Ending an Abusive or Controlling Relationship


You've finally recognized your partner as an individual who needs to control and manipulate you . After time and many promises, and even couples counseling, you realize nothing has really changed, and you realize it isn't likely to. Taking your life back can be difficult, but yo u can do it. Get counseling to help get over this relationship if necessary.


1. Don't beat yourself up or consider yourself foolish. In recognizing your partner as controlling and manipulative , you must also recognize this: Though they can at first be charming , controlling and manipulative people are the unfortunate product of a high, incisive intellect and low self esteem. They are intelligent, usually charismatic people who, at first blush, seem to be confident, charming and together. It's no wonder you found him or her attractive.

2. Get to the point and don't try to cushion the blow or beat around the bush. Your first instinct is to do it in person (not always advisable, but the honorable first choice) and try to hurt your partner as little as possible, but this may only result in prolonging his/her agony - and yours. Come right out and declare your decision frankly, without hostility or cruelty. S/he will likely be stunned and/or shocked, and may question, attempt to bargain, cry, or become enraged - all are possible reactions. Be prepared for anything.

- Depending on your situation, your leaving may be best explained in a note. Be clear about your decision, and then leave at once. Example: "I'm so sorry, but this is not working for me any more, so I'm ending our relationship here. I will always care about you and wish you well, but it's over." Do not say, "I Will Always Love You,” Even if you really do feel this way, this can become the tiny bit of hope s/he needs to continue the obsession with winning you back .

- If you feel you must do this face to face, be brief and as dispassionate as possible. (And it's wise to have your things packed and in your car already so that you just need to walk out.) Example: "I just wanted to say this in person. I'm leaving; our relationship has not worked out for me. I wish you well, but I can't continue this," then walk out.

- The less personal you can bring yourself to be, the better. It seems cold when your inclination is not to want to hurt your former love, but in reality, the less emotional you are, the less you will escalate the pain.

3. Be decisive and don't fall for promises to change. Once you have identified your relationship as toxic to your individuality and future, you must take decisive steps. Wishy-washy, weak attempts to leave will be steamrolled, and you will be overrun by the will of your partner. Talking things over with your partner will not be likely to help: remember the crucial identifier - this is a controlling manipulator. As soon as you start making noises about being unhappy with controlling behaviors and preparing him or her for the fact you are thinking of ending the relationship, s/he will gladly give in to your desires - just long enough to keep you attached. As soon as you settle back into the relationship, s/he knows you're back on the hook and the bad behaviors resume .

4. Leave at once. Having made your decision, waste no time. Notice, this is not the first time the exhortation to leave is made. That's because it's so hard to leave - particularly if you decided a face-to-face farewell was necessary. Please believe that your attempts to leave on good terms will most likely not pan out. No matter how hard it is, turn your back on him/her, ignore the begging, sobbing, threatening and yelling, and put some steel in your back. Walk out the door. Shut it behind you.

5. Stay away. Don't accept phone calls, answer emails, IMs or text messages from him/her. Doing so will only create hope. Remember again: this is a controlling, manipulative person who will say anything to win, and that is all this contact will be about. Once you have broken away, stay away.

6. Avoid mutual friends who are still in contact with your ex for some time after the breakup. The last thing you need is the passing, even if inadvertent, of more fuel into the fire in the weeks and months after the end of the affair. If you can't avoid contact with these friends, keep your remarks to them carefully neutral, and don't share details of the breakup.

7. Remain detached. In order to reassert control, your ex will look for signs that you are receptive to crying, begging, threats of self-harm, etc. If you simply do not react, you will give no fuel to your ex's belief that s/he can win you back, and it will be truly over much sooner. S/he will cry, rage, rant, become hysterical if you allow him/her to. Being compassionate and trying to comfort or spare your ex further pain will only make it more difficult to break away.


- Admit your weakness. Many times, though your partner is controlling and/or manipulative (which is wrong), that partner is exploiting your own weaknesses (which enables the controlling/manipulative behaviors). Though both of you are in the wrong, if you are to avoid the same problems in the future, work out your issues on your own, after separating from this relationship .

- Don't delete text messages from your ex, but don't respond to them, either. When you respond, it's a minor win, and continues to feed the notion that a bigger win is in the offing. However, should your ex become stalker-ish, these text messages can provide valuable evidence to the police if you want to get a restraining order. Consider buying a digital recorder, and saving them to a CD-ROM, that you keep in a safe place for if and when the time is necessary.

- Cutting off all contact seems cruel, but it's a case of "cruel to be kind." No response = no point in continuing this. Any response = keep trying. The quicker and cleaner your message is received, the sooner s/he will move on to someone else, and you will be free of a potentially explosive situation.

- Get your support network back. Go to the friends and family you will inevitably have been disconnected from by your controller, fall on your sword, and ask them to take you back .

- If you live together and s/he will not leave, you have to be the one to move out . This can be very difficult, especially if you have been cut off from your support system (friends and family) and have nowhere to go.



- Not every controlling or manipulative person is dangerous, but some are. Most will respond to a show of strength - if you show up with friends or relatives to back you up, or if you refuse all contact, 9 times out of 10, this will be enough to make your point and put an end to things. If not, enlist help, either from police (a restraining order) or from a mental health specialist who may be able to help you identify whether your ex is a danger to you or others, or to him or herself, and will know the appropriate steps to take in that case.

If your ex is at all prone to violent outbursts, exercise extreme caution at any chance meeting.

- If you have children, you may not deny your ex access to them unless there is a court order stating that you may. If your ex is simply controlling and manipulative, your goal is simply to protect your kids as best you can by pointing out the ways s/he may attempt to control or manipulate your children. If your ex is dangerous, and you fear that s/he may abduct or harm the children, you must inform an officer of the court, the police, or other help authorities of this so that protective arrangements can be made.

- Don't assume that a mild, calm encounter with this person will end well for you; it may be weeks or months, but it's virtually guaranteed that you'll hear something horrible about yourself from a mutual acquaintance somewhere. Resist the urge to re-engage with your ex for the sake of "setting the record straight". Just let it go.

  • Watch for stalking or menacing behaviors, and if you notice anything, report them to the police immediately. This person is probably just difficult and not dangerous. But don't take any chances. If necessary, get a restraining or protective order and call the police each and every time it's violated; you will need the paper trail if the stalking escalates.

See a more complete version of this outline at:


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Jairo Serna, LMFT
[email protected]

Coral Gables Counseling Center
2600 S Douglas Road, Suite 1003
Miami, FL
(786) 763 3822

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