Figuring out whether to end or stay in a codependent, abusive, or unhealthy relationship is rarely easy and often means you’re balancing a wide range of factors, from your shared history to your finances to the impact a separation might have on your family.
If you’re in this position, keep in mind the following:
→ Your and your dependents’ safety should always be your top priority
→ If you stay, the goal is to make your relationship healthier
→ Neither of you can change the other, but together you can change your relationship
If you decide to stay with your partner or continue a challenging relationship—even if just for a trial period—you’ve likely already redefined normal and set healthy boundaries. But these tactics don’t work overnight. When you change how you allow others to treat you it often takes the other person time to adjust his or her behavior.
Giving that person the space to accept and navigate your new boundaries is essential, but can also be exhausting for you. So how can you do that without depleting your energy or hurting yourself?
1. Be Consistent
You cannot “fix” your partner but you can set and stick to clear boundaries. This invites him or her to change by rising to meet them. If your partner struggles with this, it’s important to consistently defend your new boundaries, using clear and assertive language without being aggressive or blaming the other person (“I don’t know why I even tried because you always…”). Doing so shows that you take your boundaries seriously and expect your partner to as well.
2. Build a Support Network
Managing the pushback you might receive from your friend, family member, or partner when you begin setting healthier patterns in your relationship can be exhausting. Having a network of trusted friends, family, mentors, or spiritual advisors you can turn to is vital. They can support you in your choice and help you remember why you made it.
3. Seek Professional Help
Your friends and family are wonderful pillars of support, but they are also not unbiased—since they know the past hurts in this difficult relationship they might not be able to fairly see the progress the other person is making. A counselor can help you process the changes your relationship is going through, guide you to look at uncomfortable truths, and help you remember that caring for someone (having empathy, understanding, and setting healthy boundaries) is different than taking care of someone (enabling, loss of self, and lack of boundaries).
4. Say No to Shame and Blame
Our society tends to blame or shame people when they choose to stay in abusive, codependent, or unhealthy relationships. Avoid putting those judgments on yourself, especially if your partner is struggling to adjust to how you want to be treated. If family or friends try to shame or blame you, explain that you are taking concrete steps to improve your relationship and ask that they support your choices. If they continue to judge you, it’s time to set boundaries with them.
5. Develop a Game Plan
Steering your relationship into healthier waters likely will be a difficult journey. Identifying long-term goals for the partnership—for instance, maintaining clear boundaries, allowing for autonomy, communicating respectfully—and developing a game plan to reach them will help you remember your worth and stand your sacred ground. Setting goals for your relationship also allows you to honestly assess the progress you and the other person are making. A successful relationship takes two willing parties; if after clear communication, consistent expectations, and time for your partner to navigate them, he or she isn’t willing to change, it might be the moment to reevaluate the future of your relationship.
REMEMBER, if you decide to stay in an unhealthy relationship with the goal of making it healthier, YOUR SAFETY should be your FIRST priority. If at any point you feel that your safety is threatened, seek immediate help by calling the National Domestic Violence hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).