5 Ways to End a Bad Relationship

Sometimes we find ourselves in relationships that make us miserable more often than they make us happy, relationships that we know in our hearts are not right, yet still have a hold on us. If you're feeling stuck in a dead-end relationship that keeps drawing you back in, here are some research-based strategies you may not have considered to end it for good and get on with your life:

1. Don't mistake addiction for love

If you are trying to break free from a relationship that feels more like an addiction than a loving bond, one strategy is to reframe your thoughts and emotions about that person as if he or she is a cold, clinical biological process, in order to gain a healthy distance. For example, after a week of not calling, you feel a wave of longing in your chest and think, "But I really do love him (or her)...I should call right now..." Instead, you could simply notice that sensation and tell yourself, "Interesting. There goes my caudate nucleus releasing dopamine and producing a sensation of longing. OK, back to work."

2. Give yourself a break

Here are some ways to give yourself a break from a bad relationship. Accept that the relationship is not working out and it’s time to move on. Take your time to heal and do not rush into another relationship. Exercise regularly, eat healthy food, and practice self-care. Find friends and family to talk to and share feelings. Talking about your feelings can help you feel better. Avoid using alcohol or drugs as a way to cope with your emotions. Try new things that can help you move on from the past. Think of a futre for yourself, focus on your goals and what you want for your future. Convince yourself that you will find joy once again. Remember that it’s important to take care of yourself during this time. If you’re struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out for help from friends, family, or a professionals.

3. Lock yourself into a plan

People are best at making lasting changes when they come up with specific implementation intentions, or "if/then" plans. These plans have been shown to help people avoid temptation, meet health goals, and even avoid stereotyping outgroup members. You may currently have a lot of default "if/then" connections that are not working in your favor, such as, "If I feel lonely and miss [the partner], then I call him or her and ask him or her to come over." Instead, you could replace this default "then" with a behavior that is likely to make you feel better in the long run, such as calling a good friend or listening to an empowering album. The more you practice making a different decision whenever the "if" stimulus arises, the more automatic the link will become, and the easier it will be to resist the old pattern.

4. Defy cognitive dissonance

Unless a relationship suddenly takes a turn for the worst after being smooth sailing before, ending it often means coming to terms with the fact that for a long time we didn't end it, and that that was a mistake. If we can't come to terms with this, we might find ourselves continuing to justify our present commitment to the relationship, which in turn justifies our past decision to stay in it. Being aware of the way your mind can play tricks on you can help you avoid this trap.

5. Own your decision

Ending a relationship can be a long and painful struggle, and it's not easy to do it alone. You will need a good support team to keep you on track and help you fill your life with healthy, positive activities. But ultimately, the decision to end a relationship is yours, and succumbing to pressure from those around you is unlikely to last very long. When all else fails, sometimes it helps to step back and ask yourself, point blank, What do I really want? Only you know the answer.

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