How to end your unhealthy relationship

Special to The TribuneApril 23, 2013 


The 30-something woman sat dejected in my office. She’d been involved with her boyfriend for eight years, but she expressed deep concerns about their relationship. She reported he was often angry, that he accused her of being unfaithful and that he frequently drank too much beer. She had often thought about ending the relationship. Yet she was reluctant to call it quits.

This woman was involved in an unhealthy relationship, a union that is detrimental to one or both of the parties. Relationships can be unhealthy for numerous reasons, including substance abuse, lack of commitment, mental illness, incompatibility, chronic arguing and physical or emotional abuse.

Unfortunately, unmarried people are often reluctant to end these dysfunctional partnerships. They may feel they’ve invested too much time in the relationship or that they won’t be able to find someone new. Some acknowledge still loving their partners in spite of their unacceptable actions.

What these folks fail to realize is that dating relationships shouldn’t be filled with angst and trauma. They should be relatively stress-free. They haven’t had to face the complications of a long-term marriage, such as having children, funding an IRA or surviving a health crisis. Instead, they’re a kind of test drive to determine whether a match should be continued or deep-sixed.

No relationship is perfect. Two people always have issues to iron out. Still, those differences shouldn’t be so serious that the emotional health of the participants is at risk.

It’s also important to differentiate what is acceptable before and after marriage. Before a couple says, “I do,” the members have the option to stay or leave. They can dissolve the union relatively easily if they don’t like what’s going on. Once they walk down the aisle, however, the rules drastically change. Partners must be willing to overlook the others’ annoying characteristics and do their best to make things work. The escape hatch narrows even further when children arrive on the scene.

Ending a relationship is never easy. No one likes to break up. Still, unhealthy relationships should end as quickly as possible so that you can get on with your life.

Not sure whether your relationship is unhealthy? Ask yourself the following questions:

• Do I have serious concerns about this relationship?

• Do my partner and I repeatedly break up and get back together?

• Do family and friends express concerns about our relationship?

• Have my partner or I had chronic difficulties committing to this relationship?

• Do my partner and I argue a lot?

• Do I feel the need to defend my partner to others?

• Has there been an incidence of physical abuse?

• Am I concerned about my partner’s alcohol or drug use?

• Do I have a hard time trusting my partner?

• Do I fear for my safety?

• Is my partner unnecessarily suspicious about me?

• Do I dislike my partner’s friends?

• Does my partner have problems controlling his or her anger?

If you answered yes to even one of these questions, your relationship is unhealthy. Take action now to avoid further pain and get yourself headed in a better direction.


Make a commitment. Decide once and for all you’re going to end it. The process won’t be easy. Your conviction will carry you through.

Enlist support from family and friends. Let others know of your impending breakup. Figure out how they can help. Perhaps you’ll need assistance moving. You may need cheering up when you’re blue. Create your safety net before you actually need it. They’ll want to be there for you.

Make a clean break. Don’t drag things out. Attempting to end things in little steps only prolongs the process.

Don’t try to be friends. You probably won’t have a pleasant relationship following the breakup. There will be anger and hurt feelings that need to heal. Once the emotional dust has settled, you may be able to be pleasant. But that isn’t your immediate goal.

Don’t feel you need to rescue your partner. The breakup will undoubtedly cause pain for your partner. You can’t prevent that from happening. You’re not responsible for his or her emotions.

Fill the void. You’ll have lots of time on your hands following the breakup. Think of positive ways to spend it. Take a class. Do volunteer work. Join a gym. Redecorate your kitchen. You’ll meet new folks and feel good about yourself.

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