What It Feels Like To Finally End A Toxic, Consuming Relationship

I didn’t know my marriage was toxic for the longest time. It’s weird, isn’t it? You can be the person closest to the situation, and know the least about it. You know your partner best—you have the access, the intimacy—and yet, you can be so blind to what’s really happening. Once you figure it out, though, it’s time to make the break and end your toxic relationship. It’s not going to be easy. In fact, it might be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. But I promise—from the other side—it’s worth it.

  1. It feels confusing. I remember the first moment I made a conscious choice to stay in the relationship, knowing it wasn’t healthy. Before that, I hadn’t realized it. I’d been juggling, struggling, trying to make it work. Confused and stressed. Trying to reconcile the man I loved with the man sharing my life, the man who had become someone I couldn’t trust anymore. One day, we’d had a huge argument, and I was hurt and devastated and, once again, confused. Notice that word, confused? It comes up a lot in a toxic relationship. And when you start trying to find your way out, you’ll have to wade through that confusion. Remember this: you don’t have to justify your decision to end a relationship. If it’s not good for you, make the choice. You know you have reasons, but if you’re too confused sometimes to articulate them, that’s okay.
  2. It feels like you can’t make sense of anything. One day, I was supposed to be working but I couldn’t focus. I decided to take a walk, clear my head, try to shake it off. I kept replaying the argument, the things he’d said, the way he seemed to not care anymore… And how complicated everything got, how quickly a simple question turned into something hurtful and complex. I wanted to talk to someone. I needed to hear someone else’s input to make sense of it. Of course, it’s normal to want to talk things out with people you trust. But when you can’t make sense of what’s happening between you and your partner—and no matter how many times you go over it, it still doesn’t get clear—something’s wrong.
  3. It feels like you can’t face the truth. I tapped on my phone and thought about my sister and my best friends. I wanted their voices, their support, so badly. But instead, I put my phone back in my pocket without calling anyone. I didn’t call because I knew what they would say. I knew that if I relayed the day’s argument, and gave them the context, they would all tell me the same thing: Girl, this is bad. This is unhealthy. This is not okay. He is not treating you right. I didn’t want to hear that truth, because it was overwhelming. And in a way, it does. I knew what would happen if I told my best friends what my marriage had become, what it had been like for the last weeks and months. They would tell me I needed to end it. And they would be right.
  4. It feels like everything gets worse before it gets better. That day I didn’t make a call was the first time I made a choice to ignore how toxic my relationship had become. It wasn’t the last time. It took me months, but I finally got to the place where I let myself recognize what was happening. All the wrongs, all the betrayal, all the deception and lies. I let myself see that each “issue” we’d been dealing with was part of a larger pattern. Seeing the pattern forced me to see other things: he was unstable, unfaithful, and unwilling to change. I was enabling his poor behavior by tolerating it and excusing it. And our relationship had devolved into a toxic soup. It was truly awful to look at how bad our marriage was, and how long I had put up with it.
  5. It feels like you’re disconnected from yourself. To survive in a toxic relationship, I had to deny a lot of things. I had to find a way to live with the toxicity, and that usually meant I had to disconnect from my own emotions. There were so many times when I couldn’t identify my own feelings. I had such a deep sense of disconnection from myself that it felt like I didn’t have any. I felt detached and numb. I would have delayed emotional reactions, getting angry about something hours or days after it happened.
  6. It feels like you’re on a roller coaster. But not the fun kind. It’s an emotional roller coaster, with these extremes and a disorienting, unsafe sense of never knowing what’s next. Being in a toxic yet consuming relationship is not simple. It’s easy for people from the outside to look in and give advice. It’s quite another thing to be inside the relationship, trying to figure out what’s going on, knowing that something is off, yet so consumed with all the emotions that making a decision seems impossible. The emotions are intense and ever-changing. Being in the relationship is the roller coaster, but when I found the strength to end my toxic relationship, I still had to deal with the emotional intensity and ups and downs for months. It takes time to stabilize.
  7. It feels like you’ve done something wrong. The more time I had away from my partner, the more memories came up. And I felt ashamed. Oh, I know I’m not responsible for his bad behavior. But I was ashamed of how long I let things go. I believed lies, and I let myself be taken advantage of. I tolerated treatment that I would never enact on someone else. I made excuses. And sometimes, when he pushed me to my limits, I reacted in ways that were out of character for me. I felt ashamed of all that, and it takes time to work through those feelings.
  8. It feels embarrassing. I had such great support from my friends and family. But as I shared, and talked, and reached out, I began to realize something. So many people in my life had been waiting for me to see the light. They’d been watching our relationship and seeing how bad it was. Many of them tried to tell me and I wasn’t able to hear them. I felt embarrassed when I could finally see what they’d been talking about. But you know what? Embarrassment didn’t kill me and it’s not going to kill you. True friends are going to be there with you, not judging or shaming, but helping you acknowledge what’s real and move forward.
  9. It feels like you want to hide. Hiding can be good. I needed time to recover, and so for months, I found ways to hibernate. What I had to watch out for was the tendency to isolate. Hibernating is good. Isolating is not good. Hibernating is pulling inward, cutting out the extraneous, and focusing on yourself. Hibernating is giving yourself a safe place and time to rest, to cry, to let go. Hibernate, but do it with regular contact and support from people you trust.
  10. It feels fantastic. It took time. One day I made a decision and it felt so easy. I realized I didn’t have to overthink it or worry about upsetting my partner: I could just make the decision I wanted to make. I’d been carrying a burden for so long, and it had finally dropped from my shoulders. I began to feel light and free. I started seeing possibilities. Every day started to feel like a new beginning, a gift. It’s amazing how good it feels when you are being true to yourself.
  11. It feels confusing (again). Memories are not always reliable, and emotions are strong. I would spend one day feeling free and happy, then crash into feeling heartbroken and alone. I would remember something great—a good memory, a special moment—and then feel guilty about ending our marriage. I would bounce around, feeling empowered and strong and then anxious and broken. Remember, when you’ve been on an emotional roller coaster for so long, it takes time to get your footing back. It will come.
  12. It feels like hope. I had been putting all of my energy into a toxic, broken relationship. As I let that go, my energy started returning. I started to see that I could do anything. I could tackle projects. I could put time into what I valued. I could take care of myself. And I could build the life I wanted. It’s a slow process, and there are ups and downs. But the feeling of hope is pervasive, and it’s trustworthy. I realized that if I were strong enough to survive that relationship—and to find the courage to end it—I really could make my life whatever I want it to be. And so can you.