It has been almost two years since I ended my last long-term relationship. It seems so strange that we have now been apart longer than we were together.
When it began, I thought I had finally found my person. I soon experienced anxiety and doubt after many red flags started to surface. I had longed to love and share my life with someone and I settled for a toxic relationship for almost a year.
I knew it wasn’t supposed to feel this way, but it seemed too sad and hard to leave. I didn’t know how to let it go.
When I finally allowed myself to accept that I needed to end things, I was devastated, despite knowing it was the best decision. I remember getting up the next day and wondering how I would ever feel okay again. There wasn’t a sense of relief, only pain.
I felt guilty for hurting him and leaving him. I worried that I had walked away from the only person who had ever really loved me like that and was convinced I would never be in a relationship again. I was proud of myself for finally listening to my intuition and removing myself from a bad situation, but that was barely a salve for my broken heart.
The tricky thing about toxic relationships is that despite all the bad, there is goodness. It might only be in the beginning of the relationship. Or it might be part of the balance of bad times and breadcrumbs of love to keep you around. However, no matter how small, there is something that made you fall in love in the first place. I think back to our beginning and yes, there were definite issues I was ignoring, but there was also tenderness and fun. There was the comfort of hearing “I love you” every day and the illusion of a better future for us both.
These good times, no matter how few and far between, made breaking off my toxic relationship all the more difficult.
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Now, two years later, I have the distance and healing to see that I still had so much work to do. I still held very limiting beliefs about my worth, especially in a love relationship. I was still unpacking and healing from family issues and learning how to have a voice in relationships of any kind.
Part of the pain I felt was not believing there would ever be anyone else. I beat myself up for weeks because I was convinced that toxic love was probably the best love I’d be offered. I felt at the time that I had come so far in my self-love journey, but I know now, I still had a long way to go. Finding the courage to end it was the first page of the next chapter in my ability to love myself and others in healthy ways.
When it first ended, I asked for space. He wanted us to get back together within a couple of weeks. While I knew in my heart it had to be a break-up, he saw it as a short separation. I didn’t have the strength to say otherwise at first. I did still love him, even though I knew I had made the right choice and that love clouded things.
I didn’t feel relief at first, but as the days turned into weeks, I started to feel more resolved. I missed him, but I didn’t miss the chaos, doubt, and anxiety I had felt every day.
After about a month, I asked if I could come get my things. He was angry and canceled plans multiple times, not unlike when we were together. However, this time, I was able to see his actions without the rose-colored glasses of someone trying to save a broken relationship. I felt disrespected, and that further fueled my resolution that we were better off apart.
For quite some time I hoped we could be friends. We couldn’t. I tried many times, but it would always dissolve into shenanigans. He would proposition me for sex or try to manipulate me. I was not invested in keeping him happy anymore, so eventually I realized I needed to refocus again on my own healing and leave it alone. I felt guilt in blocking him out of my life, but it was what needed to happen.
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The silver lining of leaving my toxic relationship was the lessons I learned about myself and love. I realized I’m worthy of more than I was offered and more than I settled for.
No relationship is perfect, but a healthy relationship should involve mutual respect, honest communication, and commitment to growth. When I removed myself from the toxicity of that relationship, I was free to reset my relationship with myself. I was able to provide love and comfort to my brokenness, surround myself with love from friends, and analyze what I wanted from a relationship in the future.
I am grateful for the pain I experienced because it taught me what I never want to experience again.
I am now in a loving relationship with a wonderful partner. I am encouraged about our future together, but I know I’m strong enough to walk away if we aren’t giving or getting what we need to grow in love.
I have grown in so many ways since the breakup, but one major way is having found the security in myself to be honest about what I am feeling in real time. If my partner and I have a disagreement or I feel off about anything, I say something. I am not afraid of the fallout for speaking my truth. We are able to discuss it without blame or shame. We care for each other enough to assume good intentions and understand we sometimes perceive things differently because of our own histories. I am so grateful that we have both agreed to try our best, and we both work to make the other feel loved. It isn’t one-sided — neither of us is playing games and we both are willing to own our part and apologize if need be.
I am able to love better because of my toxic relationship. It helped me do the work my heart needed.
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