How To Know When Toxic Relationships Must End
Updated: Apr 29
It doesn't matter how much you love someone, when God is ready for them to leave your life, there's nothing you can do.
Losing people is hard. I'm not talking about people dying either. Death makes sense. We live and we die. It has to happen, right? But when the curtain comes down on a relationship you've held on to, probably longer than you should have, it's a different kind of pain.
This person could have ruined your credit, blacked your eye, and spoiled the endings to every one of the highly anticipated movies on your Blockbuster list, but when they're gone there's an ache that lingers like a paper cut that you forgot you had, until hand sanitizer reminded you. DANG that crap hurts.
Why do emotions betray us this way? Logically we know we haven't been happy. We've learned to expect their negativity. And the excitement of being around them is likened to a kid going to the dentist; you know it's going to suck, but at least you'll get a sticker or something. Yaye.
Perhaps it's because we think that loving them will be enough to make them see themselves for who they really are and how they treat people. If we show them what love is, if we make them feel what love feels like, maybe something in their brain will click and register that they aren't matching that same energy.
Maybe if we show them how willing we are to suffer through the phases of them running repeatedly into brick walls, just maybe they will see how loyal of a friend we are and recognize that we are the best personal security systems they've ever had. Maybe they'll stop running face first into the same brick wall.
In my years of walking the earth, I can tell you that no amount of self-sacrifice or slathering of love and attention on someone will ever get them to change behaviors that they don't think need to be changed.
How do I know? I've been in 20+ year long relationships that ended. Oh, but how hard I fought to keep those relationships alive. It just wasn't meant to happen. God had other plans.
I'll start by saying that I am human.
Though I love all things bright and colorful, I believe glitter makes everything better, and I fashion myself everyone's big sister and budget life coach, I make mistakes. I flat out jack things up sometimes. And I fully believe that there is a level of personal accountability that comes with every action and decision we make.
My failed relationships are no exception.
Although I recognize my shortcomings, I also recognize that I'm an honest, loyal, and supportive friend. Anyone off the street can tell you that I'm occasionally moody and rarely want to deal with people outside of my circle but again, honest in that I can tell you that, loyal in that I am down with my crew, and supportive.
If you want to build a museum based on art created from your old chewing gum and shoe laces, you can count on me to not only show up, but I'll help you design the flyer, come two hours early to help set up, be your photographer and videographer, and I'd LOVE it, because I like to support my friends dreams.
That's just who I am. It's how I show the people I love that I'm invested.
Do I require that same level of energy from the people in my life? It's nice when I get it, but no. I learned the hard way that everyone isn't like me and it's unfair to have that expectation of people. Instead, I've learned to recognize the beauty and uniqueness of my relationships and appreciate them for what they uniquely bring into my life.
Relationships are not created equal, and so they shouldn't be treated as though they are all supposed to be the same.
For example, certain friends will probably never read my stories, but if I had an event they'd be there front and center smiling like a cheshire cats with a bar tab a mile long. Then others will send me a 2 am. SOS text threatening to call my husband and drive 40 minutes to my house and bang on my door because they hadn't heard from me in days.
My only expectations of people is that they will consistently be who they naturally are. These relationships are valued and special to me.
Although I've learned to manage my relationship expectations, there have been instances where people weren't keen on managing their expectations of me. After months, sometimes years, of my anxiety and depression worsening, from trying to reach unattainable standards, those relationships ended. It hurt, but the relief that came after was welcomed and refreshing.
When did I know it was time to walk away from these toxic relationships? How did God show me when these relationships had come to an end?
Here are 5 indicators that my relationships needed to end. What I experienced during my relationship transitions should be viewed as warning signs. They may help you recognize when it's time for you to make the necessary but tough decision to walk away from a toxic relationship too.
1. You have to pump yourself up to be around them.
Honest moment; I almost never want to do anything or go anywhere where I'm required to be social. As much as people consider me as extroverted, I have always been selectively social.
As a child I'd catch my mom off guard when I'd walk up to her and say, "Say no". Perplexed, she'd question my motives. I'd just ask her again to, "Just say, no." She'd oblige and I'd be off to continue the conversation with whomever invited me to whatever social event I didn't want to go to and say to them, "Oh, my mom said no. I can't go." My escape tactic was genius, and technically I didn't lie.
I regret nothing.
As an adult the desire to use my mom as an excuse to turn down invitations still rears its head. And to be honest, since I've been married I've definitely used the excuse, "We have plans that day".
**If you know me and you're reading this, I likely didn't use this tactic on you. OK, maybe I did. Once.**
But again, I REGRET NOTHING.
It's not as often now, but I realize that when that urge hits, it's usually a situation where I should be brave enough to decline the invite on the grounds that I am a grown woman who should be able to say no. But it's not always that easy when you know that saying no could lead to guilt trips, conversations of "you never want to do anything I want to do", or attitudes that you're certain will last for days on end.
If you're like me, and you don't want to hurt people's feelings or deal with the drama, you tend to pump yourself up to and go to events you know you have no business being at.
Realizing that you have to pump yourself up all the time sucks. Sure, no one wants to go to work on Mondays, and reunions can be stressful but are fun once you get there; both are instances where it may be normal to blast that hype playlist and pound down coffee. But generally you shouldn't have to put yourself through a mental gauntlet to be in someone else's company.
This is also where bad habits form, such as the dependency on substances to make the event more tolerable. If you can't be sober and have a good time, it's not really a good time. Also, it's not healthy.
2. When your "fun time" is over, you're mentally drained or need to debrief.
Relationships are hard work. It's unrealistic to expect that every second spent together will be like a Hallmark holiday movie. When you're dedicated to a relationship it sometimes takes you through the mud (but in a reciprocal and supportive kind of way). Reciprocity is key. When I cry, you cry, we cry together. [Shout out to Lil’ Mo and the O'Jays]
When the night ends and you're exhausted to tears because you can't understand why [insert name here] keeps doing [insert random foolishness here] though you've tried your hardest to help them, or you find yourself in therapy discussing the effects of their poor decisions on your life. Houston, we have a problem.
Feelings of embarrassment and shame aren't how you want to end a night. If this is a frequent occurrence, dust off that journal that's been hiding under your bed and do some personal emotional research.
Have you documented similar feelings in the past? Are you noticing any behavioral patterns? Does it seem like the words you wrote three years ago were written after your latest fiasco? If so, take note and act accordingly.
3. They don't take an interest in what brings you comfort or joy.
Everyone won't be happy for you, so don't expect it. But, your friends and kinfolk will be. Genuinely.
I've been in relationships where people think that because they are physically present that they are being supportive. While one's presence is not to be taken for granted, I'd much appreciate being in the company of someone who actually wants to be there. That means when I'm hosting an event and look out at a crowd of people, I'm greeted with warmness and kind dispositions; especially when the event is free. I mean... come on.
When sharing an idea that God has put on my spirit, I'd appreciate it if the person I'm sharing my revelation with is at least mildly interested and doesn't question how they will be negatively affected.
The pain of not being able to share your happiness with someone you love is heartbreaking.
When you realize you can't share your joy, you may find yourself keeping it to yourself. And there's nothing wrong with holding your joy close. It's YOUR joy after all, and these days joy is a commodity. Protect it at all cost and share it with those who will share in it with you.
Reason 456 why the internet will never know certain things about my life. I'm protecting my joy.
4. Conversations are based on their wants, needs, and desires and do not adequately include yours.
Have you ever answered a phone call and the first thing out of their mouths was a rambling of their whole life story? Skip the pleasantries. Just bulldozed ahead into heavy or stress provoking conversations? It's rude, right? Well, it's happened a lot to me, and it typically happened in the early morning hours, pre-coffee while sitting in rush hour traffic.
For this reason, I have a strict no nonsense before 9 o'clock rule. I won't call you with it, please don't call me.
But some people don't respect boundaries. Instead, they believe that they've reached a level in the relationship where boundaries should not exist.
Boundaries exists to keep us physically and emotionally safe. They should exist for every relationship. If someone cannot accept your boundaries, they are not respecting your humanity.
I don't always do a great job at enforcing boundaries. But what I've learned is that the people closest to me understand what they are without me having to become a boundaries drill sergeant. They know what makes me uncomfortable and never intentionally put me in tense situations.
Some people base the value of friendship on seeing how others will step outside of their norm to prove their loyalty to the relationship. This is not friendship. Some would argue that this abusive behavior.
Healthy relationships don't need to be tested.
You know a healthy relationship by the positive impact it leaves on your life. If you feel that you have to test it, you're either dealing with past trauma leading to trust issues; which you should take time to heal from; or this could be a sign that you constantly need to validate your relationship because you aren't readily seeing its value, and perhaps need to let the relationship go.
5. You spend a lot of time worrying that they're angry with you.
There was a time when if I missed a phone call I'd panic. If I looked at my phone and saw that I had unread text messages I'd drop what I was doing to make sure the person was alright. I'd step away from romantic dinners with my husband. I'd leave the room to have conversations in the midst of movie night. All because I was afraid that if I didn't respond that I'd be viewed as unhelpful and unsupportive.
Back then I didn't realize I was doing this. I hadn't realized how my obsessive need to be available in case of an emergency, was impacting other relationships that I cared about. And I didn't realize my kindness was taken for granted, and I was being taken advantage of.
When I realized that I had deprived other relationships of the attention and care that they much deserved, I was devastated. I put the needs of one person over the needs of others. Most importantly, I put someone else's needs over my own.
I developed a mild case of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
All because I didn't want one person to be angry with me. I didn't want to be accused of being neglectful. I didn't want them to need me and I not show up for them. There was a sense of responsibility that had been placed on me to be helpful even when I wasn't strong enough to help myself. Sure, they seemed to care about my well-being. They said all the right things, they appeared understanding, but it always came with a price. I had to pay the emotional toll.
I take responsibility for this as well.
As I mentioned, I am not always good at enforcing boundaries. This is something that I still struggle with, but I'm learning. But when someone berates you for not acting in the manner that they want you to by saying, "I do things for you that you won't do for me", it's a sign that they're more concerned with how you are meeting their needs and evidence that they may have an inflated view of their participation in the relationship. If you're unable to talk this through to a resolution, it's not a healthy relationship.
Relationships are best when there's a reciprocal meeting of needs and desires. Reciprocity does not mean keeping score of who does what, when, how, and why. When you're in a positive and healthy relationship there's no need to keep score. You're too focused on being amongst good company and having new experiences together.
You don't have to worry about being coaxed into positions that violate your morals, boundaries, or are unsafe. And they should be able to share in your happiness with you and vice versa.
It's taken me several broken hearts, loss family connections, and terminated friendships to learn that relationships worth having don't hurt you. Everything isn't meadow flowers and cinnamon rolls all the time, but hurt isn't a feeling that should come naturally when you're voluntarily in the company of others.
If a person or environment puts you in distress, let it go. It's time.
Stay tuned for part 2 where I'll share my most valuable qualities to look for in relationships. The story will be packed with funny memories and helpful info.
Thanks for reading. I hope this helps someone.