It's often difficult to leave a relationship, even one that's obviously unhealthy. We may have invested so much of ourselves in our partners that it's hard to envision life without them. Maybe low self-esteem tells us that we'll never find something better, or guilt tells us that it's wrong to want something better. It's easy to talk yourself out of the idea of moving on. But in a situation that involves emotional and/ or physical abuse, there's really no choice. The question then becomes not whether to leave, but how to do it.
What exactly constitutes abuse? Once we really get involved with someone, the lines can get blurry. But physical violence, or even the threat of it, is never acceptable. Too often people find ways to tolerate even this level of abuse. They tell themselves that their partners are really good underneath (which may actually even be true), and that they might change in time (which very rarely happens). Usually people in such situations feel, on some level, that they really deserve what's happening to them. Guilt, a sense of responsibility, low self-worth...all of these factors create a sort of invisible glue that makes it really difficult for someone to leave even when the relationship is undoubtedly destructive.
Other forms of abuse may not be so overtly threatening, but they're still hurtful. Belittling remarks, constant criticism, controlling and manipulative behaviors, and emotional coldness might all qualify depending upon the circumstances. But it's up to us to differentiate between behaviors that are just part of the typical challenge of an intimate partnership and ones that are genuinely destructive and therefore not tolerable. If you find yourself even questioning whether or not something is acceptable and appropriate, then it probably isn't – for you. If a relationship doesn't uphold and honor you in any way, then what's the point of staying in it?
If you find yourself in that kind of situation, and somehow can't muster the courage and resolve to leave it, then you may need to reach out for help. This could be help in the form of a temporary band-aid, such as the support of a friend who'll give you a place to stay for a while as you're transitioning out of an unsafe living situation. But you may also want to reach out in a broader way, to seek counseling or some other form of professional help to get to the real underlying reasons why you're drawn into toxic relationships to begin with. Such patterns can be broken. The right therapy can help you to conquer any false guilt that you have around leaving an abusive partnership, and to restore your sense of dignity and self-worth so that you don't fall into similar entanglements in the future.
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