During our fights, the phrase “run we go around again in circles” repeated over and over in my head. In my teenage years, I was a huge fan of The Used and this was a line in one of their songs. Every time my ex-boyfriend and I fought, and then consequently made up, it would play like a loop in my mind. For five years I dated someone who wasn’t very good for me, but I was in denial about this fact for almost the entire relationship. In the beginning we were so happy – our personalities were aligned and we wanted the same things in life. What I didn’t realize is how quickly this all could change.

I was in an emotionally abusive relationship. It wasn’t something that I realized until I finally got out, but looking back there were many warning signs. I didn’t feel like I could hang out with my other friends without “abandoning” him. I was often manipulated. I was blamed for a lot of things that were out of my control. During fights I was called names like “bitch” and “cunt”, and then he often played the victim and never took on responsibility. All of these are signs of emotional abuse. Looking back, I wonder how it took me so long to see the warning signs. They are so obvious now. Now, I would never EVER tolerate behavior like this. And then I am reminded that it was a toxic relationship, and we also had our “high” points together which made everything feel okay.

Getting out of this kind of relationship is difficult. Often you are in denial about your situation and you’re making excuses for your partner’s behavior; however, that doesn’t mean it’s a good relationship. And it doesn’t mean you’re stuck. It is still possible to get out. This is what I have learned about escaping a toxic relationship:

No matter how much your friends try to help you “see the light,” you won’t be ready until YOU are ready.

All of my friends wondered why I was with him. It wasn’t until he said something specifically demeaning to me about my family that made me snap out of my daze. It was like I could see clearly, for the first time, that being with him was damaging me. For the first time, I saw him the way my friends did, but not because they helped me get there. It was because I did it myself.

Everyone deserves happiness and respect.

In a toxic relationship, these two things are often lacking. Respect is the building block for your entire relationship. If you don’t have a mutual respect for each other, it’s time to move on and find someone that you deserve. Don’t think you deserve someone great? Continue reading.

Consider seeing a therapist or psychologist

There’s a reason you’re finding yourself stuck in a toxic relationship, and with their objective views, they can often determine why. They can identify things in your life that have altered your perception and then help you move past them. My therapist helped me see why I was stuck in my terrible relationship for so long, and why I “accepted” someone who treated me that poorly. It was extremely eye opening and I am so grateful for having learned this about myself. Seeing a therapist is nothing to be ashamed of; in fact, it’s something to be proud of. If I could force everyone to go, I would. It’s liberating.

Create an exit plan.

Sometimes this gets challenging when finances or children are involved. I was lucky we didn’t have any of these responsibilities, but we were renting an apartment together and he owed me thousands of dollars (which I’ve never gotten back). Sometimes you can’t get out right away, but it’s important to try and get out as soon as possible. Find an apartment for yourself or stay with family if necessary. Get your life organized so that you don’t “need” this person anymore. It will empower you.

While you’re finally thinking clearly, write down all the reasons why the relationship is wrong.

In toxic relationships, you can often justify trying “just one more time”. You feel extreme ends of the spectrum; you know that when it’s good, it’s really good. But you need to remind yourself that when your partner comes crawling back, or if you feel yourself getting weak, why you decided to end things in the first place. There are many concrete reasons and re-reading that list can help you when you’re most vulnerable. I don’t wish a toxic relationship on anyone, but it’s much more common than we’d like to admit. I am grateful that I was able to recognize it and get out before we considered getting married or bringing kids into our relationship. I am grateful for all of the lessons that it taught me, and for realizing what I truly deserve. If you’re struggling right now, know that you’re not alone, but it is you who needs to make the change. Find the courage and self-respect to say enough is enough, and just do it.

If find yourself in an abusive relationship, call a local hotline (in the US call National Domestic Violence @ 1-800-799-7233) to help you work through the challenges you may be facing.

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