We’ve all been in a relationship as it passes its prime. I’m not talking about the loving couples that experience a rough patch and should try some therapy; I’m talking about the relationships that kill you with dysfunction or boredom. I realize it’s broad generalization, but in my experience, dying relationships usually fall into two categories: toxic and stagnant. In those instances, you need a plan B that goes beyond the ritual of de-friending your soon-to-be ex on social media. If you don’t have such an exit strategy, good news: I’m here to be your spirit guide.
RECOGNIZE THE SIGNS
A stagnant relationship begins when you no longer can stand the way your partner chews or breathes (that is, unless you’re well into your seventies, in which case you’ve earned the right to hate your partner). Another sign of trouble is if one of you starts using “the tone.” You know the one: The condescending, passive aggressive tone that makes everyone at brunch uncomfortable. You start undermining each other with snark. Problems have been addressed, but nothing has changed. The sex, you realize, was never that great and now it’s nonexistent or utilitarian. You feel like you locked yourself in a prison and swallowed the key. You can’t keep binge-watching Netflix and pretend nothing is wrong. It’s time to poop out the key.
The mantra of every toxic relationship is, “Why can’t I quit you, baby?” Country music and hip-hop tells us as much. These relationships ruin your life. Fights turn into violent screaming matches and cops are called. Or maybe it’s more insidious? Maybe you’re with a douchebag who treats you like shit yet you go back for more, even as it erodes your self-esteem.
Either way, red flags were flying miles back and now you’re speeding toward the cliff’s edge. You are addicted to the drama and probably the crazy sex, too. Maybe even drugs or alcohol. Your work is suffering. Your friends are worried. You feel increasingly isolated. Your family hates your partner. You look in the mirror and hate yourself. These relationships are like limbs that have been run over and now have gangrene. It’s time to saw that shit off before it spreads and kills you.
MAKE A SWIFT EXIT
The reason stagnant relationships are so hard to leave is because they’re as comfortable as an old shoe. Even if a person’s voice sounds like nails on a chalkboard, there is still underlying love and companionship. It’s hard to imagine your life without them and honestly, who wants to die alone? This break-up requires planning.
If you realize it’s over, you need to mentally prepare to leave. If you’re living together, start by thinking about other arrangements. Don’t do what I did when I left my husband; that is, say “I can’t do this” and move out the next day with no plan and then couch-surf for the next three months. Your lives are pretty entwined by the time a relationship gets to this point, and you shouldn’t stay because you’re too lazy to move or because you really love his or her family. You aren’t sleeping with the family. And if you are, you should definitely get out. Immediately.
Getting out of the toxic relationship isn’t usually the problem—it’s staying out. In my vast experience with this dynamic, I’ve had to treat quitting the relationship how I treated quitting heroin, because it had the same effect on me. Rip the fucking Band-Aid off and put yourself in relationship rehab. You will have the shakes, so reach out to friends and family when you feel weak. Toxic relationships represent the part of yourself that doesn’t love you enough. Therapy specifically will help examine why you drew poison into your life.
KEEP YOUR DISTANCE
After a brief mourning period, those who were in stagnant relationships are usually relieved. They don’t look back. The tricky part arrives, however, when your ex lands a new significant other. If you’ve remained friends on social media but find yourself suddenly de-friended or needing to de-friend, understand it’s a natural part of the rebirth. No one likes watching someone else move on. You might feel pangs of regret but when you do, remind yourself of that always-empty Brita water pitcher or the annoying way your ex walked or the gut-wrenching feeling of knowing she wasn’t the one.
Do not underestimate the long-term damage toxic relationships can have on your psyche. Constant stress rewires your brain chemistry. I don’t exaggerate when I say that, when left unchecked, these relationships can ruin your life. Treat recovery as seriously as you would any addiction. You have to erect what my sister and I call a deafening wall of silence. Actions speak louder than words, and nothing says you’re done like not responding. You don’t need to tell them why you’re done. You’ve already been over this. You’re done. Be done. My cousin told me, “I used to block her number, but I always went back. The last time we broke up, I kept her unblocked. I had to know I was choosing to say no.” That’s when you start taking your power back.