I shouldn’t leave He’ll change I’ll change

The Overtake's new sex and relationships columnist Hattie Gladwell dissects why toxic relationships are so hard to leave

2nd May 2019

I was in a toxic relationship for five years. It started right from the beginning, with my ex chatting to people behind my back — but I ended up forgiving him. However, the level of trust it ruined and the amount of insecurity it brought to the surface meant our relationship was never the same again.

The missing trust wasn’t the only “toxic” part. It’s everything else that came with it. We would constantly fight. We became distant. We stopped spending time together. We stopped going out. And, if you read my last column, you’ll know we stopped having sex.

My friends and family would tell me to leave; that it wasn’t healthy and it was ruining my mental health. And they were right. But I couldn’t find it within myself to leave. I constantly made excuses, not just for him but for me too.

“I shouldn’t leave; he’ll change. I’ll change.”

“We’ve been together so long — ending it would be throwing everything away, and it would have been a waste of five years.”

“We live together, it’ll be hassle splitting up, and heartbreaking to separate from one another.”

Instead of focusing on ourselves and what was good for us, we stayed together out of habit. We became roommates instead of partners, but it just seemed too difficult and too wasteful to leave.

Not just that, but I still loved him. I loved him despite the fact that the relationship had turned me into somebody I didn’t even recognise anymore and led me to feeling insecure — not just in the relationship but in myself. Was I not attractive enough? Was I not interesting enough? Was I not good enough?

I knew in my heart what was right, but I just couldn’t leave

The lack of sex made me gain weight because I started to comfort eat, and I felt unattractive in myself, which lead to the thoughts of, “Maybe this is as good as it will get for me, because who else is going to want me anyway?”

The lack of love and affection and attention made me believe that I wasn’t worth anyone else’s time, and so I should just stick with what I already had because it was better than being alone, surely.

I knew in my heart what was right, but I just couldn’t leave. I was too attached to the relationship. I was scared to be on my own. It was an entire world I wasn’t ready for.

When you have been in a toxic relationship for a long time, that becomes your life

I know it seems simple enough to leave a toxic relationship, but it really isn’t. It’s not as simple as saying goodbye and walking out of the door. When you have been in a toxic relationship for a long time, that becomes your life — you forget what your life was like without it. You become used to it. You adapt to it.

And though people tell you that you’d be better off alone — happier, freer, able to be yourself and make yourself happy for nobody but you — it’s hard to believe it, because you’ve become so used to feeling low in your relationship, you believe being alone would be even worse.

It’s important to tell friends that you’ll be there for them when they leave a toxic relationship and they won’t be alone

It’s almost like you become scared to be without the person who is bringing you down, because you’ve put up with it for so long that you believe that’s all you deserve.

How are you meant to thrive alone when you don’t know who you are anymore?

Sure, you can have a chat with your friends, they can tell you what’s best for you and you might even agree — but when it comes to sitting down and actually ending things, it is scary.

I know people have it worse. Some people experience sexual, physical and emotional abuse in a relationship, and for them it can be terrifying to leave for plenty of reasons. But toxicity comes in many forms and even when you are not being forced to stay with someone because otherwise you’d be in danger from them, you still feel as though you would be lost without them. Because you’ve already lost yourself.

It’s easy to tell someone to leave but when that person has lost a sense of who they are and everything they know is in the person who brings them down, the idea of walking away is overwhelming.

It’s important to be there for your friends, especially if you know they are in a toxic relationship

How are you meant to thrive alone when you don’t know who you are anymore? When you’ve lost all self-belief and believe you are not worthy of anyone else or your own self? When the person you’ve been with so long has changed you into someone who is scared to be independent, even if it means the potential of being happier?

It’s important to be there for your friends, especially if you know they are in a toxic relationship. Do sit down with them and tell them it is not healthy. Do sit down with them and tell them that they would be better off out of the relationship, and make sure that they know they won’t be alone.

But please don’t get mad at them if it takes them a while, if they can’t leave on the first or even the tenth try. Because leaving a toxic relationship is one of the biggest steps a person can make.

Once you leave, you’ll never look back

It’s saying goodbye to someone you were so invested in that you stopped knowing yourself completely. It’s saying hello to a life where you have to learn to be alone all over again, when you’re filled with self-doubt and insecurity. So be understanding, and continue to support them.

It’s hard, and I know this first hand. Getting out of my toxic relationship has been life-changing for me and, yes, I wish it had happened sooner. It was scary — absolutely petrifying, in fact. But over time I have learned to love myself all over again, and most importantly, I respect myself enough to realise that I can be alone and I will never, ever allow myself to feel as horrendous as I did in a toxic relationship.

And to those who are still in a toxic relationship, I promise you that if you do decide to leave — and it is totally up to you when you feel ready to do so — it is okay. You will be okay. It’s scary, yes, but once you leave, you’ll never look back.

2nd May 2019