Every single one of us has tumbled our way through a terrible relationship. We know what it means to feel upset, unloved, resentful, or heartbroken. The dreams we build come crashing down around us. The people we choose to love aren’t always the people who can make it through life with us.
Being in a bad relationship doesn’t have to mean chaos. It doesn’t have to be a “death” and it doesn’t have to equal total destruction of everything we know. Even when we are in the midst of terrible partnerships, we can make the choice to act as adults — and to deliver the ending with the respect we couldn’t muster in our love life.
Are you on the way out of a bad relationship? Take heart and look to the future. By setting some ground rules, you and your soon-to-be ex can make the most of the bond that just wasn’t meant to be.
The mutual ground rules for leaving a bad relationship.
If you and your partner have decided that things are a bad fit, then you need to work as a team to unravel the life you’ve built together. Grown enough to form the relationship, you’re both grown enough to handle this transition as adults. Follow these ground rules and apply them to every relationship moving forward. Just because the relationship was bad doesn’t mean that the ending has to be bad too. Go out the way you want to be remembered.
Compromise over conflict
The end of a relationship is sad. You must say goodbye to a lot of your goals, and your dreams as you envisioned them. It’s a big change, and it brings with it a lot of complex and heavy emotions. Both of you will probably want to lash out and hurt the other person, but that’s pointless.
If the relationship has come to an end and you’ve both quit, then there’s no reason to invest in the high-emotion conflict anymore. It will not solve things, and it’s not to bring either of you the resolutions you want.
That’s why you both must seek to choose compromise everywhere you can. If there’s no point in fighting about it, then resign and find some way to make the best out of an unpleasant situation. Meet in the middle, as much as possible, and if you can’t do that, involve a third party who can help broker that compromise.
Physical touch is off limits
Perhaps the most important ground rule we can set during a breakup is that physical touch is off limits. This works for a couple of reasons and across a couple of planes. First, it prevents terrifying conflict. But it also prevents serious backslides and falling back into comfortable patterns.
Both of you need to keep your hands off of one another. Inflicting physical pain won’t resolve the emotional pain you’re both in. Neither will crawling back into bed with one another. If you’ve called it quits, then ties need to be severed. Get distance from one another in every way that you can (including in the physical plane).
Don’t beat the dead horse
As we phase out of our old relationships and into a new chapter of our lives, we can be tempted to hammer home the point and say all the things we’ve been holding back. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always give us the feel-good resolution we think we’re going to get. In truth, it’s sometimes better to hold our silence and just move on.
Don’t beat a dead horse. You’re not magically going to get your partner to changenow that it’s over. Fighting with them, blaming them, reminding them of all the things they got wrong? All of that is only going to land both of you in a place of more resentment and upset. So avoid the trap altogether. Weigh your words and determine what’s really saying and what doesn’t matter anymore.
Go out like you came in
Think back to the early days of your relationship (when times were still good). Do you remember those butterflies? How desperate you were to get close to your loved one? To learn more about them and their lives? You wanted to make space for them, and they wanted to do the same for you.
It was an ideal moment, and there was a lot of respect and mutual compassion going around. You need to let go of your relationship in this same place of love and respect in order to do so in peace.
Yes, it’s going to be incredibly hard. It may be the hardest part of the process for you. But you both must dig deep and find a desire for the other person to get what they want. That is the true sign of maturity, and of accepting that your relationship is really over. When you no longer want someone in your life, you’re happy for them to find one that makes them happy in turn.
Keep the big distance
As the final days of your relationship come to a close, you and your partner need to make sure that you keep the big emotional space between you. There is going to be a lot of volatility under the surface. One moment you’ll be fine, the next you won’t. The same applies to your partner. Both of you need space to heal in this moment, and to imagine what’s coming next.
Put up the walls, keep it distant, and stop pulling one another into the center of what’s going on. If you can’t be nice during this process, then erase each other and do everything from the greatest distance possible.
Create totally opposite schedules. Communicate via a third party or via email or phone. Do what needs to be done to sever those last ties in as much peace as possible. At some point, both of you have to make the choice to leap and say goodbye to the relationship that’s no longer serving its purpose.
What you should take from this…
When we’re exiting a terrible relationship, things get turbulent. Upset and confused, both parties can lash out at one another and make it hard to communicate or make sense of anything. We can choose a better way, though, by accepting the inevitable and detaching ourselves from the senseless drama that rips most people apart (inside and out).
Exiting your bad relationship? Set some ground rules that you can both respect. We don’t have to battle it out to the death. Accept that it’s not meant to be, and detach yourself from the process emotionally. Look to the future instead and know that everything that comes next has to happen for you to get the happiness you deserve.
Let go in peace. Let go in gratitude. And if you can’t do that, create opposing schedules and get yourselves out of the mess with as much civility, grace, and outside support as you can muster.
No one has to live unhappily beside someone who makes them feel small or unloved. Your ideal partner is out there…and so is the ideal partner of your ex. Both of you can only come to that person when you let go of the past and look toward a better future filled with love, respect, and (most of all) peace.
Boucher, E. (2014). Doubt Begets Doubt: Causal Uncertainty as a Predictor of Relational Uncertainty in Romantic Relationships. Communication Reports, 28(1), 12-23. doi: 10.1080/08934215.2014.902487
© E.B. Johnson 2022