At midnight in a thunderstorm, I came to a painful realization: I was drowning in a toxic dating relationship. My “toxic, taker” boyfriend had taken my car one too many times and I was on a mission to get it back, storm or not. I angrily set out on foot at midnight to retrieve my car. It was a crazy thing I just had to do, right then, even in the midst of rain and lightning.
I clutched my umbrella as I walked down a winding side street and paused by the creaking iron gates of an old cemetery. I considered my future. I was a senior at Auburn University and would soon be on my own. Anyone who would take my car and let me retrieve it on foot, by the cemetery, through a storm, would continue taking—unless I walked away.
As I stood there soaking wet, I realized this relationship was toxic for us both. Our long-term dating relationship had become a volatile, toxic mess. I knew if I didn’t walk away now, my life would be filled with stormy moments just like this. I felt God leading me to walk away clean, without looking back.
But ending our unhealthy, toxic relationship would still hurt a lot. My whole future was mapped out; it would mean completely starting over, with no plan—and worse, with no one.
There are times when God calls us to make a change, to abandon our plans and start over. Walking away from a toxic relationship is difficult, but it yields remarkable results. As I huddled against the rough cemetery wall in the middle of the storm, I prayed for God to help me walk away. Mercifully, He did, and this is what I learned:
1. Burn the mental bridge. I got my car back, packed my bags, and without saying goodbye, I left for spring break and never came back. It wasn’t an option for me. It’s important to leave a toxic relationship both physically and mentally. Looking back only causes misery and stops progress. This means no texting, calls, old photos or memorabilia. Anything that perpetuates or triggers memories can be a bridge back.
2. It’s very lonely at first. I moved to another school, joined a new sorority chapter and a new church. Being single again left me feeling alone and empty. But, I eventually learned that being alone and feeling lonely is not the same thing. Feelings do pass – focusing on them is paralyzing. It became my goal to establish positive streams in my life: new friendships, talents and ways to serve others. These streams eventually began to flow with blessing, but it took a while.
3. Opposition always comes. I shared my toxic relationship story with friends who didn’t understand. I went on some disastrous first dates. Overly zealous relatives tried to fix me up, putting me in some really awkward situations. Yet as I kept walking away, it got easier. Opposition always comes against positive change. It confirmed to me that walking away meant walking to a better life.
4. I was not the only one. At first, I thought my pain was unique. Then, I began reaching out to others and realized that hearts break every day—it happens to most of us, sooner or later. It would have been helpful if I had used the Biblical counseling offered at church, but in my pride, I did not take advantage of it. This made rebuilding only take longer.
5. Talk positively. At first, I talked too much about my toxic relationship drama. Later on, I learned it’s more helpful to talk about growing and rebuilding. Our life will never rise beyond our words, so it’s important to use positive ones. Words can either be used to help us progress or to make excuses—I have done both.
6. God provides. His work is often not obvious, but later on, His fingerprints show up in unexpected places. No life is transformed overnight. Being open to change allows God to work wonders. Within a year, He blessed me with a new life and a fiancé.
7. To invest in my soul. I had suffered loss. Thankfully, I read the Word of God and prayed; yet I wish I had done it more—it would have made rebuilding so much easier. I have discovered spending time with God is an investment in my future. He provides for His own and to not know God is truly the greatest loss.
The End Result
The pain of my breakup was real; we had dated for years and had even purchased an engagement ring. I went through a time of feeling down and lost, but came to realize that God was working in this storm. I couldn’t see it, but I felt the promise of something better if I walked away—and there was.
Now, 30 years later, I can see God used a toxic, taker relationship to teach me lessons I needed. It even revealed I was guilty of some toxic, taking, too. Learning this ultimately led me to a giving man and helped me become a better wife.
God truly intends to bless each life. If you are in a toxic relationship, there is no better time to walk away than today. God can supply the power you need to do it. Draw close to Him daily. Beyond the pain lies the promise that God will bring you through, somehow working the situation for future blessing.