So one of the most frustrating parts of a relationship that isn’t working is knowing that you need to end it, or get away from the crazy, or somehow expunge the person/relationship from your life and psyche, but somehow, you…just…can’t break free. It’s like an addiction, and yet, you are a smart person, right? You know it’s time to go- all signs point to RUN AWAY and still, you find yourself playing conversations, moments, texts, over and over in your head and virtually obsessing at times about why, how, and seeking closure…when it will likely never come. Why does this happen and how do you break the cycle?

As smart people we like to be in control of things- we like to have answers and often, we like to have things be logical and rational and tied up neatly before we walk away. In a crazy relationship that is often not going to happen, or it may happen, repeatedly, it seems, only to be followed by a renewal of craziness when we fail to really walk away. Why do we persist in such senseless behavior, knowing the relationship is not good for us and will only result in frustration, more bad feelings, and more pain? Well, there are different reasons smart people do this, but it’s worth sitting back, perhaps talking to a coach or a therapist who specializes in this sort of thing, and reflecting on why YOU may be staying on this hamster wheel of pain. Here are 2 of the most common reasons people seemingly can’t break free of toxic, heartburn-inducing relationships with people who don’t want them and take them for granted. See if one or both of these resonates with you at all:

1. You’re avoiding being available for a real, viable, relationship

This sounds goofy, but maybe, deep down, you are protecting yourself from the trust, vulnerability, and yes, potential new heartbreak (and critically, potential real joy and love) that could be part of a healthy relationship with someone who will not treat you like poo. We all have defense mechanisms, but for some folks who seemingly “can’t get over” that jerk whom they dated or that woman who broke their heart, who despite weeks and months of separation still think about that relationship and seemingly try to rekindle it, the real issue is not wanting to go back into the spanking machine of the broken relationship, but it’s making sure that they do not run the risk of more emotional pain (even though there could be gain too!) by being available for a new relationship. At some level it’s choosing the devil you know over the devil you don’t….

2. You’re punishing yourself for something.

Again, sounds goofy, but if you got into the crazy relationship after, say, a divorce that came about because you had an affair and you feel guilty about that, it may be that deep down, somewhere in your psyche, you believe you deserve to be treated like crap and to suffer emotionally. For example, I had a client, Meg, who was in a relationship with Terry, a married man who treated her like dirt for 2 whole years, and she just kept coming back for more- suffering more and more each time, and hoping it would change. Her “partner”- Terry the married guy- danced around maybe getting a divorce and maybe not and kept Meg on a string and at his beck and call- not her style at all. After he had stopped communicating with her completely, totally dumping her and causing her intense pain and humiliation in her mind, Meg persisted in trying to contact Terry, figure out a way to get back with him, and “fix” their relationship. Intellectually she knew this was insane and that he was a jerk and a sleaze, but she could not stop her behavior. Come to find out that on many occasions when she was feeling really low, she’d think to herself “this must be how Tim felt.” Tim was her ex whom she divorced after she had a torrid affair- Tom did not want to divorce, but Meg was determined, and Tim wore his devastation like a badge of honor. Meg felt horrible, and the more we talked, we realized her relationship with Terry was her way of doing penance for her infidelity; she was punishing herself by letting this selfish jerk treat her like an object, ultimately discarding her like a used Kleenex. This scenario does not require infidelity, but if there is something in your personal life you regret, perhaps it is interfering with your ability to love in a healthy way.

Do either of these scenarios ring true for you at all? Neither is very empowering, it’s true, but the frustration you may feel as a result of seemingly being enslaved by a toxic relationship with someone who is clearly done with you may feel worse than admitting, at least to yourself (and perhaps a coach or therapist to help you work through it) that one or both of these is interfering with your usual rational, thoughtful, nature to keep you in an emotional tailspin. So how can you break free of this cycle and get on with your life?

· Get perspective and keep it front and center. Whether you do it alone, with a coach, a therapist, or a trusted friend, actually TALK THROUGH the irrationality of your behavior and why your apparent commitment to this relationship does not make sense given what he/she does not give you and does not do for you and does not reciprocate. Then, explain WHY, given that, you should work to maintain that relationship…You will not come up with much, which is the point, of course. When doing this, either record yourself talking through this or have someone scribe for you while you do. Then take that record of what you said and turn it into a series of bullets- a “cheat sheet” you have in your wallet, on your mirrors, in your phone, and on your fridge to repeat to yourself, over and over, that this person/relationship is toxic for you and the reasons why you need to break away from it (rather than stay). Then whenever you think about this person, force yourself to read (ideally out loud) this cheat sheet at least 3 times. Add to it if you need to, but the point is to get perspective on what is real and what is not in this trainwreck and rescue yourself and make sure you…

· Leave the CRAZY behind- every time. So breaking free of feeding this bad situation is like quitting smoking or changing any unwanted behavior. You have to be vigilant, consistent, and compassionate with yourself but the bottom line is that whenever you have the urge to contact this person or put any energy into thinking about this relationship, you have to divert yourself and make a conscious choice to do something else- something positive for you. Feeding this relationship has become a habit, even though it’s not good for you, so you have to replace it with another behavior. First, use the above process to remind yourself of why this scene is so bad for you and then, make a choice to engage in another behavior besides texting, calling, writing, or ruminating about the crazy relationship. One of the best things you can do is spend time with good friends or family- people who have your back and will support you in moving on (I’ll be some of them have been urging you to move on for a while anyway!), or, if you are ready, find and invest in a real relationship with someone who is ready to be a partner in the way you want them to. In a perfect world, you can even tell that person that you have been struggling to deal with a toxic relationship but the things you learned from that have made you ready to be in a healthy relationship with them. Remember, as we get a little older we all have some baggage, and being honest about that without dwelling on it can strengthen a new relationship and help you both build on your past experiences, good and not so good.

So the bottom line is that you have to wake yourself up from the groundhog day cycle of putting energy and emotion into the black hole of a crazy relationship, but it takes some effort and commitment. If you can do this on your own, great, but sometimes having some help, at least getting started can be huge. A coach can help you get on the right path.

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Dr. Mary

Dr. Mary Coussons-Read, a Ph.D. in Psychology and an accomplished Professor and Higher Education Leader, brings extensive experience to her role as a Certified Professional Personal and Career Coach. With over 30 years of leadership and organizational development consulting in academic and corporate settings, Dr. Mary is well-equipped to guide higher education professionals toward envisioning and achieving positive change.

In addition to her academic background, Dr. Mary has a personal understanding of weight management challenges. Her transformative journey has inspired her to support successful individuals struggling with obesity. Through her expertise and compassionate approach, she helps them explore long-term options, including bariatric surgery or alternative strategies for lifelong weight management.

With her unique combination of academic knowledge, coaching skills, and personal experience, Dr. Mary is committed to assisting individuals in realizing their goals and making significant transformations in their lives.