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“When a relationship is over, leave. Don’t continue watering a dead flower.”

The end of a relationship can be a confusing and difficult time, compounded by the problems on may be facing that led to this decision. For some, it is a sudden ending, even a relief after a time of suffering at the hands of an abusive spouse, whereas for others it is an extended time of slowly drifting apart.

In an effort to better understand this process, University of Tennessee psychologists Kathrin Ritter, Vanessa Handsel and Todd Moore began to study the psychological stages that victims of violent relationships go through as they move towards the point in which they are able to leave their damaging partners. Based on a theory developed by James Prochaska in the 1980s and 1990s, which stated that there is a five-stage process to any major change in life, the psychologists applied this ‘Stages of Change’ model to the process of ending a relationship. The result was a scale that could be applied to any type of relationship, allowing those that are unhappy to assess where they are in the process.

When trying to assist someone in the process of leaving a toxic relationship, it is best to first assess where they are in the process. Pushing someone to skip multiple stages will often cause them to recoil, only sending them running back to the partner that you are trying to help them to remove from their lives. Instead, read through the following stages, acquainting yourself with where this person (or yourself) currently is in the process, as well as the stages to follow.


Stage 1: Precontemplation

At this stage, you still believe that your relationship is fine, and there is no need to change it. While there may be aspects of the relationship that you are not happy with, you are willing to explain them away. You justify any struggles and convince yourself that you are genuinely happy with your relationship right where it is at.


Stage 2: Contemplation

This is the point in which you begin to see that your relationship may not be entirely healthy. Your eyes are beginning to open to the idea that there may be problems, and you are considering the concept of needing a change in your life. While you aren’t ready to pull the trigger and make a change at this point, you are starting to consider that you may have to at some point.


Stage 3: Preparation

Aware that you are going to need to make a change, you are now beginning to make plans to effect change. You are putting a time frame on when your relationship will end and making any necessary preparations so that you are set up to succeed as you move into the next chapter of your life. It is at this point that you may find yourself reaching out to trusted friends and/or family members for assistance in the transition.


Stage 4: Action

It is at this stage that you are now taking the necessary steps to move forward with your plans. You have told your partner that you are ending the relationship and are spending less time with your partner, choosing instead to occupy your time with other people that you consider to be important in your life. You find that as you continue through this stage you will begin to think about your partner less frequently.


Stage 5: Maintenance

You have left your partner and are avoiding any contact with them moving forward. If you were in possession of any items belonging to your partner, or that remind you of them, you have now thrown them away or are in the process of taking steps to remove them from your life. You have made the conscious decision to never return to your partner, and are firm that you are gong to stick with it.