Sound Advice on Ending Unhealthy Relationships

Updated September 26, 2018
unhealthy relationship

Everyone deserves a loving and healthy relationship and no one deserves to suffer in an unhealthy one. Some relationships benefit from counseling, while others are merely the product of two people who have grown in divergent ways. The worst of the unhealthy relationships are abusive and while you cannot change your partner, you can make the decision to change yourself and end the relationship.

How to End an Unhealthy Relationship

Ending any relationship can bring with it some anxiety. It's a scary proposition, particularly if you live together. Stay strong and make a plan for what you will say and do whether it is your partner moving out or you.

Step 1: Declare Your Intentions Clearly

Be honest with your partner. Tell them you are ending it. If you dance around your intention with vague statements like, "Maybe we need a little break," you might give them the impression that there's some wiggle room to stay together. Instead, a simple, "We are breaking up today" or "I'm leaving you and it's over" is a better choice.

Step 2: Consider Your Safety

If the relationship is unhealthy because of abuse or because you feel threatened by the other person, plan beforehand accordingly to ensure your own safety. Avoid breaking up with them alone if you're afraid of the threat of violence or an explosive reaction. Choose a public place with a modicum of privacy. Also, let your friends or family know where you're going to be for the breakup.

Step 3: Stay Firm and Enlist Help

There's a good chance your mutual friends will think they're doing you both a favor by trying to get the two of you back together. Firmly insist that your friends don't try to get the two of you back in the same room together. You don't have to spill all the dirty laundry about your relationship or bad-talk your ex, but you do have to be firm with your friends and ask them to help you by not trying to get the two of you back together.

Step 4: Stay Vigilant Post-Break Up

If your ex tries to pursue you after you end things, don't meet with them alone to "hear them out." You know your ex well, and if your intuition warns you that something's not right, you should listen. Letting your guard down and thinking your ex has changed can open the window to further abuse or toxicity.

Step 5: Take Legal Action

If your ex threatens you or won't leave you alone you may want to speak with law enforcement to see if a restraining order or other legal action is merited. Your safety is a top priority so don't worry that you're overreacting if you know deep down that you're in danger.

It's Not Easy

Ending a bad relationship is far from simple. You may already know your relationship isn't the best it could be, and maybe you've already decided that your only option is breaking up. However, it's a lot harder than it looks. Not only do you need to inform your partner, but you also must face the reality of ending the relationship for yourself.

Who Will Take Care of Them?

In unhealthy relationships, the person who suffers is the one who worries about their partner, constantly trying to be there for them despite their pain, loneliness, and anxiety. You know that you're not happy, but you are concerned about what will happen to your partner if you leave.

Relationship expert Lori Gorshow says in these situations, the person often feels like, "They love taking care of their partner. Perhaps it gives them a sense of feeling loved by being needed. This is not a reason to move in with the person, nor is it a mature long-lasting type of love. It would be a good idea to explore why they'd be willing to settle for a love which leaves them feeling insecure."

Break Ups Hurt

Break Ups Hurt

Even when you're the one choosing to end the relationship, and even if the relationship is fairly casual, you will feel pain, regret, and concern. The first step to coping and processing through these emotions is to understand why you have to experience them even when you know this is the best decision for you.

  • Your partner is likely a huge part of your life
  • You may have forgotten what it is like to be single, and you need to relearn
  • You miss your partner, the good and the bad
  • You need time to grieve
  • Your grief is real

No matter what your relationship was like, feeling grief is normal and it's important that you let yourself feel that way. Do not get angry with yourself or frustrated. Reach out to friends and family for support, but do not allow them to judge you. If you are experiencing real fear over ending the relationship because you don't know what your partner will do, you will need your support structure in place. Talking to a professional or to your best friend or even your parent can help you work through the gamut of emotions. Write down all the reasons you chose to end the relationship and keep the list close to remind yourself in those lonelier moments when you consider returning to that unhealthy relationship.

Yes, You Will Consider Returning

Many cultures blame women for returning to unhealthy relationships. Even if the relationship you left was abusive, missing your partner can be a powerful motivator to reach out and reconnect. It can also make you rethink why you left or wanted to end it, these are normal feelings and thoughts. A little time and loneliness can also make you think that maybe it wasn't as bad as you made it out to be. The key here is to review the list you made for why you needed to end the relationship and what, if anything, has really changed.

Gorshow suggests remembering that, "... love comes in many different packages. There is the love friends share, the love between a parent and a child, and the love between lovers. The last type of love is the romantic kind. It's the chemistry we read about, and although we sometimes find it difficult to explain, we recognize this kind of love when we see it. Mature love makes you feel secure and accepted for who you are. This is the kind of love where you consider moving in with someone special."

My Friend Is in a Bad Relationship

It is often easier to see how bad a relationship is from the outside. However, if your friend doesn't see it that way, the best thing you can do is be supportive and let them know you care. The only person who can end the unhealthy relationship is the one in it.


  • Listen to them
  • Keep their confidence
  • Let them know you're concerned, but don't judge
  • Never share what others have told you about the relationship, only the incidents you have witnessed
  • Don't interfere or attack their partner physically or verbally
  • If you witness physical abuse, call the police
  • Let them know about others who can help them whether it's a hotline, a counselor or a parent
  • Be ready to support their decision if/when they decide to end it
  • Do help them plan


  • Ask a lot of questions and demand they defend their choice
  • Give them an ultimatum
  • Shame them or make them feel stupid

Relationships Begin and End With Two People

Everyone in the relationship has to be responsible for themselves and their happiness. You cannot force someone to be happy; you can only work on your own happiness. If you are miserable or afraid in your relationship, then it is time to end it.

Sound Advice on Ending Unhealthy Relationships