When is the right time to end a toxic relationship?

You know the story— the he said, she said; the lies; cheating; the arguing; the “getting back” at each other. Or maybe it’s not that bad— maybe he just sucks the life out of you with his negativity; maybe her constant nagging is crushing your soul; maybe they are just holding you back from your true potential. But you love them…Can love conquer all? That’s going to be a hard no for me.

What’s this thing we call love?

First of all, there is a huge misconception that two people fall in love, when actually they grow in love (yes, I stole that from Married at First Sight, but stay with me here). When you first meet someone and feel those famous “butterflies,” what you’re really feeling is a combination of nervous energy and sexual attraction. You might think your “falling in love” in those first three months of dating but really you haven’t begun to scratch the surface of who “your love” really is. Only after a year (sometimes two or three…) do you begin to truly pull back the layers, at which point you’ve made a conscious or unconscious decision to stick through it and make it work.

Romantic Vs. Compassionate Love

Here’s the situation— when you first meet someone and think you are “falling in love,” it’s really just your brain enjoying a cocktail of positive emotions. Dr. Loretta G. Breuning, author of The Science of Positivity, puts it this way, “Love triggers a cocktail of neurochemicals… But it cannot guarantee non-stop happiness. It feels like it can while you’re enjoying the cocktail, however, so your brain may learn to expect that.” In other words, the feeling of “love” you get when newly dating someone is quite literally a drug that fuels your brain with happy hormones. This is romantic love.

Compassionate love, on the other hand, is a commitment two people make to be together, support each other, and grow together. Essentially, it’s what replaces romantic love once the effects wear off. Not everyone makes it to compassionate love, of course. It could be the case that you and your partner didn’t have all that much in common in the first place, making compassionate love difficult to cultivate. Or it could be that you don’t understand what true love is and decide to continue chasing romantic love instead. The problem is that the person you are most drawn to during romantic love, or the person you are most sexually attracted to, is not necessarily your perfect match. In fact, according to the authors of Getting Together and Staying Together: The Stanford University Course on Intimate Relationships, you are much more likely to remain committed to someone who shares the same values, view points, and interests long term.

When Love is Dismantled

One of the reasons relationships fall apart is because people are in them for the wrong reasons. They fall in love with the idea of love, but not with the person. Or they are chasing the feeling of being “in love” but avoiding all the hard work that comes with making a relationship last. For arguments sake, let’s say you have grown to love someone and are truly committed to the relationship. What happens when things start to fall apart? How long before it’s time to call it quits? Even when you are arguing daily, disrespecting each other, feeling completely defeated and isolated, it can be hard to cut the cord.

At first it’s a commitment to love someone, but then it becomes a habit. If the relationship prospers, we might say it’s a good habit, but if it festers, it’s converted into a bad habit, and we all know how hard it is to break a bad habit. It makes perfect sense if you think about it; habits are actions that become so common to us we don’t even realize we’re doing them anymore, like sleeping next to our partner every night or making coffee every morning. At the same time, constant arguing and bickering can also become a habit; always being on the defensive can become a habit; leaving to go “blow off steam” after a fight can become a habit. The accumulation of these habits become a destructive pattern until someone or both get hurt and eventually call it quits.

Case in point, one of my friends is watching her relationship fall to pieces for the simple reason that they’ve accumulated bad habits over time. On the one hand, her partner does not believe in ‘talking out’ their problems. He prefers making amends through nice gestures or apologetic actions without ever discussing the problem at hand (no doubt a bad habit). In response, my friend finds inconspicuous ways of bringing up the problem, to which he avoids, causing her more frustration, to which he continues to avoid, until she eventually blows up in a fit of yelling, insults, and crying (another bad habit). It’s so bad that even the smallest thing becomes a huge fight. From his point of view, she is an emotional crybaby, whereas, she sees him as uncommunicative and emotionally unavailable.

The relationship started off well enough— there were butterflies and nice dates, flowers and compliment. Overtime though, their opposing communication styles started to eat at their relationship one chunk at a time. At this point, there is too much built up resentment, unspoken sentiments, and bad coping habits to make any progress. And yet, they love each other. She keeps holding on, hoping he might one day see her point of view, and he keeps holding on, thinking she won’t leave him. It’s a mess.

It’s Time to Move On

Love is a strong drug. Even after it’s gone, your constantly searching for it, with the hopes it will come back. What we fail to see time and time again is that love is a decision. When we transition from the wild rollercoaster of hormones that come with romance, we make a conscious or unconscious decision to stick through it and make it work. That is love. It is a decision to be with someone, learn and grow with someone. And just as we decide to grow in love with someone, we can decide to grow out of love with someone.

When our relationships start to take a turn for the worst, we have to ask ourselves the hard questions. Does the person you’ve chosen to love make you happy? Do your values, view points, and interests align? Do they support your dreams and goals? Do they validate your feelings and listen to your thoughts and opinions? Are they responding or reacting? Do you have healthy disagreements in which there are no “winners” and “loser”? And perhaps most importantly, are they giving 100% to the relationship (and are you)? Once you take a hard, cold look at these questions, the truth will set you free.


*** I just want to make the quick note that this is an opinion piece, not meant as professional advice. This piece is food for thought and for entertainment purposes only! Thanks for reading.

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