How to End Unhealthy Relationships

Part of life includes being in contact with people that do not feel good to us. If a lot of pain transpires with one person in particular, it’s likely you’ll eventually come to a crossroads: a place where you must decide if the relationship is just too painful to continue.

This may be a relationship with a partner, family member, friend, or coworker. Any type of relationship has the potential to fall apart, and it’s painful every, single time.

But sometimes it’s for the best. Because when a relationship brings more strife than love, you have to wonder how it’s serving your desire and right to a happy, loving life.

In this article, I’ll outline four steps to saying goodbye to relationships that are too unhealthy to continue. Hopefully it’ll serve as a guide for you to set yourself free.

1) Get clear that it’s time for the relationship to end. 

Before you are able to walk away from a relationship that feels harmful to you, you have to be clear that you’re ready to say goodbye. So how do you know it’s time?

In my opinion, it’s time when the majority of interactions feel hurtful, and little or no change seems to be in sight.

Struggle in relationships is part of the package…to a point. And there’s also a point where you have to draw the line and choose well-being instead.

If you dread being around someone, if you feel like your well-being sinks in his or her presence, if your body starts to revolt when that person is near…then it’s important to listen to those messages! They’re trying to tell you something. They’re saying, “This isn’t working for me.”

Kris Carr has said, “Habitually attempting to fix the unfixable is crazy-making.” She’s right. Staying in relationships that constantly feel bad is insanity. And you don’t have to do it anymore. You can choose to walk away.

You are the advocate for your own well-being. You have a choice to say goodbye when your health and sanity are on the line. It starts with making a decision to do so.

2) Grieve the loss.

Grieving is the natural emotional process that occurs when something comes to an end. It’s a crucial step of letting go of harmful relationships; one that cannot be skipped.

What does grieving entail? Feeling all the nasty feelings that exist for the person, and sadness for the things you’ll miss, too.

Many people stop short of real grief. They feel their feelings to a point, then turn to numbing, over-thinking, or blocking out the experience before it gets too painful. And I understand why – it’s not enjoyable to dive into your own pain. But trust me when I say: Feeling your uncomfortable feelings is the very thing that makes them fade away. 

So let yourself really feel them! The more you allow yourself to go into your darkness, the more you will emerge refreshed, renewed, and able to start again on the other side.

Grief is what brings a sense of closure to relationships. Feel your feelings, so you can move on.

3) Clean up your side of the street. 

Taking responsibility for the ways you’ve caused harm can be hard to do.

If a lot of active, raw feelings are still present (hurt, rage, pain, anger, sadness), then they’re likely to come to the surface if you engage with the person you are trying to end things with. This is why you must grieve before you approach.

Once you feel like you’ve moved through the majority of your feelings (this can take some time – be patient) and you’ve re-centered, then you are ready to take responsibility for your part.

Personal responsibility requires humility! Remember, the truth about your relationship is: you participated in it! There is not one good guy and one bad guy. Chances are, if someone has hurt you, then it’s likely you’ve hurt them, too.

By taking responsibility for your part, you are cleaning up the leftover damage that’s been done. No more guilt. No more shame. Nothing hanging over your head. You get to walk out the door with grace and dignity.

This is big. When done correctly, it feels really good. Take the high road and clean up your mess so you don’t have to come back for more.

4) Bless them as you walk out the door.

Once you have let go of your painful feelings and you have cleared the energy, hopefully you can bless the person as you part ways.

Saying goodbye is really about letting go of the resentments you feel for that person. It means wishing her well, or at the very least, wishing him or her a neutral existence.

The easiest way to do this is by tapping into your compassion for the human race.

We all have wounds, some deeper than others. And we’re all just trying to make it in the world the best we can.

People who hurt us are hurting. They may not be aware of it but it’s true. You don’t have to take someone’s s#*t, but you also don’t have to wish them harm, either.

If you can open your heart, even just a little, and recognize that we are all just trying to do the best we can, you may be able to bless this person as you go. If you’re able to do so, you’ve truly completed the process of saying goodbye. You are officially free to move on.

Saying goodbye to people and relationships that no longer serve us is a challenging process. Get support (a good therapist, friends, loved ones) as you embark on this painful but necessary journey.

Remember that letting go of what no longer serves you is what allows you to have more space for what you really want. Clean out what is unhealthy so you can call in the love and relationships that your heart truly desires.

In the comments below, I would like to know what you have gained from letting go of unhealthy relationships. I look forward to hearing from you.

Comments

Anne

This email comes to me a t a difficult time. My finace has shut down on me not showing love, afection or his feeling toward me. He states that he does not think he can make me happy. I have since found out he has been texting two other women who live out of town. When confronted, he says it is nothing more than friendship. I am heartbroken and need guidance. Please help :(

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Lily

Anne, take care of yourself. Now is a great time to connect with your friends and family and fill yourself up with love, love, love, and all kinds of goodness. What ever happens with your fiance, take care of yourself.

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Smiling Again

Lily, you are so right. Anne – this is the time to take are of yourself and connect with friends, family and fill yourself up with love and goodness. Nurture yourself. I recently went through a break-up in May. I knew deep down something wasn’t right. I finally stood up for myself. Two months later this man was engaged to someone else. He didn’t want to marry me because he saw my kids (high school and junior high) as a financial risk/burden. The woman he is marry doesn’t have kids and is fully available to do what he wants including moving to Alaska where he is now living. We both lived in the same city until he took a job there. The signs were there but I wouldn’t accept them. He was very good at making me believe he would marry me. His words I”m going to marry you ______”. Anyhow, after six years of waiting for him and hearing now that he was done raising kids or if he found someone without kids, that was a risk I could take for loving him, I said no more! Anne – accept and then grieve. I faced all of the emotions and it’s not been easy but well worth where I will be after the healing. I’ve reconnected with my family, friends, and most importantly, learned to love myself and I am happier than ever just being me and being a mother to my two boys! I had lost myself, my self esteem and feeling of self worth hearing so many negative things about my family and my life choices. Guess what? I am a wonderful woman, mother and was a wonderful girlfriend. He was simply not the right man for me….PLEASE love yourself first. :)

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same situation

Anne I am in the same situation, was reading this article and then I saw your comment Its funny how different woman are in the same situation. I’ve jotted ideas and I thing I am finally ready to let go. although my situation is a little more harsh since I am expecting a baby (Our first son together) so Im going to all the emotional feelings from me mourning the loss and me being so emotional because of my pregnancy. But I am doing this for myself and for the well being of my baby.

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Jodi

This is perfect advice at the perfect time. I broke up with my boyfriend of three years about two months ago because of his severe addiction to drugs. I really agonized over my decision and even second guessed myself. Walking away even felt like I was the one suffering withdrawal. However, I got through it and I feel so much better and it really was the right thing to do, as I have recently learned that he is now incarcerated due to possession of drugs and needles. All of his bad decisions could have had terrible consequences for me in the long run and I’m so much better off without him. For those of you suffering, just know that getting through the withdrawal leads to freedom.

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Jennifer

Hi Shelly, Your message is very timely. I am packing up this weekend and moving out from my boyfriend of three years. It has been a rough past few months with us and deep down I knew it would only survive a little bit longer. A major blowup expedited the move and I’m now exciting to be moving to a small bungalow at the beach. Something I’ve always desired. I’m looking forward to simple days and taking care of myself. Cheers!

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Sandra

I know it’s been a yr since ur post can u contact me I would love to know how u r doing after a year? And how you got thru everything. I have been with my bf for three yrs and we just broke up again and I’m a mess.

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jane

Your email also reaches me with perfect timing. My sister has not spoken to me in two years. I’ve tried to talk with her about this, but she is not interested in discussing her feelings or the situation, and doesn’t seem to want to work things out. I don’t know why she has shut me out, but I do know that this isn’t what I’d choose – since she is my sister. I feel like she has walked away from our relationship, but I don’t know why – and this leaves me feeling really lost about what to do.

My question is this: when you decide you no longer want someone in your life, is it a ever a good idea to let the person know that you’ve decided that the relationship doesn’t work for you? or is it best to just walk away. I’d rather have her be honest with me, even if it means we never talk again, than be left in the dark.

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abhyanga

Timely words for me as well, ended an on/off 10 year friends/lovers relationship just several days ago, because of his basically ambivalence toward a real commitment, but happy to use me as sounding board, companion, lover whenever he wanted .. it was addictive and codependant .. ENOUGH ! not going there any more .. love your wisdom, Shelly !

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tiffany

this sounds so similar to the rollercoaster I just got dumped off of on THursday! I agree. ENOUGH!

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leigh

Hi Shelly,
This comes at an interesting time for me as well. I have been with my husband for 20 years – 5 of which have been very hard. We have been arguing for most of them. We’ve been separated for the past 2 months and I feel like I can think again. I feel happier and more in connection with myself. I am afraid I’m not my best self with him. Now I have to ask myself the tough questions – is it me, can I change this – or is it him?

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Anna

This is how I feel ,I can not be true to my self. I am always living for everyone else. I can see where this happened. In the beginning I lived my husbands life. I was so in love and we had such a passionate relationship. I loved being with him all the time. I was addicted to him in a wired unhealthy way. 15 years down the road and 2 children, the story I compleatly different. After living someone else’s life, I bursted. The inner me (the true me)was screaming to get out to the point where I started to hate my husband,not wanted to be near him. Not fair I know, because I did not give him a heads-up when I first starting to notice my feelings. How would he know? he never asked me to change, however Thinking about it he is very good at convincing and sort of manipulate and I gave in all the time because I thought it was not worth fighting over. Boy was I wrong. It came a time where it was no longer possible to live like that that! I got depressed and angry and resiliant. I went to get consulting. After attending a couple of session it hit me like a brickwall. I was forces to relise this was not a healthy realationship for me. But leaving when you have 2 small children is not easy so now I am
Trying to be true to my self and I am
showing my true self to my husband and he is confused and blame me for our bad relationship. But I am not giving in yet. , I am giving it time and if we can not fire up our relationship again ( if he can not accept the true me then I have ro leave. It is so sad I am
angry since I should have reacted and acted a lot sooner. My husband does not relly know the true me and he might not like me at all who knows.

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Mandy

Hi Shelly
I have read your posts. At this time my 15 year marriage is on the rocks. Things have been difficult and we are at major cross roads about infidelity. And to complicate matters there is a job loss on my partners side. Infidelities are ( paid sex = satisfying the physical urge) that is definition of my partner. So it is not really betrayal according to my partner. Also I am blamed for the action of soliciting sex outside of marriage since my partner wasn’t getting as much as they liked. (Which is everyday of the week). Mind you I am 42 yrs old and experiencing a lot of peri menopause symptoms and I have been trying to keep the family fed and taken care of by working full time. In the past my partner lost a job and was unemployed for 18 months when I worked and was bone tired to do much since I had to take care of household responsibilities and my work. Is it an abusive relationship? Therapy didn’t work since my partner thinks it is useless. All this while I was under the impression that they were faithful to me but looks like every time we talk there is no accountability and there is still an expectation of physical intimacy on a daily basis. And I am blamed for the action about going outside of marriage to seek sex.

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Erika Schwartz

This has been really helpful to me because I have become overwhelmed in my life by trying to help people out, and I think they are starting to take advantage of me to a point. I have felt sorry for some families that dont have cars and phones and will take them to run errands and let them use my phone but it has really gotten ridicuous over the past couple monthes and the requests have gotten ridiculous and at some points I have felt very disrespected. Like one woman asked me to take her to pay her phone bill and then her drunk husband got in the car with a beer and I was really freaking out, I ended up running an errand after that to a trailer park for him to get something ( I am not comfortable with that!) and it ended up taking 30 minutes and he got back into my car with a beer- which I told him to get rid of it or hes walking home- on the ride back I finally expressed I was upset and he started crying- saying he would never do anything to hurt me but I felt like I was being manipulated. I really go out of my way for these people and I felt so disrespected. The same thing is happening with a household down the street. the familys mom is dying of brain cancer- but the family members are asking me for money and coming to my house all hours and aren’t even greatful, I like helping the mom. But its turning my life upside down. I really feel like I need to set some boundaries because these people are adults and I really have a big heart but I’m becoming a door mat, and I have a son I have to take care of. Sorry for venting but this helped me alot. If I don’t cut off the relationships competely I am definitely going to be putting some boundaries in place.

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Shelly Bullard

It sounds like you need to learn how to set boundaries with people. Saying “no” is a powerful thing.

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Jackie Morrison

Setting boundaries is on ongoing learning process and some relationships are more complicated than others. The longer we stay in an unhealthy relationship the more complicated it is to extract oneself. After I ended an unhealthy pairing a few years ago I came across a book called Safe People which a friend recommended. Relationships are what makes life rich and rewarding. Good relationships that is. The book on safe people was helpful in that it described the characteristics of those who are worth investing in emotionally, whether for friendship or more. The safer the person the more likely a relationship will be healthy for the long-term. Since then, it has proven to be a worthwhile guide in choosing friends and more.

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Yovana

Hi

It has been one and half year that i am engaged with a guy that i though was totally the right person. But after spending one year with him, i am very unhappy. He seems to be good for nothing, he cant help me with i feel down, he cant make me laugh in bad times, he just stresses me out rather helping me. Actually, the most of the times that i stress is because of him. I really dont know what to do. I have been doing my best to explain things but didnt really help. He is no fun. Believe it or not, he didnt tell me even one joke yet. Although, he is a good, honest, and trust able person but he stresses me out all the time. So i dont know what to do. Please help!
Thanks
Yovana

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Shelly Bullard

Hi Yovana. You know, it’s not his job to make you happy, unfortunately. That’s your job to do for yourself. Start there–by making yourself happy.

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Marina

Dear Shelly, (topic: break up or NOT?)
I am pretty much desperate, confused and in an emotional limbo unable to make decisions. I know that deep inside somewhere in me I have the answer to ‘what do to’ but would love the point of view of someone like you with your insights and experiences and someone that is unbiased.
Here is the brief: I have been in this relationship two years. We have been living together for over a year and somewhere in between we broke up (I left him) for three months and I rented elsewhere.
We share all expenses and divide everything. He is a doctor and is studying to become a cardiologist. I work in energy (as in electricity from Soar PV and wind etc). We have ‘broken up’ so many times its crazy … the thing is that every time we break up next day he acts like nothing and asks if maybe we should to the movies or something … I just now discovered that he hates Christmas and he got very upset when I had a Christmas tree in the apartment. He is also very unhappy with his job. He told me that he is not unhappy with me but he is not happy … just in the middle and that is enough for him … I don’t understand. Wouldn’t he like to be happy? I do! He told me that he has low expectations of life .. to me he seems unhappy all the time. He dislikes his job and complains about his family. He has a lot of childish behaviors and we cannot really sit and talk because his nervousness makes him start playing video games. I encourage him to go out … he does sometimes and hangs out with his guy friends. I go out too on my own. I do my own things. I actually do not doubt he loves me and I love him. The issue is: CAN WE REALLY BE HAPPY? SHOULD I RISK MORE TIME TO TRY THIS OUT? We work well together as partners and doing things and all. But I am very romantic and he is not. I feel that maybe there is a better match out there for me, like he said, someone that I not so negative, that likes the same things I do like Christmas and celebrations and likes the details. But the other part of me wants to see if maybe … if I relax more, we could be happy and have an awesome relationship. Just to let you know, we did have an awesome relationship. We did awesome at all levels. Last night he also told me that he is does not think he can have sex as much as I want. He is 39 and I am 27. We have sex about three times a month. I would like that to be a weekly number. Its not even that much. I do not know what to do and what to think. If I leave tis would be the final tie and decision. We cannot play around anymore and such.
Plus a part of me also cannot forget some pretty hurtful things he said and did to me in the past. No cheating though. But his anger got the best of him many times verbally … Ugh … frustrated and exhausted … would love your input and thoughts on how to go about this.
XO!

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Shelly Bullard

Hi Marina, Thanks for your message. There’s lots of details there–too much to go into online. If you would like to schedule an appointment with me to work through this, I would be happy to do that with you. Happy New Year. XO Shelly

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zodwa

please shelly help a drowning down body. Here is a guy hu loved me and i loved back as lyk everything we both need seemed to b de since we started dating in May 2013, hurtfullly he is short tempered such dat he suspected me on cheating in September 2013, i tried to explain dat it is ol his imaginations but he coudnt take it from me until i gave him space to understand so dis year 14 February he came back to me saying he missed confusing dat he engaged himself to other relationships but he nid me just he is confused coz de is another gil he is in a relationship with since i tried so hard even harder to show my love to him but its rilly hurting up to dis far so should i wait, or let him go or tell him dat i’m giving a space, please help me take a final decision

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Shelly Bullard

Sounds like you need to let him go and find love within yourself. Much love to you. xo

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Charles

Shelly, I’m dealing with a relationship where trust and secrets are the issue. As a result I have become insecure, upset with her. She has asked that I work on trust and insecure issues and not see her until these items are addressed. Meanwhile she is going out with her girlfriend drinking and god knows what else. I feel I’m being played. She says nothing is going on Just my insecurity. Help

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Shelly Bullard

This happens a lot in relationships and here’s the thing about it – if the trust has been broken (if she betrayed your trust in any way) then there is a reason to not trust her! It sounds like your girlfriend is blaming you for feeling insecure, but, of course you’re going to feel insecure if her behavior hasn’t been honest or respectful. Those are normal feelings. What you have decide is if you want to stick around in this or not, because you can’t expect her to change on the spot. It’s not going to happen unless she wants to – but you can’t convince her to.

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Loren

I thought this was a great to read.
I have recently been through a hurtful break up. I was with a wonderful man for a year, we both had children from previous partners and were married before.and after living together for 6 months we got into a fight one night and he moved out while I was at work the next day. No explaination for days until he finally told me he didn’t want a relationship or a girlfriend…what?? We talked about forever and talked about our children growing up together.
We had a few fights during our time together, but nothing so dramatic that it lead to this, or so I thought.
We tried dating for about 3 weeks after the break up and stopped again. The within days of being without eachother, we dated again, this time exclusive. He recently stood me up for a date to hang out with his friends and chose not to let me know. Ignoring my calls and my texts. He blamed me for being to pushy.
After crying more over this same man who broke my heart a few times now, I finally told him goodbye. I wish him nothing but joy in his life but still hold hope that one day the universe will bring us back.

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Sandra

OMG it was almost the same thing that happened to
me. He was working out of town I was living at his place taking care of it. There was one weekend he didn’t come home and I didn’t know where he was. Finally he gave me a date to move out of his place. I secretly moved and never shared that I was leaving. Two weeks went by and he blew my phone up sent me god songs off u tube so I met him. He told me he wanted to marry me even. I spent four days w him and the 5th day texts me to tell me he’s confused. He did break up w me for another woman the same woman that keeps coming between us for the last three yrs. I am just beside myself and so heart broken. He was my first love in hs and I thought my last. I have never loved a man more and I don’t know how to move forward when I love him so
Much.

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Tiffany

me and my boyfriend has been together about a year and a half, we argue almost everyday and the relationship needs serious help. His mother plays a big part in our relationship becuse she doesn’t like me. He has a little girl but her mother just died and that also plays a big part because people felt like he should of been with her instead of me. I really love him but sometimes the relationship gets very overwhelming. What should I do??

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Shri

Hi all,

I got a major problem and want a solution to it. I know I am being bit negative but this is the feeling which i am getting now a days.
It was me who was falling for a girl for last 3 n half years n i was always literary proving myself to her n her family my love for her. She n her family aglways rejected me. N now after 3n half years I feel humiliated and unwanted and doesnt want her anymore. The moment i said her that I want to walk away as she doesnt want me, she realized that she wants to stay with me n want me in her life. Now i am having this feeling that I dont want to be with her as when I was trying so hard to convince her n her family, no1 took my side. She doesnt show me or give me any commitment as she is still scared to be with me. but at the same time, she says that she want to be with me. Now, I am not feeling to be with her and want to walk away as I am done with her but the problem is cannot say NO to her. just to notify u guys one the worst incidents happened to me with her was that my dad expired on 19 Nov 2013, n i was feeling so lost and lonely and I badly wanted someone. I was expecting that no1 but atleast she would stay with me, but inspite she knowing that my dad expired and even after saying her almost N no times she walked away on a trip with her friends on 8th Dec 2013 which was my birthdate. I felt so lonely and so lost from day onwards and that i decided not to be with her. But now, she is pushing me to come back into relationship. I cannot be in a relationship who dint treated me well and who cannot understand my emtions. I have done every damm thing to fight for her and to be with her. my mom had litereay kicked me out of house because of her, still i was behind her for last 3n half years. But now i dont want to be with her. Please suggest me how to say NO to her and walk away respectfully. Regards

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Shelly Bullard

Sounds like you’re caught in a codependent cycle – push/ pull, I love you/ I don’t want you. The answer of how to walk away is simple and complicated – when you stop compulsive need for her, you’ll be able to walk away easily.

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April

I see most of the responses are about the primary relationship. Mine is about my spouse’s child instead. She was 15 when her parents got divorced, and ended rejecting my relationship with her dad (understandable and predictable, I think). While I could sympathize with her, I couldn’t abide her disrespect nor tolerate her recurring abuse towards her dad. She’s out of state now, and out of our lives. I’m wondering, after reading this, if I can close the door on her for myself even though she’s still his daughter. She’s caused me much, much pain and heartache, and shows no remorse for the awful things she said to and about me, or desire to rebuild bridges she burned. I feel like I’m hanging on to my (and her father’s) pain by hoping she’ll come around (apologize) and want to be a part of our life together. Perhaps it’s possible to close a door on someone for your own healing, but not lock it permanently..

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Lorelei

It was a very good article. Although I “mentally” know those things to do & that yes, the relationship has extended it’s validity, it was helpful to get not only some support but to see it in writing. To know I am well on my way. I believe I have been grieving it in stages. The bargaining, allowing them to come back with all those promises of how different it will be this time. I only recently realized each time I allow her back it only does more damage. Not only am I not able to heal from the 1st “hurts”, I then have accumulated some more. YUCK! It’s a vicious cycle–ONLY if I continue to allow it! Thanks for writing on such an important matter. Matters of the heart are never easily resolved. (At least not in my experiences.)

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Kristine Horton

Shelly,
This article is coming at just the right time. This article and the points it’s making about how to end the relationship gracefully are how I would like to end things with someone I no longer wish to see.
I have come to a place of acceptance of him. I have accepted that he needs someone who is not me. He will be much happier if he is involved with someone that suits him far better than myself.
In reading your steps I know I’m at the point where I simply need to say the word “Goodbye, I wish you well. I hope you find someone who is more suited to you than I am.” We have different goals and ways of living. I’m good with him being him and me being me. I will not stick around in a situation I know will not work in the long run.
Someday I want to be married but not to a warm body just because he is male. I want the right guy for me.
I enjoyed your article.

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John

I have stayed. In a relationship for 3 years because I don’t want to hurt my partner knowing it is making me ill emotionally and physically .sounds stupid but I am still there .i need help

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Alison

I have let go of 9 people in the past 2 1/2 years and am at peace with myself. Four of those people walked away from me but the other 5 people I weeded out. I only have one friend here where I live now and two friends in another state but I have more joy than ever. I know that God is going to bring me new connections as I step out of the shadows of isolation this year to reconnect with the world again!

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