Many of us want picture perfect, ‘love lives here’ relationships, don’t we? We want love in abundance, cute Instagram posts with bae, presents and romantic phone calls that last way longer than they should. But what happens when what seems like a beautiful relationship turns into a nightmare? Those of us who have been in toxic relationships know how badly these connections can affect every avenue of our lives.

A toxic romantic relationship occurs when one or both partners engage in behaviour that is emotionally or physically damaging to their lovers by exerting physical or emotional dominance or saying or doing hurtful things that damage the self-esteem of their partners.

A few years ago, I found myself in a toxic romantic relationship. My partner was always jealous of my ambition and told me women were only good for making babies and taking care of the home. I found myself crumbling whenever we had a fight and was unable to focus at school. He was also extremely possessive and would call me out for having any male friends, while he flirted with females regularly. The first time I saw text messages between my partner and another girl on his phone, my heart was completely shattered and I dumped him, only to take him back a month later. We had fallen into a pattern of toxicity that had become seemingly unbreakable.

My ex-boyfriend, I can now admit, was emotionally abusive towards me. He was insecure and jealous and extremely controlling, but I naïvely kept forgiving him as soon as he showed up with a bunch of roses or made some grand romantic gesture. He had broken me down so much, I felt like my moods were controlled by him like a light switch that could easily be flipped on and off. The entire relationship caused me so much anxiety and ripped away the little self-esteem I had garnered in my young life.

Eventually, after many internal battles with myself, I managed to leave the relationship. Trust me, it was no easy feat – after blocking his number, I was tempted on several occasions to unblock him, especially when I got lonely or faced emotional trials in my daily life. In time, I managed to forget about my ex-boyfriend and now our relationship is a distant memory that I only think of when recounting lessons learnt.

Toxic relationships come in many different shapes and forms, so I would advise you guys and girls to leave your toxic partners before you get hurt, emotionally or physically. It is also a good idea to get counselling to heal from the pain the relationship caused you.

Here are some ways you can leave and heal from a toxic relationship:

1. Take the first step
With everything you do in life, taking the first step will normally be the hardest, but if you know that being in a certain relationship is not beneficial to your emotional wellbeing, the best thing you can do is to rip the band aid off quickly and remove them from your lives by cutting contact altogether. As I mentioned previously, you will likely be tempted to call or text your ex-girlfriend or boyfriend, especially if you relied on them for emotional support, but be patient with yourself because overcoming any emotional pain is hard and you’ve got to take the healing process one day at a time.

2. Heal yourself from the inside
Remember, all break-ups are hard. When you take the brave decision to leave an emotionally draining relationship, you will be dealing with the loss of the relationship and you’ll effectively have to heal from the hurt your former partner inflicted on you. Find someone you can trust to speak to about your feelings, grieve and allow yourself to feel all the emotions of loss, however painful they may be. If you’re not comfortable with speaking to people about your feelings, find another outlet to express your emotions, whether through journaling, writing poetry, doing yoga, spending time in the great outdoors, or whatever works for you, healing is a very personal thing.

3. Avoid triggers
If you know that being on social media will temp you to contact your ex-lover, take a hiatus from these online networks as far as possible. If you need to access WhatsApp in order to keep up to date with class assignments or to stay in contact with your colleagues at work, only use the platform for those purposes. It’s also really refreshing to take a break from social media sometimes to appreciate life and your friends and family, instead of moping around, staring at a screen all day.

4. Volunteer your time
Give some of your time and energy to charitable causes. If you have a passion for animals, volunteer at an animal shelter. Spend time reading to or playing games with the elderly at the local old-age home in your community. Tutor young scholars in your neighbourhood. Volunteer at a homeless shelter. There are so many ways you can give back to society. Being kind and volunteering your time is very therapeutic and will help you realise how blessed you truly are.

5. Be kind to yourself
You’re an amazing, wonderful person and the way your ex-partner treated you is a reflection of their character, not yours. Write positive affirmations about yourself on sticky notes and paste them around your room, try and write at least one or two a day. Tell yourself you are a beautiful, smart and caring person, because as much as your toxic ex-lover triggered your lack of confidence, you need to build your own self-image and emotional resilience and realise that nobody can ever demean you without your consent.

Getting over a toxic relationship can be challenging, but remember that in time, you’ll be fine and even stronger than ever before. Remember the goals and hopes and dreams you had before your ex-partner came into your life and try to focus on those projects. If you want to graduate from high school or university with distinction, work towards your dream every day. If you want to run a marathon, run a little bit more each day. When the time is right, you will find love again, but until that time comes, build yourself up so that you’ll be ready to receive all the love and respect you deserve from your future romantic partner.


Tell us: Was this helpful? Do you have any other advice for those who are struggling to leave a toxic relationship?