Letting Go Of A Relationship

trusting too much


I am a relationship person.

My relationships with my family and friends are the most meaningful, important parts of my life.

In fact, I'd say having high quality, intimate, authentic, healthy, and emotionally mature relationships is my top life value. I proactively work at my relationships — on communicating openly, on listening actively, and on devoting quality time with the people I care about.

When conflicts happen in a relationship, I'm often the first person to reach out and attempt to heal the relationship problem. I'm quick to forgive, and I hope I'm quick to ask for forgiveness when I've messed up.

Now don't get me wrong. I've made plenty of mistakes, acted immaturely, had knee-jerk, ego-driven reactions, and gotten angry enough to slam doors and stomp my feet. You wouldn't have to dig around far to find people who would testify to my relationship mishaps. But in general, I have a pretty solid emotional intelligence score when it comes to nurturing happy, healthy connections, and I take pride in my relating skills.

A description I discovered of my personality type (INFJ) articulates precisely how I feel about relationships:

“In general, the INFJ is a deeply warm and caring person who is highly invested in the health of their close relationships, and puts forth a lot of effort to make them positive. They are valued by those close to them for these special qualities. They seek long-term, lifelong relationships, although they don't always find them.” (Source: Personality Page.com)

That's why for me, letting go of someone is particularly difficult. In fact, up until  a few years ago, I couldn't imagine myself making the decision to release a relationship altogether. My mantra has always been, “We can work it out.” And sometimes for me, “working it out” meant acquiescing, stuffing my true feelings, or tolerating things that deep inside I did't want to tolerate.

Are you living with an emotional abuser? Click here to get your free Emotional Abuse Test. Find out your personal score.

Then one day I could no longer do that. Well, it wasn't just one day — it happened over a few years. I got to the point in my self-awareness, or reached some internal shift, where I knew I had to let go of some relationships. The pain of dissonance, differences, and responding inauthentically outweighed my desire to keep “working it out.”

Letting go of a relationship is painful — even if it is draining you, holding you back, blinding you to your true self, or worse yet, toxic or abusive.We invest a lot in our friendships, our marriages,  our business partners, and our family members. And most often it is one of these close relationships, a person or people with whom we've been intimately, deeply involved for many years, that cause us the most pain and turmoil.

At some point in one of your relationships, you will reach the point where the pain and difficulty outweigh the positives — where the consequences of letting go seem less daunting than the reality of staying put.

Here are some tips on letting go of someone you love.

The decision threshold is different for every individual. And certainly the type of relationship can set the threshold. It is usually harder to let go of a marriage that involves children than it is, say, a business partnership or friendship. However, there are some universal themes of discord in any relationship that lead to the realization it's time to say goodbye.

Here are some of these themes:

Verbal, emotional, or physical abuse

Whether it's a spouse, a parent, or a friend, if someone is abusing you in some way — through physical actions, psychological games, or consistently cruel words — it's time to let them go. In many cases of abuse, the abuser has whittled away at the self-esteem and confidence of the abused, making it much more difficult for the abused person to leave. Especially in a marital context, these situations are very complex and usually require the intervention and support of a trained counselor to help extricate the abused person. But unless they leave the relationship, the abused person will continue to be fearful, full of self-doubt, and constantly anxious and stressed. And as long as you remain in an abusive relationship, the abuser will continue his or her bad behavior.

Consistent dishonestly, disloyalty, or deceit

Most close relationships can survive the occasional incident of lying or dishonest behavior. Even some marriages can survive a one-time affair with counseling and healing. But consistent, repetitive instances of dishonesty or disloyalty suggest the person involved has an issue of character and integrity that cannot be overcome. If you've addressed this issue many times over the  years, and the behavior continues, you will not be true to yourself and your own integrity to remain connected to this person. No matter how many positive qualities they may have, consistent deceit will chip away at your respect for them and for yourself.

Divergent core values

If you and your loved one have wildly differing core values on your most important life principles, you simply will not have a peaceful and mutually supportive relationship. Some less intimate relationships (like a friendship) can handle this, especially if each person is respectful of the other's values and life decisions around those values. But for those relationships where the two people impact each other on a daily basis, finding a middle ground for making decisions, choosing a lifestyle, raising children, managing money, making business decisions, etc., can be impossible. It requires one or both people to compromise in areas where they simply can't or shouldn't compromise.

General toxicity

There are some relationships where you and the other person simply clash. You are like oil and water. There's something about the other person that brings out the worst in you and vice versa. Often this happens with extended family members, siblings, or friendships that have never been quite right, but you've hung on because you feel bad about letting go. There's a general air of toxicity about the relationship that hangs around despite your best efforts to “make it work.” For your own peace of mind, it's best to step back from a toxic relationship and admit it simply wasn't meant to be.

Consistent, harmful irresponsibility

If you're in a business relationship, marriage, or partnership with someone who's consistently irresponsible, it will eventually undermine your love and respect for this person. If their irresponsible actions relate to finances, life obligations, or raising children together, you will be directly impacted in detrimental ways. No matter how much you care for this person, eventually you can no longer tolerate their unwillingness or inability to step up to the plate and maturely handle their responsibilities. You simply can't allow one person to undermine the other fundamental parts of your life.

Refusal to communicate, address problems, or invest

There are some people in relationships unwilling to communicate, address difficulties, or actively work on the relationship. They allow it to languish or worse, actively resist any attempt you might make to work on improving the relationship. They find it too painful or complicated to communicate openly, or they simply haven't learned the skills of healthy communication. Or perhaps they aren't invested enough in the connection to make an effort. Regardless of the reason, when there's only one person making an effort, it's not really a relationship.

If you see yourself and one of your relationships in any of these themes, it might be time to consider letting it go. Letting go of someone you love is painful and sometimes very complicated, but in the end, you must ask yourself if the positives outweigh the negatives; if the connection is lifting you up or dragging you down; if you feel better with or without this person. Ultimately, the most important relationship you must save is the one you have with yourself.

How have you known it was time to let go of a relationship? What realizations or self-awareness did you embrace in order to make the difficult decision? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Related Articles:

Signs of Emotional Abuse

Why Do Women Stay in Abusive Relationships

Controlling Men: Empowering Advice For Women Involved With Bullies

Dealing With Difficult People

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Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this article! Right on time, and so helpful. Thank you again.

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I used to have trouble letting go of bad relationships, those that drags me down and kept me from living a healthy, happy life. I want to share this prayer that helped me a lot during those sad times:
    “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

    P.S. I’m a subscriber of your blog and I just want to let you know that you’re such an inspiration to me. 🙂

    • Hi Giz Elle,
      I love the serenity prayer. Sometimes we just have to accept that there are people who simply aren’t good for us, and we can’t change that. Thank you so much for your kind words.

  3. Succinct listing but I would add another aspect – negative thinking and support. These types of relationships are not severe in their damage; rather, these are the ones that slowly drag you down with them. I ended a ten year friendship after recognizing that she was complaining about the same things and held the same negative views when I first met her. I felt terrible for months and still feel occasional pings of guilt but I also realize that she was unwilling to do the work necessary to improve her life. Fear and childhood trauma were at the root of her issues but she continually sabotaged her attempts to get well.

    Because of her own unhappiness, she was incapable of seeing the good in my life and instead, offered a continual string of negative thoughts and responses to what her friends were doing. I hope she can find a happier path but unfortunately I will not be present to witness or help. She has exhausted me.

    • I once had someone like that in my life and for a long time. I liked her very much (no one is black or white) but she always seemed to have a problem, was always mired in some process approaching critical mass. She would ask for advice. We’d talk about it and solutions would arise. She would ask another friend, then another, often getting the same response. Then she would never act on it. I finally got to the point that, when I was in her presence, my stomach tightened like a vice and I felt ill.

      So when an opportunity to talk to a professional about it, I found out that there are people in the world who let themselves remain victims of their circumstances even when there is a solution. As long as they are unhappy or unsure, they have your sympathy. As long as they do nothing about it, they cannot fail. By taking no action, they don’t have to take responsibility for the outcome and they retain the concern of those around them.

      Poof. Just like that, the power she took from me returned and, although still in my life for awhile after that, I could distance myself from making the predictible response she craved. Once the behavior was recognized, my stomach was at ease and my mind was clear. I was not responsible for fixing her life as she led me to believe.

      Apparently it was just how she wanted it.

      • Thank you for this topic Barrie. Really timely for me. Sue, your reply really hit me like a sledgehammer and has helped me so much today in my guilt over my struggling relationship with my sister. After at least 30 years of constant draining negativity and unwillingness to attempt any possible solutions in her life, I have walked right away from her, but have been feeling like a very bad person for doing so. We are now only in touch very rarely and my life is so much lighter without the almost daily phone calls which invariably began …”you’ll never guess whats happened now”…Thanks again.

      • Donna, I’m so glad the counselor helped you get clarity on this relationship. Isn’t it wonderful to regain your power and define your own boundaries? Bravo for you!

    • Dear Sue, thank you for the reply you left to Barrie’s great post. I’m actually trapped in such a relationship myself at the moment and I’m slowly trying to work up the courage to get out of it. Unfortunately, as Barrie writes, it’s a very complicated and painful process. I may start using Giz Elle’s prayer because life is to short to waste it on someone who doesn’t appreciate what you do for them.

    • Hi Sue,
      It’s hard to let go of a friend, especially one you’ve had for a long time. You want to be there for your friends, but you are right. If they are unwilling to work on themselves, you end up becoming just a sounding board for complaints and frustration. I know it was painful for you.

  4. Recently reading an article on INFJ I saw myself especially in the relationship area.

    Twenty three years ago I ended a 30 year marriage. There are no ‘war stories’.
    I spent 5 of those 30 years evaluating the thoughts of ending it. I agree with parts of Sue’s statement. My relationship was not severe in damage. It was one that slowly dragged me down eventually eroding my self-confidence, causing me to question my value and of course I took full responsibility for its erosion.

    When I did leave it was not to find someone to appreciate me (lol). It was when I asked myself – ‘Which is better to live the rest of my life alone or to live this life’? When alone was the answer, I left.

    My exit was as kind as my entry but still I lived with guilt for causing such pain to another and it took me years to turn the guilt into regret and from regret into peace.

    Because of that decision – today I can look back and see the positive value of that marriage. I acknowledge its good. I think had I waited this would not have been possible and what a waste that would have been.

    Letting go of a relationship is hard…but allowing a relationship to destroy is sometimes irreversible.

    • Sandra, you have been through quite a growth process with your marriage and divorce. It is so hard to cause another person pain, especially someone who is good but simply not right for you. Hopefully he can see it was for the best and has grown from it as well.

  5. I think I’m probably a lot like you’ve been in the past, Barrie. It’s not necessarily easy for me to let go of relationships. But, some of the signs you’ve outlined begin to appear and the intuitive part of me knows it’s time to make a change. I’ve learned that sometimes I simply outgrow a relationship and need to move on to a more relevant and richer connection. The process of letting go itself has given me more confidence and shown me that there’s likely more goodness to come.

    I think understanding our personality type can really help too and I’m so glad you mentioned that in this article.

    • Hi Sandra,
      I love what you said about a “more relevant and richer connection.” We change over the years, and sometimes people change with us, and sometimes they don’t. I’ve come to believe that letting go is part of becoming.

  6. I think it’s extremely important not to have divergent core values with your partner. So many people overlook this, but for me it’s the #1 thing.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      You are so right Jeremy. Your values define you, and it’s really hard to compromise them or walk side by side with someone who doesn’t share them.

  7. April Stuckert says:

    Just right on time topic.
    For me Love is the most amazing gift from GOD to humanity in anyway.
    Love deffines on what you feel in a certain relationship that you have been to a certain person.
    Theres no such thing as perfect relationship because it should always work both ways.
    If you Love someone its normal to give everything of you and you can do to make that LOVE works.
    Knowing that you gave your everything even if that relationship wont work the way you wanted to be
    you will leave with no regrets or wondering what could have been or what if ?
    coz You know yourself that you gave your 100% on it.
    Sometimes our loved ones just need our loyalty and patience to make that change.
    I believe that if you cant handle your loved ones worst part of personality then You also dont desserve the best part.
    If you gave up that easy how would you know?
    I know its easier said that done 🙂
    Love and Relationship is never promise to be easy but its all Worth to invest because its going to be the rest of your lifes happiness is what at stake.

  8. I’m in the midst of ending a 12 year relationship with someone 16 years my junior. Thank you for writing about all the themes. Many of them apply to my situation, and when he said to my ‘why now?’, I found myself so muddled with feelings about ALL the above, that I couldn’t express why…I couldn’t put all of the above together without sounding like I’m blaming him or making it all his fault, but truth be told, we are not, and never have been, in sync about anything. I acknowledge that I was as big a player in our relationship has he was. We’ve disagreed about pretty much everything. I’ve been his mother, his stability, his enabler. Because he was so damaged when we met, I’ve focused 12 years of trying to raise his self esteem and self worth. I’m turning 50 next year, and the irony is that I’VE finally raised MY SELF ESTEEM AND MY SELF WORTH and I’ve stopped giving my life away to anyone who needs it. If YOU don’t live YOUR life, someone will use your life to their convenience. I have had 3 relationships in my life, starting from the age of 13. I was married at 19 and I’ve had ONE year of my adult life that I was not in a relationship (I’m 49!). I acknowledge that these were all my own choice and I’ve done the soul searching to look at what I’ve been avoiding all these years, which is taking responsibility for my life and my happiness, and stop being victimized by choosing partners that I know are wrong for me. I’m living, and learning…. thank you for the post.

    • Wow Wendy. I so admire your courage and self-awareness. I know it was hard to let go, even though you knew it wasn’t the best relationship. We all continue to learn, and one of the benefits of getting older is having the confidence to reclaim your life. Wishing you much happiness.

    • Amazing ! You are inspirational wendy

  9. I became friends with a neighbor of mine around five years ago. After a while I got so tired of the repeat of the same old problems she had. She and her male friend lived together for 25 years and she hated him, she needed to stay with him to help support her. She is a great artist, but too many people blocked her from painting. Again, just an excuse. I kind of dropped her because of all her negativity. Too much stress. I went to college at the age of 59 and took night classes and worked days. I graduated last June, she is now painting but wont get her paintings out to the public, and she kept bringing up how having a college degree doesn’t mean a thing. Also, she wants to be a filthy talking comedian, and wants to talk about vagina disease. I had enough and finally told her that I did not want to be her friend anymore, she is 62 years old, but this immature talking was taking its toll on me. I felt bad about breaking off this friendship, but I feel so much relief and am happier I did it.

  10. “Refusal to communicate, address problems, or invest” – That’s it! That’s the one! It’s a killer. When relationship issues arise, you have to know and feel secure in the fact, that your partner will give the issues due attention, concern, thought and work toward resolution. I’ve been in a three year relationship with a man who clams up when a problem crops up. He literally shuts down and shuts me out. He refuses calls, doesn’t respond to texts, and appears to be happy not only to drop the subject entirely but me as well, as if I didn’t exist. His fear of “confrontation” has hurt our relationship far more than resolving sometimes even minute issues ever would have. It isn’t even possible to live a life completely free of the need to discuss concerns, problems, etc. That’s like saying life will never involve stressors or conflict; so, he just blames YOU if they arise and walks away. Amazingly frustrating. Thanks for your article. Sometimes you just need to see it in writing! LOL!

    http://www.hushhushheart.com

  11. You don’t realise how much some relationships are draining you until you get out of them. I have been in an on again off again relationship for 4 years and have once again made the break. I feel the confidence I have gained from your online course through really looking at what was going on for me has given me the strength to be able to walk away. I too have always thought it is not to fair to hurt someone else’s feelings but am now discovering it is grossly unfair to keep dishonouring my own feelings. The relationship had impacted on my self confidence and I didn’t like who I was becoming. Thanks to a bit of self development I feel proud of myself to have moved on. Thank you

  12. Its time to move on, I guess and thanks to everyone, your comments have really helped me to make a good decission.

  13. Queen in the Creek says:

    I married a man, I looked at as successful and driven. Those perceived traits were what attracted me to him. About 3 years into the marriage, he became angry about everything and began treating me very disrespectfully. He started criticizing most of the things I did, cooking, cleaning, and closing the blinds the wrong way.

    Then came the name calling (some pretty bad words that didn’t seem so appropriate for a woman). He lied, a lot. He never allowed me to manage the money and in the end, drained our bank accounts.

    After about 5 years, friends stopped coming over, and rarely called. If I objected to his bad behavior, I was punished with name calling, being locked out of the house and he’s trash the house. In an effort to ‘make things better’, I’d apologize, for making him angry. I’d clean up his tantrums (trashing the house) and take his verbal abuse. After 8 years of marriage, I pulled away emotionally. This caused him to increase the abuse.

    On the day we were leaving for vacation, he waited until I had everything packed up in the truck. As I came out with one last thing, my suitcase, he was pulling away without me, telling me that his leaving without me was my fault.

    I stayed with him three more years, the last two of which I was locked out of our bedroom – he kept ‘his’ groceries in the room. He kept the house trashed, would throw my clothes from the washer and dryer, onto the floor and will call to harass me throughout the day.

    At the end of my rope, after spending a weekend at my Mom’s house, I finally filed for divorce. Before I was able to have him served with the divorce papers, he woke me up by assaulting me one night. I called the police. When they came, I was served with an order of protection and ordered to leave my home in the middle of the night. A kick in the head and banned from the home we shared for 11 years. I was launched from my private hell. Best thing he ever did for me.

    The divorce process was extreme. He defied every order and continued to make my life hell. The divorce was just finalized and the property distribution was ordered by the judge. After spending a small fortune, I had to hire another attorney, so that I can obtain the things I’ve been denied for the past year.

    My ex-husband is still making it difficult for me. I realize now, after much counseling, his level of narcissism makes him feel compelled to degrade, harass and abuse and it was his low self esteem that was bent on creating a low self of sense for myself.

    He’s not so attractive, obese, very unhealthy and many times unemployed, things I overlooked in the name of ‘love’. I’m fit, told that I’m attractive, very healthy and have had a long duration, successful career, yet I put up with the abuse for 11 years. He convinced me that I was nothing.

    I’m telling this story so others will realize that trying for so long to ‘make it work’, putting up with severe abuse, is senseless and unreasonable. I’m free now, but still picking up the pieces of my shattered self esteem, and life. But, I am happy.

  14. Sarah M. says:

    I love your website, Ms. Davenport. Every article has been so insightful: showing deep caring and thought put into each topic. I have recently gone through a break up though I have never quite understood when it was appropriate to let go a relationship. These points have helped me breath more fully, and gain more perspective into my situation, especially your points on refusal to communicate, dishonesty, and divergent core values. Thank you!

  15. Thank you for your post, I have recently let go of a friendship when I realised that the other party was only interested in a fairwether friendship. My husband had just left me and this friend called on the third day and basicaly told me to get over it and move on. Then they refused to listen to me as I grieved the loss of a 17 year marriage. My so called friend was only interested in the fun stuff and none of the support through bad times. I let that friendship go and found a support network of friends, who did let me grieve but by the same token they also gave me a kick in the pants when I needed it, and that is what a friendship should be….. Give and take along with ups and downs.

  16. Francesca says:

    thank you very much. So many of your sentences could be used as reminder quotes.
    Lack of communication and the ability to communicate and the unwillingness of the other to work it out properly, and even the fact that i was miserable for an indecent amount of time where some of the trademarks of a relationship i’ve tried to make work for 4, exhausting years out of 12. I should have realised it was time to let go much, much earlier.
    this helps on so many levels. Most of all, it helps me understand that I should stop dwelling into regrets and guilty feelings, though i believe they will keep haunting me for a while.

  17. I love this article I was dating a guy for nine months I made a mistake but the guy I was dating had a hard time communicating with me, I didn’t know until months later that we had a problem and by the time I found out he was over me and I was left trying to make it work. Finally after stinging me along for three months he tells me that he just wants to be friends. Its been a month now and it still hard for me to let go, I still want he back but I know he doesn’t want me but this article does help Thanks!!