Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

You Deplete Me: 10 Steps to End a Toxic Relationship

you complete me2.jpg
“You complete me.” You know that line, right … from “Jerry McGuire”? It comes right before “You had me at hello” (another puker). The completing-the-other bit nauseates me a tad because we relationship-analyzers (some with the right initials after their names and some self-declared experts who can type) like to classify that type of dialog with a term known as “codependency.” 


Ideally, you shouldn’t need anyone to complete you. You should be whole going into a relationship, right? My guess is that those who feel like they are getting fixed are actually getting ripped off. That’s why they keep coming back, hoping that THIS time their partner will make the ouches go away, making them feel all sunshiny and warm inside. Instead, the ouch is bigger, the hole is wider, and they are feeling the way I do when I see a Tom Cruise movie: bad.

A relationship doesn’t have to be romantic to fall into the “toxic” category, of course. Many friendships, mother-daughter, boss-employee, and waiter-eater relationships qualify. If someone is bringing you down consistently, chances are that your relationship with him is toxic. But if you follow these 10 steps, you can start to complete yourself, maybe even look into the mirror and say, “You had me at hello.”


1. Step out of denial.

Be prepared to dry off as you step out of the river of Denial. A few questions will get you there. Ask yourself these, for starters: Do I feel energized or drained after I spent an hour with X? Do I WANT to spend time with X or do I feel like I have to? Do I feel sorry for X? Do I go to X looking for a response that I never get? Do I come away consistently disappointed by X’s comments and behavior? Am I giving way more to the relationship than X? Do I even like X? I mean, if X were on a cruise and I didn’t know her, would I walk up to her and want to be her friend/boyfriend based on her actions and interactions with others? Go check out this questionnaire if you are still confused.


2. Keep a log of emotions.

One of my depression busters is to keep a record of things that make me feel bad. Consistently bad. I am not a fast learner. School was hard for me. So I have to perform the same mistake, oh, about 35 times before my brain gets the message that perhaps I am doing something wrong. The journalist in me then takes the case and begins gathering the facts. So if, after 35 tries, I suspect that having coffee with X makes me feel worse, not better, I will log my feelings immediately following our meeting. If I get two or more of “I feel like crap, like I am a weak and pathetic person,” then I know that I’m enmeshed in a toxic relationship that I should consider tossing out.


3. Identify the perks.

As I wrote in “10 Steps to End an Affair,” every relationship, even toxic ones, have hidden benefits. Or why would you stay in them? So identify the perks. Determine what, specifically, you are getting from this relationship. Does X make you feel attractive and sexy again? Does helping X with her kids even though it exhausts you relieve your guilt in some twisted way, because you feel like your life is easier than hers? Even though X doesn’t treat you well, does she remind you of your verbally abusive mom, and therefore bring you a comfort level?

4. Fill the hole.


Now that you’ve identified what you were hoping to stuff with this relationship, it’s time to find alternative sources of peace and wholeness. The other day, when I was attempting this very task, my friend Priscilla Warner listed not 5 or 10, but 18 ways she nourishes her soul, or center, attempts to complete herself so that she doesn’t have to rely on others for that job. Among her 18: writing and making jewelry, retail therapy (like picking out the juiciest orange she can find), meditation CDs, hugging her dog, Mickey, listening to sad songs–to release the tears, calling up friends, and reminding herself that her sadness won’t stay forever.


5. Surround yourself with POSITIVE friends.

Lots of support and friends isn’t going to cut it. You need the right kind of friends–i.e. those working on their boundaries as hard as you are, who aren’t enmeshed in their fair share of toxic relationships and therefore become somewhat toxic themselves. The stuff is contagious. I suspect the risk for getting sucked into or stuck in a toxic relationships for people who have friends in toxic relationships is higher than 100 percent. So be smart with whom you choose to hang out.

6. Drop a note to yourself.

I got this idea from Howard Halpern’s “How to Break Your Addiction to a Person.” One of his patients wrote memos to herself to cover those fragile moments when she knew she’d need reinforcement. She would compose a note, drop it in the mail, and then be pleasantly surprised to find a letter from her self saying something like: “Hey self! I know you don’t feel like it right now, but you really should make some plans for the weekend before it’s here, because I know you get down when you are sitting around the house alone. Call Carolyn. She’d love to hear from you.”


7. Bribe yourself.

I know there are parenting experts that don’t approve of this technique, but I say nothing is more effective than bribing to get to a goal. Therefore, on your way to freeing yourself from the harness of a toxic relationship, reward yourself at various stages along the way. First, try not initiating any communication for a week. If you pull it off, then treat yourself to coffee with a fun, supportive friend, or a half-hour by the bay alone (no computer, phone, or iPod). If you have been able to utter that delicious word “no” a few times in a row, go celebrate by downloading a CD of your favorite musical artist from iTunes or splurging on the dark chocolate hiding in the freezer.


8. Heal the shame.

For me, breaking free of toxic relationships has led to a lot of inner-child work. You know, when I sit the wounded little girl on my lap and let her tell her story. Because I’m a visual person, I facilitate this process with a pretty doll that Eric almost gave to Goodwill (like she needed any more trauma!). I ask her why she is scared and lonely and wanting the wrong kind of attention. “Because that’s all I know,” is usually her response, at which point I play with her hair and reassure her that relationships are supposed to make her feel better, not worse, and that the right kind of love is out there–in fact, she has already found it in so many of her relationships.


9. Repeat affirmations.

The other day I used the bathroom at a friend’s home and on the bathroom door were posted all kinds of affirmations like: “My Life is full of loveliness, passion, tenderness, surrender and flowing with DIVINE LOVE”; “My Life is full of play and humor and overflowing with RADIANT HEALTH”; “My Life is COURAGEOUS and FREE”; and “My Life is FULL OF MIRACLES.” I came out of the bathroom and said, “Wow, I feel much better.”

In her book, “Women, Sex, and Addiction,” Charlotte Davis Kasl writes, “Once the negative core beliefs have been exposed and challenged as false, you need to adopt positive, life-affirming beliefs. ‘I am unlovable’ becomes ‘I can love and be loved, I am a sacred child of the Universe.’ Feelings of hopelessness are counteracted by the new belief ‘I have the power to change my life.’ ‘I am defective’ slowly changes to ‘I get to make mistakes and be loved.’


My affirmations these days are “I have a good heart” and “I mean well,” especially when I get guilt trips about not giving more to a relationship.

10. Allow some rest.

In “Ready to Heal: Women Facing Love, Sex, and Relationship Addiction,” Kelly McDaniel advises persons who have just broken off a toxic relationship to lay low, and avoid packing their day with too many activities. She writes:

The energy it takes to endure withdrawal [to an addictive or toxic relationship] is equivalent to working a full-time job. Truthfully, this may be the hardest work you’ve ever done. In addition to support from people who understand your undertaking, you must keep the rest of your life simple. You need rest and solitude.


Click here to subscribe to Beyond Blue and click here to follow Therese on Twitter and click here to join Group Beyond Blue, a depression support group. Now stop clicking.

  • MMJ

    I ended a toxic friendship about 8 months ago. I didn’t really think of it as “toxic” until after the break, when my former friend went violently bananas all over me for daring to stop putting up with her junk (and I do mean “violently” as in ‘duck the punches’ and “bananas” = “mentally unbalanced” for a lot of what she said and did – behavior that is not normal, not healthy and not good for anyone – she’s not making her own life better, acting like that).
    I’d say that a sign of a toxic relationship is a marked improvement in life quality AFTER it ends. As in, you are happier, air smells better, life opens up to new possibilities, you find happy, healthy friends who respect you. It is worth making the break.
    I’m still amazed by how much my life is happier, saner, more stable, healthier and filled with better people and places. Why did I put up with the “friendship” for so long? Because it would take effort and make a stink to end it. But so very, very worth it.

  • blanche

    I was “depleting” my significant other until I started medication and joined AA. Thanks for the affirmation. P.S. I still love the movie “Top Gun”, sorry. :)

  • Laina alexander

    I’m going through a breakup now I just want it to end so I can move on with my life.He has cheated on me the whole seven years we’ve been together, he’s a liar and has not growed up and I think that he will never grow up.

  • Pebbles

    I’ve been in relationship for 10 years. We both had been victims in bad relationships in the past. He has helped fill the gap of a father figure for all the time he’s been here, although I feel he’s more high maintanence than I or my 13 yr old son. We now have his 16 yr old daughter living w/ us, and things are good. He is a person w/ great faith and has a trusting heart. I tend to be more doubting of our relationship, because after reading the above message about TOXIC RELATIONSHIPS…I feel I too am in one. He recently was locked up, and our pastor bailed him out…I was looking forward to the quiet time, but how can I feel doubt about our relationship when people of God keep telling me to keep and go deeper into out relationship like marrage. I feel like maybe I deserve more!

  • Angel

    My almost 3 year relationship with an ex who moved away after we broke up is the hardest for me to let go. I love his good heart and he still quote says “I love you”. Everyone has issues and baggage; the best we can do is recognize them and learn from our inner child, past mistakes and learn to keep growing and mainly forgiving. I think in his letting me go, I learned the push/pull of the relationship on his end is his way of not accepting the love he really craves all his life. I learned I can not “heal” him; we must all heal ourselves. We left off wishing each other the best and with love.

  • Your Name

    I feel as though I am in a toxic relationship at this moment. He is constantly reminding me of how he would do things, and I am constantly thinking “that’s how we are different”! i am sick of him and just want him gone. It is really pathetic. I know that we will not be together forever. But since I have known him for so long, I like to hope that things will get better. If they do I will be surprised. I am not happy. i am not satisfyed. I do not like him anymore. His personality is good, but I am tired of feeling like I need to be a better person because of him. I want out. this whole thing has just made me know what i do not want to have in a relationship, and I know that whoever I do find in the future, I will genuinley appreciate, because of what i am going through now.

  • brian

    see my message

  • Mel

    This is the most invaluable advice I have received about getting out of a toxic relationship. I would advise anyone who has any doubt as to whether to stay or get out and break the cycle for once and for all to answer the questions in point one. After spending three years of my life moving further away from the bubbly confident person I once was and ignoring friends and family who were worried about me, the final straw came when my boyfriend cheated on me and tried to give me the blame for it. I left just over a week ago now and I am having to be very strong not to want to fall back into the cycle of forgiving and forgetting but to keep freeing myself and moving on. This advice has been so helpful, it has made opened my eyes and made me more determined than ever! Thank you so much to whoever posted it, I seriously owe you one.

  • Bill White

    Dang, Therese, you write so well. In addition to the content, it’s your style (at least for me). The title to this post, “You Deplete Me,” kills me. Super. And your points were all well taken, especially, “every relationship, even toxic ones, have hidden benefits. Or why would you stay in them? So identify the perks. Determine what, specifically, you are getting from this relationship.” Thanks, as always…Bill

  • Girlie | Brochures Printing Online

    I strongly agree with the tips you shared especially points number 1 and 5. Sometimes, people stay in a toxic relationship because they’re scared to admit that there is something wrong. Surrounding yourself with friends whom you trust is a great way to put yourself back together again after ending a bad relationship.

  • Skylark

    This was a great post..however i could not find Priscilla Warner, The FAith Club on nor could I find anywhere Ruth Naperstack’s CD panic attack she speaks of so glowingly. Can anyone help out and fill me in on where she/it may be found? Sounds like interesting material.

  • Chica Tica

    What do you do when the toxic relationship is your roommate? She’s a nice person and for economic reasons, I don’t see another option, but she sucks the energy out the air.

  • Priscilla Warner

    Hi Skylark!
    Here’s a link to my blog, where I am meditating my way from panic to peace…I have a link to Belleruth Naparstek and a lot of other interesting things I’ve discovered lately!
    Happy (belated) Valentine’s Day!

  • Lisa

    “You are the half that depletes my soul” Feeling this way about my marriage, I typed this in google looking for something to help me. Thankfully I found you! I bought your book today and I’d like to think I’m on the path to recovery. One can hope!

  • CoDA-Chrome

    Sometimes the most difficult thing to admit is that we are in an unhealthy relationship but for me the most important point that is listed is ‘Fill the Hole. As a codependent, I found that I was using people and unhealthy relationships to fill my hole. I was a ‘people-pleaser’ or ‘people avoider’ but neither of these behaviors was ‘filling my hole’.
    In my quest to find ways to overcome my codependency, I found Codependents Anonymous ( and Melody Beattie’s Codependents’ Guide to the Twelve Steps. Much of what is mentioned in the material cited above, I am finding as I use Melody Beattie’s book to work the 12 steps.
    I am not where I would like to be in ‘recovering’ from codependency but I’m better than I was 1 1/2 year ago when I started.

  • Sheryl

    What if you are the toxic person? And you have only one or two friends. How about an article on not being toxic instead of getting rid on the toxic friends… How do you get away from yourself…..

  • Deb

    Great article, Therese! Probably one of the best that I’ve read on how to avoid/get out of toxic relationships. As a 30+ year veteran of being obsessed with /married to two different TOXIC men (boys?), I could more than relate to the “you deplete me” line. And for the past 2 years, I have been “clean” :-) I still kick myself for being so foolish to have gotten involved with these guys in the first place and hanging ON for soooo long. And even though I’ve been a single mom for 8 years now, I am still petrified to get into another relationship. I guess I’ve got some more work to do.

  • Nancy

    Perfect timing as always…just dumped a toxic person yesterday and your step 1 reconfirmed not to let them back into my life.
    The funny I was reading it they texted me and my response was “lose this number” and I sent it.
    Thanks as always.

  • Will Powers

    That’s a good questions: what if YOU are the toxic friend? I’ve had friends kindly drop me because they want only positive people in their life and my misery and depression interferes with their happiness. I will look for an article on this site to address how to be less toxic and more healthy emotionally.

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