When to Step Away

Not every close relationship needs to – or can – stay close forever.. Some relationships reach a place where they should no longer be at all, at least for the foreseeable future. And some just need to hit the snooze button for a while.

There is an occasion for everything, and a time for every activity under heaven: a time to give birth and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to tear down and a time to build; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance; a time to throw stones and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace and a time to avoid embracing; a time to search and a time to count as lost; a time to keep and a time to throw away; a time to tear and a time to sew; a time to be silent and a time to speak; a time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace. – Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, Old Testament (Holman Christian Standard translation)

Did you feel the relief wash over you too when you read that there is a good, right, and proper time for so-called “negative” things like uprooting, tearing down, avoiding embracing, and counting as lost? We are often explicitly taught how to avoid these unhappy activities and replace them with the “better”, “right” way of thinking, doing, or, most problematic of all, even feeling.

But things like giving up, weeping, conflict, and destruction are not only natural aspects of life on this earth, but actually necessary for things to progress in a healthy way. Instead of persistently dodging life’s unpleasant aspects by having a smiling, chin-up attitude all the time, the most freeing way to deal with life is to just accept these more painful parts with an open heart and let the moments pass as they will.

Forced positivity is not a spiritually or ethically higher practice, not a requirement to prove how much you love Jesus, not a test of your salvation or character, nor a reasonable condition to meet in order to see yourself as a good person (or the “bigger person”!). Let it go, and allow yourself to live in the real world.

Here are some really important reasons for getting someone out of your life immediately, full stop. No additional reason needed, and no need for guilt or questioning whether this decision is right. Safety is paramount and non-negotiable.

  1. They have engaged in abusive or dangerous behavior. (Physical violence, violating sexual boundaries, verbal abuse, derogatory language (eg sexist, racist, homophobic slurs), control of your finances, destruction of your property)
  2. They have shown “red flags”, aka warning signs, of abusive or dangerous behavior. (e.g. behaving in a physically threatening way, being sexually inappropriate or not respecting your boundaries, belittling, possessive, controlling, vindictive, etc.)
  3. They are consistently toxic and treat you or your loved ones badly with no real remorse.
  4. Your gut is telling you to stay away.

That’s a going no-contact situation, as of yesterday! You’ve got to get away from anyone who fits that description. Don’t go down that road. Lack of safety and trust are total dealbreakers. Your gut is as important as anything else on that list, by the way, and imminently trustworthy if we only listen to it.

Now, here are some possible reasons to go low-contact and just get a good amount of distance.

  1. You fight a lot, and attempts at communication/resolution have been unsuccessful.
  2. They keep trying to change you.
  3. You keep trying to change them.
  4. You don’t like who you turn into around them.

If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting. Is there really any chance of this relationship dynamic spontaneously changing? If your issues are clouding your judgment and you keep taking it out on them, you need space to work on you and figure out why you respond the way you do. You can come back later with a clearer head. It’s not their job to walk you through the process of self-improvement; this is a responsibility that you absolutely can handle on your own.

Sometimes the combination of two people’s personalities and/or issues is always going to set one or both of them off, and there’s honestly only so much you can do about that. You’re not required to be best friends with everyone. People grow apart sometimes and it’s okay to let some relationships fade away naturally. Other people never do click to begin with!

There’s a lot of advice on social media these days about “cutting off” people who are bad for your mental health and well-being, but sometimes you only need to go as low-contact as needed to prevent problems. As a general principle, in relationships where safety is not at risk, I believe in retreating only as far as necessary to preserve your own peace and mental/emotional well-being. That amount of distance is likely to look very different for different people. Only you know. Many people are not so difficult as to prevent the possibility of growing back together some day once they, you, or both of you have changed and grown, or once they finally get the message about your boundaries. Communicating those, sometimes quite firmly, can prevent bitterness on your part and is the only shot at a healthy relationship moving forward.

Then again, there are people that inspired the block button! They’re always going to be problematic and you’re going to have to set much harder boundaries, probably permanently. You are the only one at the end of the day who can figure out who and what you’re dealing with – and capable of dealing with – and makes the best decision. It’s important to make the decision based on a demonstrated track record of behavior instead of solely on lofty, well-intentioned beliefs, like “Every day is new day and people can change.” That’s a nice sentiment, but if they don’t seem interested in or capable of changing, then you’d be crazy to bank on them doing it anytime soon. Someone who has (a) actively caused serious hurt, (b) demonstrated through their actions that hurting you doesn’t bother them, and (c) will have the opportunity to wound you further if you continue put yourself around them, is someone you definitely will be wanting to steer clear of in the future, because they’re a guaranteed repeat offender. Some people really don’t care about the consequences of their actions, and so you’re going to have to care enough about yourself to take preventative action.

As they say, good fences make good neighbors! If being around a person or people is pretty much a guaranteed situation of conflict or hurt, and you’ve tried and failed to establish peace with them, then the only way left to have that peace is without them. This doesn’t have to be done out of pettiness or anger, just a respectful distancing for the sake of your own well-being. It’s not unloving. Getting rid of closeness or even most contact is sometimes the best way to love both of you – or yourself.

When to step away?

When your well-being requires it.

Published by gracexaris

Explorer, thinker, writer, teacher, woman.

2 thoughts on “When to Step Away

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