact to enforce.
- If you live together and s/he will not leave, you have to be the one to move out. This can be very difficult, especially if you have been cut off from your support system (friends and family) and have nowhere to go. But don't ever go back, even if you have to leave everything behind to do it.
For further inquiries:
Check out Lee Horton, Ph.D., Psychologist, at https://relationshipcrisis.com
Phone: (901) 818- 5450