Guess what? You don’t need permission to leave a bad relationship. You don't have to stay in relationships that don’t make you happy. That’s right. There’s no law in this world that says we have to stay with people who hurt us and make us small. As a matter of fact, we have a right to walk away from anything that isn’t right — and that includes the partners we invest in romantically. Has your relationship become a chore? Is it putting your physical and mental health at risk? Maybe it’s time to consider the fact that you have all the permission you need to walk away and start over again.
What a "bad" relationship can look like.
Bad relationships look different to everyone. While some people are in partnerships that are brutal and filled with abuse — to others, a bad relationship is a matter of stagnating and getting stuck. What kind of partnership are you in? If it’s not filling you up and enhancing the quality of your life, then it’s not something you have to hold on to forever. Being honest about things being off is the best way to put them right.
Are you the only one putting a major amount of effort and energy into your relationship? That’s a problem. And it doesn’t show a solid partnership that’s functioning as it should. If your partner isn’t an equal part in your relationship (including home and family involvement) then you can’t claim a partner who’s engaged and involved. It becomes a one-sided commitment. Can they be a partner if they aren’t involved in-kind? (Spoiler alert: No.)
Different integrity levels
Integrity is another key component of a happy relationship. You and your partner should have a similar integrity and complementary beliefs that help you both do the right thing in times of trouble. Without that, we can find ourselves at odds with someone who we don’t understand. That leads to increased conflict and trouble of all sorts. We also wind up with someone we don’t understand.
Struggling for power
What are the power struggles like in your relationship? While we all take a little while to find the balance, the same can’t be said in a bad relationship. Instead of finding the middle ground, we very often end up in little skirmishes as both of us try to take power in a partnership we don’t understand. Compassion and mutual interests get dropped to the wayside in the name of resentment and conflict. If oppositional thinking becomes the norm, your connection is heading for disaster.
Taking the chance to cheat
Is your partner or spouse a chronic cheater? Is this outside of the commitment you made to one another? Endless infidelity is disrespectful. It’s mean, and it’s a demonstration of poor judgement and low self-esteem. Worse than that, it doesn’t honor you and the value you bring to your partnership. If you want a partner who’s there only for you — a relationship with faithlessness is a bad choice every time.
Misaligned core needs
What do you need from your relationship? What does your partner need? Are one of you getting everything that you want? No? Are you getting your top prioritized needs met? If the answer is still “no” you have a problem. Relationships are partnerships. And in partnerships, we are giving-and-getting in a loving and reciprocal way. When you have totally different needs, you struggle to understand one another. And you struggle to get on the same page.
Emotionally unavailable people can be mysterious and alluring. They keep us at arm’s length, even when they let us in. They’re a particular challenge for those with insecure attachment, who can find themselves going into a state of fawning and chasing. The more you chase an emotionally detached person, however, the more they run away from you. As far in as you go, they are never really there.
Manipulation and coercion are never okay and always indicate a relationship that needs a serious second look. Does your partner use your emotions against you? Do they use their own volatile emotional states to force you into a corner? What about throwing a fit any time they ask for something you’re not willing to give? No matter how much you love someone, they shouldn’t have the power (or the desire) to manipulate your behaviors and beliefs.
Outright abuse — be it physical, mental, emotional, sexual, financial, or material — is always, always, always a sign of a bad relationship. Partners shouldn’t make you feel small or insignificant. We shouldn’t live in fear of the way we look, the things we do, or the people we bring into our lives. If your partner abuses you, in any way, it’s important to consider making a safety plan and getting out.
Totally different futures
Do you and your partner have totally different visions of the future? Not every “bad” relationship needs to be explosive or abusive. They can also be grossly mismatched, especially when it comes to major life goals. Maybe you want a family and they’ve been sterilized. Or perhaps they’re ready to see the world, and you’re ready to settle down. Big picture visions have to be in-sync when we build our lives together or it will all break down.
You don't need permission to leave.
It’s okay for you to leave your relationship at any point. You can walk away in the early days. You can decide to end things after decades of commitment. There’s no right or wrong time. There’s no right or wrong reason. If you’re unhappy, then you have to be honest. You have a right to be happy and free of abuse and relationship misery. If your partner is putting you down or detracting from the quality of your life, it may be the right time to leave.
1. You have a right to be happy (on your terms)
Most people stay in terrible relationships because they simply don’t realize there’s another choice. They have low self-esteem and outdated beliefs. They come to think that a toxic or abusive partner is all that they deserve. But that is far from the truth. You don’t have to earn the right to be loved and valued. It’s inherently part of your human journey and your place in society.
You have a right to be happy, on your own terms. There’s no addendum to that. No secret small print. Because you are alive and a good person, you deserve to have a life that is filled with peace and love. That happy vision of a caring partner who shows up and shows out for you? It can be a reality. It should be a reality.
Getting there requires you to believe that first, however. It’s the primary principle that will allow you to leave, but that door can’t open until you reach for the handle. You must find the courage to believe it in your heart. Then, you have to follow through this new belief with action. Being happy on your own terms is your birthright. And it’s within your reach, too. All it requires is that you shed expectations and redefine the way you imagine yourself and your life. Small ask, right? You’ve got plenty of time to get there.
2. You’re giving away valuable space
Spending your energies catering to the wrong person ensures there’s no room left for the right person to come in. It’s a high form of self-sabotage, and an insidious one at that. When you cling to a relationship that isn’t giving you what you wanted, you prevent yourself from finding that person who is capable of those things. While hard, the best thing you can do is free yourself to find and experience the things you truly crave.
You’re giving away valuable space in your life when you hold on to a toxic or unfulfilling relationship. The right partner is out there, but they can’t come into your life when your focus and your energy is all directed at someone else. They’ll continue to pass you by until you do the right thing.
At some point, you have to take action if you want to get the love you really deserve. That means standing up for your true happiness and the ideal relationship that is still within your reach. It’s a simple matter of cost and reward. Holding on to this tired, toxic, and terrible partnership is going to cost you energy, time, money, and love. Take the leap and leaving it behind, though? It could bring with it the chance of the greatest reward you could imagine. A chance at the right relationship and true love.
3. You’re teaching your children toxic lessons
Are you a mother or a father? Do you have young children (or even older children) who are learning how to navigate life and relationships of their own? The relationship decisions you make today are the foundations of the partnerships they will build for themselves tomorrow. They will settle for the things you settle for and strive for the things you strive for. So you have to ask yourself — what lessons am I leaving them with?
If you have children (of any age) then you must consider the lessons that you’re teaching them. No matter what you say to them, your behavior is what they will internalize. Words can be lies, but your choices show who you really are. And kids know that. When you stick around, you teach them to do the same.
Is that what you want for them? Is that what you want for their children? Sometimes, the painful action in your life is the life-changing lesson in theirs. Teach them how to be the strong and independent person you want them to be by doing the right thing by yourself first. Protect yourself (and them) from your toxic relationship. Take steps to create your independence and stand strong in your skills and your vision. You can survive on your own, and your children will thank you for empowering them to do the same one day.
Putting it all together…
Are you in a bad relationship? A lot of things can make up a poor relationship with different people. For some, it’s infidelity and outright abuse. For others, it’s simple lack of fulfillment and natural growth. In every case, holding on to these poor relationships prevents us from getting where we want to be in love. True connection requires partners who honor us, but getting there requires we honor ourselves first. Know you have a right to be happy and stop allowing the abuse to take up so much space in your life. If you’re in a bad relationship, then this is the sign you’ve been waiting for. It’s time to find your courage and take that leap of faith in self, in love, and everything good that comes with it.
- Aykutoğlu, B., & Uysal, A. (2017). The Relationship between Intimacy Change and Passion: A Dyadic Diary Study. Frontiers In Psychology, 8. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.02257