How to Leave a Bad Relationship Part 3: Moving On

17 Jul

Humans are creatures of habit, especially with behaviour caused by systems of oppression (patriarchy, sexism, hetero-normativity, etc.). This is why it can be so difficult to pull yourself away from a bad relationship, and why it can seem easier to stay with or go back to someone who is bad for you. However, freeing yourself from the grip of an unhealthy partner is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your future.

In order to move on, there are a few steps you will need to take. As the process of unlearning is continuous, you will need to revisit these steps more than once, but each time you do, you will have new knowledge and understanding that will make moving on easier and help you to form healthier relationships.

Part 1: Cutting Communication

Part 2: Splitting Up – Do’s and Don’ts

Understanding Relationship Patterns

It’s not unusual to look back through your past relationships to find patterns – commonalities in the types of people you got involved with, their personality traits or the ways they treated you. Often these patterns are related to the formative relationships you had, and the level of security or insecurity you felt, with your caregivers in childhood. Think of these patterns as programming, and look closely at what unhealthy programming can be influencing the people you attract or are attracted to.

Take some time to document your significant past relationships (friends as well as lovers), by writing them down in a notebook or creating a private blog. This process can be very healing in itself. Look for similarities between your relationship with your ex, and their relationship with others close to them. Draw or write down how these patterns of interactions overlap. Notice their habits – they may be fickle friends or lovers, always “on again, off again,” self-centered, users, players, or the like. Notice your habits – for example, the ways you have been conditioned to seek approval or please others, or how you tend to interpret others’ neediness as desire. Pay attention to the ways past partners may resemble your parent figures. Survivors are more likely to confuse a relationship with a Narcissist/Abuser for “passionate love” when in reality it is a cycle of affection and abuse that is made by the abuser to look normal.

This relationship conditioning, like other addictions, keeps us from being honest with ourselves and using critical thinking to show us what is truly happening.  But living according to our programming enables other people to oppress us by taking advantage of our desire to be wanted and feel loved. Take back your power by recognising your relationship habits, understanding where they come from and changing them if necessary.

Identifying Unhealthy Partners

Identifying unhealthy partners takes some practice, especially when you are fighting conditioning that attracts you to them. We have created this list of early warning signs that should help you avoid them.

Ten Warning Signs

  1. They give love/affection then take it away suddenly, blaming you
  2. They are overly self-involved, and may expect you to wait on them/take care of their every need
  3. They put you down or otherwise make you feel bad about yourself/unattractive/unloved
  4. They demand attention, sex or affection, sulking or becoming abusive when it is not given
  5. They act like they have something to hide (probably do)
  6. Instead of appreciating your input, they try to prove you wrong
  7. They regularly try to change your mind/control your thoughts
  8. They try to separate you from/turn you against/discourage you from talking to friends/loved ones
  9. You catch them lying or making you feel as if you are going mad/crazy
  10. They fit any of these descriptions or combinations thereof: 5 Men to Avoid or the types listed here.

Keep It Moving

Once you have made your way for the door, your ex may try to get you back. Start to identify in their behaviour the patterns above – e.g. complimenting then insulting you, appearing desperate and begging for your help (“I need you /can’t live without you”) instead of respectfully listening. When you recognise their habits for what they are, you are less susceptible and more able to avoid falling back into old patterns and keep things moving.

Some common tactics are compliments, unexpected gifts, showing up unannounced, promising to change, offering to take you out, or any combination of Lies of Affection and Lies About the Future. But understanding their patterns enables you to prepare a plan for how you will respond. One thing we have found very effective is calling your ex out on the tactic that they are using (e.g. “I’ve heard that before,” “You’re just projecting right now,” or “Saying that may have worked on others, but actions speak louder than words with me.”) In reality, their actions have led you to split up with them, they are not likely to change, and that’s why you are leaving.

After the breakup, aim for no extended phone conversations, and do not, we repeat, do not, allow yourself to be alone with them. These people do their best work in private, because this is how they can most easily manipulate you. If you have to discuss things — like how to get your stuff back — do it by text. If you must meet and talk (which we strongly advise against! Why waste one more second of your precious time?) do it in public, and don’t go home with them. Use the strategies outlined in Cutting Communication to help you maintain a safe distance.

Make an effort to socialise and meet new people. Develop your own interests and activities and you’ll find other people that share them. Ask your friends to introduce you to people they think you might like. You may feel like you’re never going to meet anyone, but this is just not the case. Put yourself in the company of other people you find attractive, go on dates (not with the ex) and maybe even have (safe) sex with someone else. We are not encouraging engaging in unhealthy sexual relationships, but old habits must be broken in order for new relationships to bloom.

Learning to Love Yourself

By far the most important long-term strategy to keep yourself out of bad relationships is developing a strong, healthy sense of self-love. Although sexism tells us we are imperfect, we can unlearn these negative messages and replace them with positive ones about ourselves, our body image and all of the good qualities of our personalities. This process is lifelong, but the ending of an unhealthy relationship  is a good reason to begin a daily programme of self-care coupled with self-love.

Unlearning Negative Thinking

Negative thoughts about ourselves are one of the main ways that our old patterns of conditioning emerge. Practices such as writing/journaling/keeping a diary, art/music/other self-expression, meditation and yoga can help you to become an observer of your thoughts, which is key to changing them. Be aware of the messages (self-talk) you send yourself through your thoughts, as they are powerful. Send positive messages to yourself as much as you can.

Write down/print out a list all of the things you like or love about yourself, as well as a list of all the positive things people have said about you. This can be from emails, Facebook messages, texts, comments on your work or anywhere else they may appear. Compile them and post them in a place you can see every day. Update as needed.

Techniques such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) offer a way for you to talk yourself through your negative thoughts and thus begin to unpack negative thinking and look at situations from alternative angles. Try The Mood Gym for times when being alone with your thoughts is too much and you need some extra support, or include it as a regular practice of CBT.

Self-Care Suggestions

It is normal to feel down, low, or depressed at the end of a relationship. Self-care is a main strategy by which you can pull yourself out of a slump. Prioritise this by taking a step back from other commitments and activities and doing at least one thing (more if possible) every day for yourself and yourself alone. Write it down in a diary for a record of what you did and the boost that comes with a sense of accomplishment.

Some suggestions: taking a walk, taking a bath, yoga, meditation, writing or blogging, cleaning out your closet/clearing old junk, dancing to your favourite tune, cooking/learning a new recipe, listening to music, discovering a new musical artist and checking out their work, getting a massage, acupuncture, or other body-pampering, stress-relieving treatment, getting a babysitter for the night, joining a club or a class, trying something you’ve always wanted to do/getting involved in a new hobby.

It’s All About Perspective

The end of a bad relationship can easily be the beginning of a new and healthier chapter in your life. It’s an opportunity to grow as a person, get rid of old habits, and develop your own personality and interests. Remember that unhealthy relationships are unhealthy because of the way they limit your perspective – your life becomes all about the other person and how they make you feel. But you can’t have a healthy relationship with anyone else until you really love yourself. Free from a bad partner’s negative influence, a world of possibilities can open up for you. Make peace with the past, and move on.

6 Responses to “How to Leave a Bad Relationship Part 3: Moving On”

  1. Andy July 17, 2011 at 11:49 pm #

    Not wanting to make light of this, but with the “ten signs”, couldn’t help but be reminded of…

    and I know one of you at least is a South Park fan😛

    Also, a question / discussion.

    I wonder how you’d relate self-help to consciousness-raising?

    I can see how there’s a need to question unconscious patterns which internalise oppressive discourses, such as low self-esteem arising from abuse. Especially how this relates to patterns which may be learned in childhood or a past relationship, which reflected real powerlessness then, but are extended outside the context. However, I feel we also need to be realistic about our abilities and situations, and make sure that we reconstruct ourselves as aware, conscious ‘bad subjects’ counterposed to neoliberalism, not subjects who feel empowered by neoliberalism.

    What worries me a bit is the longer-term context of some of these discourses. We’re seeing a boom in discourses of self-help, correlative with neoliberalism, as an alternative to social provision (often demonised as a demanding ‘culture of entitlement’, encouragement of ‘dependency’, or disempowerment). (See Cruikshank, ‘Revolutions Within’). This has been hitched to a set of dubious claims which psychologise political dissent and condemn consciousness as faulty thinking. We’re not supposed to believe we’re dependent on others, even though everyone in a complex social system is clearly dependent on others… we’re supposed to believe that fulfilling our dreams is within our power and ours alone, even if as poor people or minorities this is very unlikely to be true… we’re supposed to believe that we can be whoever we want, when our opportunities are stunted by the wage-system and social institutions… Choosing thoughts which make us happy instead of thoughts which are true – the blue pill not the red pill.

    The symptoms are spread through our social space: a generalised overconfidence, closure to other perspectives (each ‘owns’ their own worldview), a loss of awareness of big problems like climate change and economic crisis (4 out of 5 teens think they’ll be more financially successful than their parents), a tendency to view others’ emotional claims as manipulation, various breakdowns arising from the frustration gap which occurs when people don’t live up to their own goals (the return of the Real), and with growing numbers succumbing to the Just World Fallacy, becoming unsympathetic with others who are suffering (because it’s their own fault for not making the effort, not self-empowering), and people concentrating on individual life-goals instead of social change, to the detriment of conscientisation.

    We need to realise that the root problem is social, not psychological: our relationships to ourselves, others and the environment are alienated. This can only be challenged to the extent that we create other kinds of relationships and spaces which are materially different, not by imagining that neoliberalism is something it isn’t. We all have a lot of unmet needs, especially in the social sphere. The current world is set up to make us as anxious as possible (see ‘Bowling for Columbine’, and Berardi’s ‘Precarious Rhapsody’). Most problems come from unmet needs. Disturbing thought-patterns are often ways of rationalising unmet needs – they might see accurately an intolerable present. At most they’re the symptom of the underlying problem. We all need a lot more social support and care than the current system is providing. It’s not healthy for people to feel the world can fall out from under our feet at any moment, but it’s an accurate response to a world where abuse is widespread, police are empowered to traumatise at will, and economics is structured around precariousness. The relationship issue comes partly from the fact that we don’t have enough horizontal connections, so emotions get bundled up in one place, like a pressure-cooker (hence why abusers try to separate targets from their family/friends). It’s an immense, but utterly necessary, task to reconstruct a truly human world almost from scratch, when the system has destroyed so much of its infrastructure.

    I think a lot of the problems come from being on the receiving end of a constant, invisible social war in which this human world is constantly broken down or pre-empted. Psychological problems have a broader social dynamic to them. Guattari said once that, when desire refuses to renounce itself, it comes under siege on all sides. In this state of siege, we’re all at risk of trauma and anxiety, because the system does its best to keep us disempowered. Virilio thinks we’re all on the receiving end of a kind of psychological warfare to corrode our resistance to the global power of the military apparatus. This warfare exhibits its effects in fatigue, anxiety and so on. The difficulty is that surrender to the system is made to seem an attractive option, since if we don’t fight the system, it doesn’t have the same motive to besiege us. It’s our own fault we’re suffering – all we need to do is renounce! We’re offered the solution of the denkverbot – don’t think outside the system, don’t worry about things we can’t change, don’t question the dominant frame because we’ve got no power over it. I wonder if we’re sacrificing the ‘unhappy consciousness’ which the Frankfurt School had down as the necessary condition for revolt – ending up in a postmodern version of Brave New World. We might indeed be happier in this way (though I doubt it – pro-system people seem a miserable bunch), but we’ll have lost our inner dignity, substituted a false self stunted by the system for our true selves, and have renounced our desires and sold-out.

    We’re going through this shit because we’re living in a shitty society. We’ve been traumatised in the past because particular relationships are microcosms of the worst aspects of the dominant discourse (misogyny and authoritarian parenting quietly encourage the enforcement of the model of the good subject through abuse and trauma). The people in power know very well that it’s possible to make someone anxious, depressed or traumatised, and they do it systematically (from the creepy workplace where everyone always resigns before they get their year-end bonus, to the psychological torture used at Guantanamo Bay). They’re trying to pull the wool over our eyes by saying, no, you’re only unhappy if you let yourself be, your anxiety is a problem with you (not with the system), you can get rid of it by looking after yourself better (which often includes such elements as “concentrate on achievable personal life-goals not big political stuff” and “concentrate on changing yourself, not the world”). The last wave of the 60s came about because people started taking what were seen as isolated, personal problems, and recognising the commonalities, the systemic causes, the social nature of affective problems (example: there’s nothing wrong with you – all housewives are bored).

    Hence there’s limits to what we can do with self-help. It’s a kind of patching-up exercise, keeping people from succumbing to wounds they should never have sustained to begin with, to put them back out in the social space which causes such wounds. It reminds me a bit of battlefield medics treating soldiers so as to throw them back in the warzone, or those doctors Fanon talks about whose main job was to stop torture victims from dying too soon. It never actually takes us out of the wider social situation causing the problems, and it’s patching-up wounds the system itself is inflicting. Often the implied promise of self-help is that if one gets rid of the inner problems, outer needs will begin to be met. This is based on a false premise in regard to neoliberalism: that neoliberalism will treat us fairly as long as we’re good subjects.

    There’s a fundamental trauma on the social level which is still unaddressed. It reminds me about how people in Argentina 2001 or Egypt this year talk about the pre-revolt situation: nobody dared point of the source of the problem. In their case it was fear of the security apparatus. In our case it’s simply that the dominant discourse is so widespread now that the trauma is unspeakable. I think the Thatcher period was a kind of wound during which the social composition was torn apart. We’ve suffered the recuperation of the 60s revolution; the loss of Labour and state socialism in general; the loss of political contestation through the conversion of Thatcherism into consensus (and the corresponding displacement of social problems into the domains of psychology, moral judgement, and “behaviour”). At some point this needs to be reopened and addressed.

    Hence I think we need to re-open and repoliticise questions of trauma and anxiety, address them on a collective level, and reconstruct ourselves politically, in ways which turn trauma into a spirit of resistance. We need a political sorcery – like La Ruta Pacifica, or Soma. I realise you’re doing this already, because you’re also struggling around and writing about these issues politically. But I wonder if it would be worth pointing out to your readers?

  2. Sista Resista July 18, 2011 at 9:31 am #

    Andy, you’re absolutely right. Although we alluded to the macro-level social trauma caused by systemic oppressions in the opening line, it is not reiterated that self-care has its limitations in a society that is fundamentally deeply flawed, and that what is needed is a collective movement that, as you put it, allows us to “reconstruct ourselves politically” and “turn trauma into a spirit of resistance.” Thank you for bringing this very important point to light.

  3. jayshree February 8, 2015 at 10:38 pm #

    Its scary how much of this I personally go through frequently,I’m married to this man who cheats and lies to me all the time.we have 3 beautiful kids and I’m at the end of my rope with this Lie that I’ve been holding onto,I think my kids and I deserve better!thank you for the insight….

  4. Mary May 26, 2015 at 12:15 am #

    Relationship has lasted 17 years.this guy doesn’t want marriage. He has been good with my two child ten who are adults now. He is a liar should I say become a liar. Always say he goes by my body jesters and my voice
    I’m just unhappy and want out this disfuctional relationship. Problem is I am 58 Years old I do enjoy life so much. We don’t go anywhere together
    he always has a reason why he can’t go. I simply want peace and happiness I truly think he is seeing someone and just dragging me alone. He is five years younger than me.
    I don’t know how to completely let go.
    He doesn’t have the problem of letting go. I do. So afraid of getting out and dating again. Knowing I am worthy of happiness.Afraid to trust anyone again.Knowing he can and will walk away and not look back. He won’t even call the kids and their adults now. Don’t understand. But I know this relationship has come to its end he isn’t the blame for anything in this relationship and he is always right.
    To old to even be going through this. Thanks for your time


  1. How to Leave a Bad Relationship, Part 2: Splitting Up – Do’s and Don’ts « sisters of resistance - July 18, 2011

    […] Read on – Part 3: Moving On […]

  2. The Rear-view Mirror | Mis-Fit Musings - October 31, 2014

    […] read an interesting article from Sisters of Resistance called  How to leave a bad relationship that gives some tips on avoiding going back to the past. But, one thing that stood out was the […]

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