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5 Important Lessons I Learned From A Toxic Relationship

A toxic relationship can be hard to recognize, and even harder to walk away from. Whether it’s your first love or your tenth, sometimes the most important lessons learned can only be learned through the hardest of situations – but that doesn’t mean the time spent learning those lessons is time wasted. From my experience, here are the five most important lessons I learned from leaving a toxic relationship:

The first lesson I learned came before I had even acknowledged it was time to part ways. A toxic relationship can siphon off the best parts about yourself; it can take away your happiness and sense of self-worth, and friendships with other people can suffer because of this wrong person that you’re with. For months I found myself without motivation, without proper self-esteem, and without anyone to really talk to about how I was feeling; even my partner didn’t want to hear or care about what had been going on in my life. So, before I even decided to walk away, I had to re-learn how to love myself and put myself first. Once you start placing someone else’s needs above your own is the second you lose yourself within the relationship. By the end, I’d started to regain parts of myself that had become lost or taken away over the course of two and a half years. I laughed more and hung out with friends more. I listened to whatever music I wanted, did whatever I wanted that made me happy – all without caring what this toxic person thought, because for so long I’d made myself small, forced myself into a tiny corner so he could feel big. You should never let an insecure person hold you back from what you’re truly capable of, or hold you back from being your best, happiest, most successful self. Once you step back and start putting yourself first, you also realize just how bad things have gotten – and saying goodbye no longer seems scary and impossible, but manageable and necessary.

The second lesson I learned is that, sometimes, walking away is the best thing you can do for the both of you. As much as you love, or used to love somebody, it’s never a good idea to stay with someone that 1) lies to you, hurts you, cheats on you, or makes you feel bad. 2) you don’t love anymore, or 3) you’re only with because it’s (seemingly) better than being on your own. After a person has hurt you enough, you don’t feel the same for them that you used to, but sometimes you might stay because maybe you think they’ll change, or your feelings for them will come back, or maybe it’s just that you think that being with them – despite not loving them anymore – is better than facing the world all by your lonesome. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. First of all, it’s not fair to either of you to be in a relationship you’re not happy in because, despite it all, you both deserve to be with someone that makes you happy and someone that you genuinely like spending time with. Second of all, why stay with someone that doesn’t treat you right? You deserve better than that – everyone does. Why wait around for this person to learn to act right (hint: being a decent/honest person isn’t something they should have to learn) when you can do what’s best for the both of you and walk away and find someone that will act right? This leads to the next lesson I learned, which is that you’re not obligated to fix anybody or wait around for them to change and start acting right.

People make mistakes in relationships – it’s unavoidable. So, we often believe that we’re supposed to stick around through thick and thin, no matter what, and help improve the person you’re with. While all of this is true to some extent – and you shouldn’t run in the other direction at the first indication of trouble in paradise – you are by NO means obligated to wait around for someone to get their act together and start treating you right. You may want to give this person the benefit of the doubt – after all, we’re all only human – but some behaviors are inexcusable and the sooner you recognize that the sooner you can move on. This was one of the hardest lessons to learn for me, because whenever things were bad, I convinced myself it was just a rough patch or that my partner was just changing, and if I could just hang in there then it would eventually get better. But honestly, it just paved the way for more of the same behavior that hurt me, because by sticking around through whatever my partner put me through, it just showed them I would put up with anything and that my partner could do whatever they wanted; fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me, right? In the end, if they say they’re going to do better, then they will. If they don’t, then they never had any intention of being better to you in the first place, and that’s when you know it’s time to walk away and find someone that will treat you with the respect and decency that everyone deserves from their partner. It’s never your responsibility to fix someone – Hilary Duff said it best in A Cinderella Story: “Waiting for you is like waiting for rain in this drought. Useless and disappointing.”

Another one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that not being with that person doesn’t mean you’re alone; the relationship wasn’t a character defining trait. One of the main reasons people stay with someone that isn’t right for them is because they’re afraid to be on their own, but not having a romantic partner doesn’t mean you don’t have people in your corner. After leaving, I reconnected with old friends I hadn’t been able to see in a while and it was such a rewarding experiences. I had so many people I hadn’t spoken to in months come up to me and tell me how happy I seemed, almost radiating with positivity now that I was free from that source of negativity, and it felt great hanging out with people I’d missed so dearly. Not only were my friends, old and new, some of the greatest support I had, but also my family also proves and has always proved to be one of the best support systems in my life. True happiness and love doesn’t come solely from a boyfriend or girlfriend, but also from the people around you in your life that make every day a little bit better. So in reality, being “on your own” and without a significant other doesn’t have to be as scary as it seems, and it doesn’t mean you have nobody left.

The last, and possibly most important, thing I learned from the entire experience was that forgiveness and acceptance are powerful and extremely freeing things. People aren’t perfect; we hurt each other, we make mistakes, and we don’t always have each other’s best interests at heart. It’s ok to feel whatever feelings you might for however long afterwards, and it’s okay to decide that you need to cut this person off for what they did – you’re allowed to do whatever you feel is best in order to properly move on. But holding onto anger doesn’t help anyone. One of the most healing things after a toxic relationship is to decide to rise above – as difficult as that sounds; to forgive this person for what they did and allow yourself to heal wholly and move on healthily. Once you decide to forgive, and subsequently forget, you’re truly free of the hold that this person had on you, free of old history and everything that happened in it, and you are free to pursue whatever makes you happy without any of that dead weight of the past holding you back anymore. Acceptance means you acknowledge the past and the inability to change what happened in it, but you’re no longer clinging to it and are ready to let go. Acceptance and forgiveness can be hard things for people to accomplish, especially if things ended particularly badly, but holding onto all of those bad feelings only hurts you further in the end; the best thing to do is forgive, let go, and, despite it all, wish nothing but positivity for that person no matter how much they mistreated you – when you do that, you realize you truly hold all the power and higher ground. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to be friends; sometimes you can forgive someone and wish nothing but love and light for that person, but still realize that they should no longer be in your life in any capacity. Forgiveness means you’re truly freeing yourself of what hurt you before and freeing yourself of all those negative emotions of the past, and you’re ready to embrace what’s to come. I promise you, it’s better than anything you may think.

In the end, all of these lessons learned simply show you what to do and what not to do, and what to put up with and what not to put up with, in your next relationship. You can remember the good memories with a smile on your face while simultaneously recognizing the bad parts for what they were and recognizing your partner for who they were. Then, you can recognize that with the next person you’re with, things will be different because now you know better. Now you know the signs of a toxic relationship and can act accordingly; you’ve learned when it’s time to walk away and when it’s time to work on things, and you’ve learned what it is you need and deserve from the next person you’re with. In the meantime, you can hold your head high knowing that you did what you could, and even if you gave everything you had to this person, they can never take away the most important parts of yourself from you.

I am a Public Relations major at the Pennsylvania State University. When I'm not writing for Her Campus, I enjoy watching the Office and volunteering at my local animal shelters.
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