On Having The Courage To Leave

Having the courage to leave an abusive or dead-end relationship is hard. It’s hard to know if you’re making the right decision. It’s hard to face down fears about what the change will bring. As a reader wrote to me,

“I do fear being alone and I also fear I won’t do better. But recently I don’t like the man I see or how he treats me and I am now deciding should I stay or should I go?”

Here is my response [slightly edited for privacy and clarity, as it was part of a much longer conversation]:

I’m really reticent to tell people how to live their lives, especially knowing so little about you and your life. The advice I’m going to give here is going to sound very strongly like I’m telling you to leave him. But I believe very much that people can only do things when they are ready to. Otherwise there will always be some regret or lingering doubts. It’s better to act when you’re ready and have no regrets than to wonder (and potentially end up back in the same situation and draw out the pain). The advice I give is based solely on what you’ve given me here too. The truth is, nobody knows the truth of a relationship better than the two people in it, even if they can’t see themselves clearly. Even if friends and loved ones can spot a dead-end relationship from a mile away and in the end they’re right, the part of the truth that really matters is what the two people in the relationship can see.

Ok, so here is my advice, such as it is.

I would say “don’t be afraid to be alone”, and “you can totally find someone better”, and I definitely want to cheerlead you on. But that runs the risk of sounding like empty platitudes and doesn’t give you much practical advice. The only thing I think I can really do is say you need to confront those fears, for two reasons. One, if you truly confront them you’ll probably find they are empty threats. And two, confronting them means looking really closely at yourself and you’ll probably find those fears are actually symptoms of something deeper about yourself. Confronting fears is scary, scary business. But it is SO NECESSARY. And SO SO REWARDING once you get through it. I cannot possibly overstate how deep the rewards are and how fulfilling it is to do this.

It might help to think out would happen if these two fears were realized. If you were alone, if you couldn’t find someone else…what would that look like? What part of it is actually scary? Is there a reason (maybe something from your past) that makes you believe you need to fear this? Then maybe take a look and assess: are those scenarios actually likely, are they actually frightening, are there really no other options? Would you really feel much more alone without him than you already do now?

It is scary and takes real courage to end a long relationship. We tend to sympathize most with the person who gets dumped, but being the one to leave takes real courage too. If you come to a point where deep in your heart you know it’s over, I know it’s scary, but have the courage to be the one to leave. You might find the pain of the relationship ending is not nearly so bad as the pain of it continuing. You might feel suddenly free, like a huge burden has been lifted: one you had no idea was so heavy until you got out from under it.

When I went through a difficult time in a relationship, I made a conscious choice. I decided that I would rather be alone than in a relationship that caused so much pain and made me feel so badly. I didn’t want to have to fight so damn hard to be happy. I was too effing exhausted to put up with any more b-llsh-t. I made a promise to myself (and eventually to my now-hubby) that if I was going to get in a relationship again, it had to be REAL. For real. No lies (to each other, but most importantly to ourselves), no false hopes. Just love, respect, and honest effort – with a few laughs along the way.

There, really, is the key: find whatever it is that will make you happy, and is real. Do whatever it takes that makes you feel honestly good about yourself. It is your life to live. Live it without regrets.

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One thought on “On Having The Courage To Leave

  1. I think I'm lucky in that the one relationship that was most screwed up, I was the one who got dumped. It took a *really* long time to get over, but I now look back at that time and am thankful for the experience and learning lesson it provided. I know more about who *I* am and that has lead me to the point where I'm at now in life.