Learn what a toxic love affair is, and how to end a relationship that is destroying your self-esteem and making your life miserable. A reader just asked for help ending a love affair that is toxic for both her and her boyfriend, and the timing couldn’t be better! I’m reading Necessary Endings by Dr Henry Cloud; this book can help you learn how to end a toxic relationship with someone you love but can’t be with.
“You gave good tips for leaving a toxic love affair, but why is it so hard to end it with someone who is bad for you?” asks Missy Jane on 10 Tips for Breaking Free From Toxic Relationships. “I’ve been with my boyfriend for seven long painful years yet I can’t seem to get out of his life. I just keep going back because I miss him and love hime. How do I end a toxic love affair when my whole life has revolved around my boyfriend for so long?”
“Getting to the next level always requires ending something, leaving it behind, and moving on,” writes Dr Henry Cloud in Necessary Endings. “Growth itself demands that we move on. Without the ability to end things, people stay stuck, never becoming who they are meant to be, never accomplishing all that their talents and abilities should afford them.”
Do feel like you’re stuck in a toxic love affair? You know the relationship isn’t good for you – it may even be abusive or destructive – and yet you just can’t seem to let it go and move on. In this post, I’ll share Dr Cloud’s advice on how to end a toxic love affair that isn’t going anywhere. My focus is ending unhealthy relationships so you can make room for fresh growth and a new season in your life.
Dr Cloud’s book is mostly geared towards businesspeople who are running companies and managing employees, but he also shares helpful advice for personal relationships. Here’s what I learned about healthy endings from him, and my own experience letting go of a toxic relationship. First, though, let’s define what a toxic love affair is.
Your life is a rosebush. Your toxic love affair is the thorniest, deadliest, most poisonous life-draining branch of your life. Are you ready to learn what a toxic love affair is, how it’s affecting you and your loved ones, and why you need to end it?
What Is a Toxic Love Affair?
In 10 Warning Signs of a Bad Relationship, I share the most common red flags of unhealthy relationships. A toxic love affair is different. A toxic love affair take an unhealthy relationship one step further because it destroys how you see yourself and how you relate to others.
Toxic love affairs:
- Are characterized by secrets and lies
- Hurt other people
- Don’t change, move forward, or grow in healthy ways
- Aren’t life-giving or inspiring
- Ruin your self-esteem and self-confidence
- Cause relationship rifts between you and your friends and family members
- Negatively affect your professional life (work or school)
- Include elements of verbal, physical, emotional, sexual, or physical abuse
- Drain your energy, waste your time, and poison your dreams
- Destroy your connection with your true self
- Pull you away from healthy relationships and activities in your life
- Drive a wedge between you and God
The most popular example of a toxic love affair is an affair with someone who is married. This is worse than an unhealthy relationship not only because it destroys the vows and promises of marriage, it hurts innocent people – including children.
A Test for Toxic Love Relationships
In Why Can’t You Read My Mind? Overcoming the 9 Toxic Thought Patterns That Get in the Way of a Loving Relationship, Jeffrey Bernstein lists the nine primary toxic thoughts that characterize unhealthy love affairs.
Even though this relationship quiz is not an empirically, validated formal assessment, it will give you a sense of how toxic your love affair is. These are the nine most commonly occurring toxic thoughts.
As you read through the list below, put a mental check mark next to each “toxic thinking pattern” you tend to have towards your partner. You might find it easier to print out this page and get out your pen so you can keep better track your answers.
How many of these toxic thought patterns do you or your partner struggle with?
___The All-or-Nothing Trap: You see your partner as either always doing the wrong thing, or never doing the right thing. (“He always has to be right!”)
___Catastrophic Conclusions: One partner exaggerates negative actions and events concerning the other partner. (“She bounced that check and now we are definitely heading to the poor house!”)
___The “Should” Bomb: One partner assumes the other will meet one or more of his or her needs—just because he or she should know that need. (“You should know how much I hate my job, even though I tell everyone what a great opportunity it is.”)
___Label Slinging: You unfairly, and negatively, label your partner and lose sight of his or her positive qualities. (“You are so lazy!”)
___The Blame Game: You unfairly, and irrationally, blame your partner for relationship issues, or bigger issues. (“My life only sucks because of you!”)
___Emotional Short Circuits: Emotional short circuits occur when one partner becomes convinced that his or her partner’s emotions can’t be “handled. (“No one can possibly ever reason with her!”)
___Overactive Imagination: In this case, you reach negative conclusions about your partner that are not based in reality. (“She’s so preoccupied lately; she must be having an affair.”)
___Head Game Gamble: You try to outsmart your partner by erroneously assuming he or she has certain motives. (“He’s only being nice to me because he wants to play golf this weekend.”)
___Disillusionment Doom: This occurs when partners focus on idealized expectations of their partner that are rooted in the past. (“All he does now is worry about his job; he is just like all the other guys who never cared one bit about my needs.”)
“Happy, satisfied couples that do not get bogged down in toxic thoughts have a better, more realistic, and healthy way of thinking about each other,” says Dr Bernstein. “It is this way of thinking that enables such couples to improve communication, solve problems, and enhance romance. This true foundation for a happy relationship, this elusive secret to your success, can only be found, or built, in one place — your own mind.”
Since you can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge, your first step is to learn what toxic thoughts are and how they create unhealthy relationships. When did you first start thinking that you’re in a toxic love affair?
If you know what a toxic love affair is because you’re firmly grounded in one, I welcome your perspective in the comments section below. Don’t keep it a secret, because anything you hide has the power to destroy you. You don’t have to share your name or personal details, but you might find that writing about how your love affair has become toxic will help you start the detaching and healing process.
6 Tips on How to End a Toxic Love Affair
“In the personal realm, we can get stuck in situations or relationships that are hurtful, problematic, or toxic and must be ended,” writes Dr Henry Cloud in Necessary Endings. “Or sometimes it is not relationships we need to end but behaviors – destructive patterns and practices that hold us back. In many contexts, until we let go of what is not good, we will never find something that is good. The lesson: good cannot begin until bad ends.”
You can’t create good relationships in your life unless you learn how to end toxic love affairs that hold you back and keep you down.
1. Acknowledge that endings are almost always difficult and painful
Breakups and different types of endings hurt. That’s a life lesson you learned this as a child when you lost your favorite toy, blanket, or person. The simple fact that endings are painful is part of the reason it’s so difficult to end a toxic love affair. We avoid endings because they hurt, and because we haven’t learned how to end relationships in healthy and life-giving ways.
But that doesn’t mean endings are unhealthy or bad. Ending a toxic love affair might be the best thing you could do for yourself and for your partner. This breakup is the end of one season of your life – and the beginning of another, better, healthier, happier season.
“Endings are not only part of life; they are a requirement for living and thriving professionally and personally,” writes Dr Cloud. “Being alive requires that we sometimes kill off things in which we were once invested, uproot what we previously nurtured, and tear down what we built for an earlier time…Endings are crucial, but we rarely like them.”
2. Gain insight about what makes your love affair toxic
If you scroll through the comments in How to Break Up With a Married Man, you’ll not only get an insider’s perspective of one the most common reasons a love affair is toxic, you’ll also see the pain and hopelessness that comes with breaking a marriage vow. Betraying a spouse isn’t the only factor that makes a love affair toxic, but it one of the most typical.
What makes your relationship a toxic love affair? Who is being hurt, and why are you searching for tips on how to end it? Take time to write your answers on paper, or even in the comments section below. Often it’s not until we start writing that our thoughts and emotions become clear. Writing can help you figure out what you really think and need in your life. Writing helps you make decisions and move forward.
3. Learn why you’re avoiding the decision to end your relationship
In Necessary Endings, Dr Cloud shares a valuable list of reasons people avoid endings. If you find yourself reluctant to end a toxic love affair, it may be because:
- You’re afraid of letting go of someone you love
- You aren’t ready to face the sadness associated with a breakup
- You’re afraid of hurting the person you love
- You don’t know what to say or how to break up
- You don’t know if ending this toxic love affair is actually the right decision
- You don’t have the skills to break up with someone you have feelings for
- You haven’t learned from this or past toxic love affairs, and you’re doomed to repeating the same relationship patterns
- You’ve experienced too many breakups and painful endings in your life, and you can’t bring yourself to experience another one
What do you think – why are you reluctant to end this relationship even though you know it’s unhealthy or destructive? Be honest with yourself. If you can acknowledge the truth, you will be one step closer to ending this toxic love affair and starting a new season in your life.
4. Learn what “necessary endings” are
Toxic love affairs are the perfect way to illustrate the importance of necessary, healthy, and good endings. Your toxic relationship is destroying your self-esteem and life in different ways, and you know you need to end it (that’s why you’re here, isn’t it?).
Dr Cloud describes three types of necessary endings in a garden. He uses the analogy of a gardener pruning a rosebush to ensure it grows healthy, strong and beautiful.
Type 1 Endings recognize the limited resources of the rosebush. “The gardener constantly examines the rosebush to see which buds are worthy of the plant’s limited fuel and support, and cuts the others away.” This pruning frees needed resources so the plant can redirect them to the blossoms with the greatest potential to become mature roses – because the rosebush can’t sustain every bud on its branches. To apply this to your relationship: if your life is a rosebush, is your toxic love affair draining necessary resources from your dreams, goals, plans, relationships?
Type 2 Endings involve an honest – perhaps painful – reality check. For a while, the gardener may monitor the sick or diseased branches of the rosebush, perhaps even fertilizing and nurturing them, or otherwise trying to make them healthy. “But at some point, he realizes that more water, more fertilizer, or mare care is just not going to help,” writes Dr Cloud. “For whatever reason, they are not going to recover and become what he needs them to be to create the final picture of beauty he wants for the rosebush and the garden.” In your toxic love affair, are you nurturing empty promises, fruitless wishes, or broken dreams? Learning how to end a relationship that is toxic requires wisdom. You need to recognize that you are pruning the diseased, dead branches from the rosebush of your life.
Type 3 Endings are easiest to see because the buds and branches are dead (typical of toxic love affairs). “To give the healthy blooms and branches room and an unobstructed path to grow, the dead ones are cut away,” writes Dr Cloud in Necessary Endings. “The healthy branches need room to reach their full length and height, but they cannot spread when dead branches force them to bend and turn corners.” To apply this to your toxic relationship: is your love affair clearly dead and life-draining, but you don’t feel strong enough to deal with a breakup?
5. Remember that endings are normal and even good
“Make endings a normal occurrence and a normal part of business and life, instead of seeing it as a problem,” writes Dr Cloud in Necessary Endings. “Then and only then can you align yourself well with endings when they come.”
If you haven’t learned how to bring a professional or personal relationship to a healthy close, read this book. It is valuable resource that will help you learn what you need to give up in order to move forward in your life.
Adopt a fresh mindset and healthier way of being. Know that learning how to end a toxic love affair is normal, expected, and even good for you. This breakup is one of those painful gifts that will set the stage for happiness and hope for your future. This ending will hurt and you will grieve, but you know deep in your heart that this is the best decision you could make for both you and your partner.
6. Look forward even as you’re ending your toxic love affair
This season – this relationship that is unhealthy and destructive – is coming to an end. Do you not perceive it? You know it’s over…but do you believe that a fresh new season of joy, love, and peace is waiting for you? You will blossom, but not until you have pruned this relationship from your life.
There is a right time for every season. Ecclesiastes – one of my favorite books in the Bible – describes the natural cycle of beginnings and endings in life.
There’s a perfect time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth:
A right time for birth and another for death,
A right time to plant and another to reap,
A right time to kill and another to heal,
A right time to destroy and another to construct,
A right time to cry and another to laugh,
A right time to lament and another to cheer,
A right time to make love and another to abstain,
A right time to embrace and another to part,
A right time to search and another to count your losses,
A right time to hold on and another to let go,
A right time to rip out and another to mend,
A right time to shut up and another to speak up,
A right time to love and another to hate,
A right time to wage war and another to make peace.
If you’re reluctant to break off this toxic relationship because of loneliness, read How to Deal With Your Fear of Being Alone.
What do you think of the idea of ending an unhealthy relationship and making room for fresh growth and a new season in your life? While I can’t offer advice on how to end a toxic love affair, I do read every comment. I encourage you to respond to other readers’ comments if you feel led, and to share your experience. Writing often brings clarity and insight, and can help you process your feelings.
May you find clarity and peace as you think about what a toxic love affair is and how it affects your life. May wisdom and strength guide your decision to end the toxic relationships you’re involved in, and may you walk in faith and hope for your future. Above all, may you be open to God’s call on your heart and His love for you. May you be open to receiving His life and resting in His strength, grace, power, and joy. May you seek His guidance and blessings in this and all areas of your life.
Your thoughts are welcome below! I don't give advice, but you can get free relationship help from marriage coach Mort Fertel.