How to Get Out of an Unhealthy Relationship
Relationships can be a gift. Unfortunately, they can also be an emotional, mental, and spiritual drain. Friendships, dating relationships, marriage, and family relations are meant to be a give and take between people who are mutually invested in the best for each other. So how can we determine when a relationship is truly unhealthy—and how do we get out of it, if it is? Here are a few thoughts on both determinations.
*Author’s Note: I’m writing this article from the assumption that the unhealthy relationship being discussed is not between a husband and wife. I am in no way advocating for divorce or separation of a covenant marriage. If there is abuse in your marriage, physical or emotional, get to a safe place and speak with a counselor or trained professional on what steps you should take from there.
Relationships can be a gift. Unfortunately, they can also be an emotional, mental, and spiritual drain. Friendships, dating relationships, marriage, and family relations are meant to be a give and take between people who are mutually invested in the best for each other.
Obviously, not everyone will get along all the time—even the best of friends or the happiest of married couples will still occasionally argue! Just because someone doesn’t agree with you or see your side of the story doesn’t mean you’re in an unhealthy relationship. Someone telling you a hard truth you don’t want to hear doesn’t mean you’re in an unhealthy relationship either. Nor does a fellow believer offering sound and convicting Biblical wisdom mean you’re in an unhealthy relationship. Conflict does not automatically equal unhealthy.
However, the flip side is that we often find ourselves staying involved with an unhealthy person—be it a friend, extended family member, or romantic partner—long after we should have cut the cord and freed ourselves from their toxic behavior. That’s a scary thing to do, and can get messy, especially if it involves long-term relationships.
So how can we determine when a relationship is truly unhealthy—and how do we get out of it, if it is?
Here are a few thoughts on both determinations.
A relationship is unhealthy if it leads you into sin.
This is a given. If a relationship consistently tempts you into sin, or the person on the other end of the relationship pressures you to do things that dishonor the Lord, it’s unhealthy. This tends to be most common in dating relationships, where one person fears the other person will leave them if they don’t conform or give in. I once found myself in a relationship with a man who was essentially a functioning alcoholic. Because of the wounds from my recent divorce/abandonment, this new relationship was ill-timed, very unbalanced, and worldly. It pulled me away from my walk with the Lord and became a stronghold in my life. The only way of escape? Prayer, accountability—and tough love with myself. I decided to end the relationship, told a few trusted people to pray for me as I navigated those initial post-break-up waters, and broke all contact with this man. For the first few weeks, I was frequently tempted to cave and go back to what was familiar, but by prayer, the grace of God, and those who loved me checking on me, I didn’t—and I broke free. Sometimes a clean break—painful as it is—is the only way to gain the clarity you need from the unhealthy “familiar.”
Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. (1 Corinthians 6:18 ESV)
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14 ESV)
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A relationship is unhealthy if it causes you frequent physical and emotional distress.
Don’t get me wrong—all relationships can be stressful. Our parents, siblings, friends, spouses, boyfriends, and co-workers are all capable of stressing us out at times. That’s normal. What’s not normal is keeping a close relationship or intimacy with people who take from us and never give back. This might mean tangibly, as in, they use up resources such as money and time without being generous with their own in return. But it also could mean emotionally and mentally. It’s draining to be in relationship with people who are constantly negative, strap us on the emotional roller coaster of uncertainty, are prone to fits of anger, and leave us tiptoeing around on eggshells.
Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare. (Proverbs 22:24-25 ESV)
The Bible warns this type of behavior can be contagious, and at best, leaves us physically and emotionally wiped out. Cutting ties with someone like this in your life isn’t easy, especially if it’s a family member, boss, or friend. But if this is your work environment, consider finding another job. If this is a friend in your life, have an honest talk with them about how you feel. If there’s no change on their part, then it’s okay to set healthy boundaries. You can pray for them, but that doesn’t mean you’re obligated to answer the phone, listen to them spew anger, or engage in their negative attitude.
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A relationship may be unhealthy if you’re constantly put in a position to forgive.
Forgiveness is a crucial part of the Christian life. No matter where we turn, there will be opportunities to forgive. Because of how much we were forgiven, we’re commanded to forgive others.
Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times." (Matthew 18:21-22 ESV)
However, where we get confused as believers is thinking we must allow people access to our hearts and souls by constantly letting them back into our inner circle after they sin against us and we forgive them. You can forgive, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and still set healthy boundaries within your personal space. Turning the other cheek as commanded in the Bible does not mean that you repeatedly put yourself in a situation to be abused, harmed, or walked over. Rather, it means, don’t seek retaliation. Don’t have a heart focused on revenge and on making sure the other person pays for what they’ve done. Instead, trust vengeance to the Lord (Romans 12:19).
If there’s a relationship in your life where you’re constantly being sought for forgiveness for the same offenses, it might be time to evaluate that relationship and set boundaries to protect yourself. People will fail you—that’s a guarantee. But if someone is repeatedly bringing you the same harm, it’s time to consider some distance. Pray for this person and forgive them, but it may be time to put limits or even block communication with them to give yourself time and space to heal. If you ever take these steps, always do so prayerfully, with wise council, and not in a spirit of vindication. Depending on the acceptance of your decision by the other person, these new boundaries could mean blocking them on social media and from your phone. It’s hard, but in some cases it must be done.
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A relationship is unhealthy if you are not prompted to be better from it.
Ideally, relationships are made to bring out the best in each other. Our spouses and close friends and family members are usually the ones who know the good, the bad, and the ugly in our lives—and love us anyway. They might not always love us perfectly—only Christ can do that—but there’s a certain security that comes with knowing we’re accepted by those in our inner circle. That security inspires us and encourages us to grow, flourish, dream and take risks.
Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. (Proverbs 13:20 ESV)
We’re all being sanctified day by day in the Lord, and as a community of believers, we get to champion each other along for the cause. “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14 ESV). If those in your inner circle aren’t stirring in you a desire toward things of the Lord, and a desire to grow in your walk with Christ and in using the unique talents and abilities He’s given you, you might need to tighten your circle. If a close friend or even a family member is a source of discouragement toward your goals, it’s probably wise to stop sharing that part of your heart with them. You’re not obligated to tell them about your newest venture. If they can’t be a cheerleader for you, a gentle voice of wisdom, or a prayer partner—remain kind and polite with them, but choose to save the intimate parts of you for the people in your life who desire to see them thrive. If this negative person is someone you’re dating, it’s probably time to break up. As difficult as that is, marrying into a toxic relationship is much worse.
Betsy St. Amant Haddox is the author of fourteen inspirational romance novels and novellas. She resides in north Louisiana with her newlywed hubby, two story-telling young daughters, a collection of Austen novels, and an impressive stash of Pickle Pringles. Betsy has a B.A. in Communications and a deep-rooted passion for seeing women restored in Christ. When she's not composing her next book or trying to prove unicorns are real, Betsy can usually be found somewhere in the vicinity of a white-chocolate mocha. Look for her latest novel with HarperCollins, LOVE ARRIVES IN PIECES, and POCKET PRAYERS FOR FRIENDS with Max Lucado. Visit her at http://www.betsystamant.com./
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