5 Steps To Take If You're In A Seriously Unhealthy Relationship

Nothing lasts forever, especially in unhealthy relationships. It's time to walk away for good.


Things inevitably go sour in relationships, sometimes during an argument, and sometimes just for a day, a week, and sometimes for longer. Try as you might to implement tips and tricks from the "better your relationship" trade from self help books, talk shows, seeing a couples therapist, and recommendations from friends and family, things may not seem to improve.

How do you know when to say when? As therapists, we cannot tell you to leave your relationship or stay, or what to do or say; we can only guide you to help you make a clear cut decision. Sometimes, the answer is not so clear. You committed—maybe it was a "till death do us part" agreement, signing a lease together, having a child, buying a car, starting a business—the list of ways in which we unite with one another is endless.


I am huge fan of impermanence, or at least I have been. Impermanence is the idea that nothing lasts forever; even this moment is fleeting, as are our feelings, our material belongings, and so on. Impermanence reminds us that clinging to something (or someone, for that matter) is typically for naught.

At some point, everyone has to let go. This is great in theory, but in everyday practice it is not so easy. On the flip side, we build things with and around people, families, lives, and careers. Our identity becomes tied into these worlds. It is not so easy to just let go.

So, how do we know when to say when? How do we know when it is truly time to walk away from a relationship? We may have learned from our family that loss is too easy, so as adults we cling harder. We may have learned to live with neglect, abuse, fighting, or anxiety, so when it happens in our adult lives it feels familiar. We don't believe we can have something different or something better. How would we know what that looks like? How would we cultivate it? How would we even go about living in a way that is totally foreign to us?


This is where choice comes in. As adults, we can point out all the things that were remiss in our childhoods, things that were so terrible we would never inflict them on our children. The irony is this: we tell ourselves, "I would never let my children go through what I go through," but we persist with our own patterns instead.

We choose partners with behaviors that mimic our own family or origin, and without even knowing it, we perpetuate it with our own behaviors, reactions and responses. We work harder to make our adult lives look totally different than our childhood, but underneath all the same mechanisms are there.

So, we continue to stay in unhealthy, broken, dysfunctional relationships and patterns, even though we know in our hearts it doesn't feel right.

So when do we say when? Ultimately, we have to decide what is unacceptable.


Unfortunately, what we resist persists, and the very thing that you wanted to avoid is somehow being recreated. If you are feeling any discomfort in your current situation—anxiety, sadness, fear, anger, rage, depression, or even apathy—here is what I recommend:

  1. Try to remember old feelings. Go back to your childhood and make notes about the things you didn't like. Pay special attention to the feelings that came up. Were they fear, anger, sadness, anxiety, a desire to be accepted, loved? What were they? Write thoses feelings down.
  2. Write down the feelings you would rather have. Think long and hard about your desired feelings. 
  3. Write down your feelings today. Your current feelings are very key to showing how are you recreating the past in your current situation. For example, for every uncomfortable feeling that comes up today, ask yourself this question: "How old is this feeling?" If the feeling feels old and familiar, like you've been doing it for years, this is key to understanding that you are living in a situation and perpetuating old patterns.
  4. Make note of current situations that bring up the same feelings. What are the situations that are bringing up these feelings?
  5. Ask yourself the question: "What do you hope to get out of these situations and relationships that bring up these feelings?" We often stay in relationships and situations that are uncomfortable, unhealthy and unfavorable to us because we think if we can get it right this time, it will redeem us. But, it doesn't; the old injustices often continue to plague us despite having a better experience this time around. And, chances are, the situation won't change unless you do

You may have a moral value that suggests you stay and see this relationship through. You may know this isn't working, but tell yourself you are going to stop trying to force it. Either way, if we wait long enough, things may work themselves out, either by getting better or ending.

Or, we can take steps to change our current situation, which is scary and requires you to face up to some very hard things. Neither are easy, and no one said it would be. Neither are right or wrong. It is about what is right or wrong for you. But, deciding what you are willing to tolerate, and knowing why you are willing to tolerate it, cannot be liberating and the impetus for your most profound growth. Ultimately, of course, the choice to continue on as things are—or to change—is up to you.

Moushumi Ghose is a sex therapist and musician. Check out her webseries: The Sex Talk