Friday, March 11, 2016

When to leave a relationship

Sometimes things get bad.  Really bad.

Sometimes it’s a tough call between “this is just another human mistake, I should just forgive and carry on” and “I really think I’ve had enough of this.”

The many factors and facets of human relationships are so complicated that it goes way beyond the scope of this particular webpage, but what I will do is narrow it down and speak to those who struggle with having clear boundaries in relationships.  If you have had a chronically stressful or hurtful childhood, knowing when enough is enough is not a clear and easy thing.

In this situation, your mind is useless. Having endured what it did in childhood, it is now hardwired to overlook the assaults. Your mind has a tendency to reassure you that everything is okay…when it’s really not.

If this is your experience, you’ll need to consult with another source of wisdom within you: your body.

Your body knows when you have been violated or hurt.  It gets expressed as aches or pains (headaches, back tension, digestive tract upset), tightness (I feel as though my throat closes up), or in the case of the heart, hollowness and a sensation of collapse or sinking. (To illustrate the opposite experience: in most people, the way the heart says YES is a sensation of expansion, and/or beating faster and stronger.)

That heart “brain” is only capable of communicating the truth of the matter, and will never lie to you about how being in the relationship is actually affecting you.

Now, if you feel you are in immediate physical danger from your partner, (i.e. force is required to be safe in that moment) it goes without saying that you should get help from the police immediately!  (For most domestically dangerous situations, your local women's services organization/shelter may be better option because they can offer both safety and confidentiality! Also, they typically have the resources to help and support you from many different angles.)

If you’re being violated in non-life threatening ways ways which confuse you and make you hesitate (psychologically, socially or emotionally) you’ll need to pay attention to what your body is telling you.

Each time you feel a sensation, notice it. Close your eyes and just feel it. What were the circumstances that brought it on? What were you thinking about just then? These are the clues on what circumstances your body deems are unacceptable.  If you continue to experience these circumstances, the effects they have on your body will begin to take their toll. Sometimes these body symptoms turn chronic, so something has to change!

Let’s say that you’ve discovered that when your partner uses you as a verbal punching bag, you feel it in your heart (collapsed) and your throat (tight: because you don’t feel like you can speak without being verbally punched even more!) You try to communicate to your partner -- that their way of venting their life’s frustrations directly at you -- is hurtful.  Instead of being receptive, they get defensive, and nothing changes.

Let’s say that you’ve tried to crack through that thick skull of theirs many times and it’s not working.  You demand couple’s therapy. He/she goes reluctantly, insisting that you’re actually the one with the problem.  Therapy happens and things get better for a while, but before long, things go right back to where they were. 

The thing about humans is that we bring all of our past baggage into our relationships, and unless we do the personal work to unpack it all, it’s always going to be haunting our lives.  It’s like the saying goes: “wherever you go, there you are.”

It’s important to remember that it’s nobody else’s responsibility to unpack their baggage but their own.  And please remember that if somebody else’s baggage is hurting or violating you through their behavior, it’s not your fault. 

Having constant uncomfortable body sensations is an indication that perhaps it’s time to move on in the name of self-preservation.  Those aches and pains you feel in your body could manifest into chronic conditions, and no relationship is worth that!

Being constantly hurt by someone else’s baggage is not love.  It’s certainly not self-love.  (Tweet:) Great acts of self-love sometimes involve getting away from other people’s baggage. Your heart knows this truth.

Have you ever left a bad situation and felt light in your body and full of energy?  Your heart expands and beats strong and rhythmically? Your heart knows the truth.

Let your body be your barometer and your compass, work on your own unpacking, and live your life well.


  1. Excellent article. I so resonate with the wisdom of the heart "brain" and wisdom of the body. As an ecstatic dancer, it amazes me how clear and articulate my body articulates itself in movement. My mind doesn't comprehend it a great deal of the time, but I can't deny the joy it brings me to allow that free flow to come forth. The same goes, I feel, with allowing the expression of my Life. Not denying those feelings and sensations when I feel them, but acknowledging the truth that resides there. Fear is such a powerful emotion that causes me to want to turn away from that truth at times. But I am learning to trust more, knowing when there is a clear "yes" and a clear "no." I've just left a long-term relationship myself and, in spite of the deep grieving, I'm clear it was and is the right thing to do. Congratulations to you for knowing and acting on the same.

    1. Thank you, Julie! Ecstatic dancing sounds absolutely amazing!!

      I am really settling into being present with my own experience of fear. In the moment, it feels awful and dangerous, but I've started the habit of observing the sensations of that emotion. I also remind myself that those emotions are my experience (not the true me) and amazingly, within moments they dissipate, and I can regain my center and focus. I wonder: if fear was imagined as a dragon, could we tame it through dance?

  2. Holly!!!
    That is such an amazing article. I love your tweetable sentence.. Totally aligns with my post a couple of days ago "Sometimes the biggest act of love is to walk away"...

    My, every bit of this article speaks to me.. The part where you say how childhood experiences can change our standards/threshold, the one where you say how our body always knows and will express itself.. I have a friend who's always sick after he spends time with his family.. No coincidence at all..

    And I think, that could be expanded to all relationships in general. Be it with people, or things.. (e.g your relationship with your friends, colleagues, job, or even with your yoga class!!)
    I can't wait to read your other posts!