Ending Toxic Relationships

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Ladies and Gentlemen, let me decree: The age where you stop putting up with people's bullshit is 36. It may come well before then, but I know for sure the beaten, bloody corpse of giving-a-damn breathes its last miserable breath on your 36th day of birth.

Too dramatic? You're right. I'm an artist. I get emotional sometimes. Let me try this again.

This year on my 36th birthday, I received a phone call from someone purporting to wish me well; but I was instead met with an out-of-nowhere onslaught of anger, bitterness and passive-aggressive insults. I tried desperately to save the conversation, to walk away from the call with some sense of positivity, but the wounds were too deep and the history between us too complicated.

Which is when I came to a necessary but painful realization: the relationship needed to end immediately. I wished the person well and hung up the phone. I will probably never speak to them again.

Put very simply, if a relationship (whether it be a friend, a family member or a significant other) makes you feel bad, you shouldn't be in it.

That's not to say that relationships aren't complex and multifaceted, and not every interaction will be sunshine and rainbows. It's simply to say that too often we tend not to take care of ourselves for the sake of a friendship. Too often we feel like it's our price of admission, that in order to get the few moments of good, we have to put up with the long hours of bad. But I've come to realize that this way of thinking ultimately is a disservice to both sides.

Many toxic relationships have a destructive push/pull dynamic. Call it a form of co-dependency. One person needs to feel like the caring one, the other needs to feel like the destructive one, and both sides are miserable. It's human nature, but it's ultimately an unhealthy cycle because it creates a relationship without stability.

It used to be that I'd try to approach every toxic relationship as a puzzle that hadn't yet been solved. It was a game I played with myself on the road to trying to be a good person; maybe if I look at the relationship in ANOTHER way it will change, maybe I'm not being patient enough, maybe I need to choose my words more carefully. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

But that's when I discovered that I was, myself, contributing to the push/pull dynamic. My previous thinking always assumed the other person was the destructive one; but in reality I was being equally destructive. In my subconscious effort to not feel bad while being in a relationship, I did the unfair thing of pulling them closer while simultaneously pushing them away.

In a toxic relationship, each party continues to inflict their own negative behaviors upon the other person, which ultimately makes both people feel worse. There are indeed one-sided toxic relationships, where one party exclusively subjects the other to their bad behavior, but the mere fact that the "innocent" side keeps the cycle going means there is some equal amount of responsibility for its toxicity.

In short -- we do it to each other.

And that is the single most important thing to understand when you break off a toxic relationship. Ending it doesn't mean the other person is "bad" and you shouldn't look to assign blame. There are no winners, and there are no losers. Sometimes, two people just aren't good for each other. It's as simple as that.

Ending something so familiar can be tricky. Sometimes its a matter of ripping the band-aid off, sometimes its a matter of quietly slipping away. No matter the method, remember to be kind to yourself and to the other person. Be sure to leave open the idea that there may come a time where your paths could cross again under happier circumstances. Allow them to go off and find what makes them happy just as you need to find what makes you happy.

When it comes down to brass tacks, every relationship that you have in life should make you a better person, just as you should contribute positively in return. We somehow tend to forget that along the way, when, in fact, our personal fulfillment should never be up for negotiation.

Episode 3 of my web series Keith Broke His Leg is a humorous take on toxic relationships; and shows a rather... unsanitary... way of ending the cycle. Take a look:

Keith Powell is an actor, writer, and director. He is most known for his role as Toofer on 30 Rock. He has had recurring roles on About A Boy and The Newsroom, and created, wrote, and directed the original web series Keith Broke His Leg (www.GetBroken.com).