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How Do You Know When It’s Time To Leave The One You Love?

Lissa Rankin's picture

She’s family, so there’s blood tying you together. But every time she calls, you wind up feeling gutted.

You love him, but you spend more time crying over the words you write in your journal than you spend laughing (and you know from past experience that the quality of your relationships with guys is inversely proportional to how much time you spend writing in your journal).

You’ve known each other for years. You once called her your best friend. But you realize you continually have expectations of her she fails to meet.

The Time My Husband Hit Me

Keeping your heart open in the face of serial heartbreak is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, but knowing when to stick it out and when to throw in the towel can be unbearably confusing and painfully tough.

I’ll never forget the day my husband, who I still loved, hit me in the face after becoming enraged at me about what seemed like a small thing.

After it happened, he started to walk out the front door while the red mark on my cheek was still smarting, but we were supposed to go on a trip to visit his family the next day, and I told him I wouldn’t go to the East Coast with him unless we talked first about what had just happened.

He walked out anyway, muttering “I’m so outta here.” I stayed home with an icepack on my cheek and took the week off so my patients wouldn’t notice the bruise.

While my husband was gone, we agreed to write letters to each other about what had happened. I agonized over writing a vulnerable, heart-on-my-sleeve, ten page letter about how much I loved him, what was wrong with me, and what I would be willing to change in order to keep our marriage together.

Waiting to hear what he would write was pure agony. My heart felt naked, open, worried, waiting. I was already divorced and I was terrified of failing again.

When he returned from the East Coast, he said he wasn’t ready. He didn’t want to read my letter until he’d finished his. He kept delaying. I was so distracted I couldn’t concentrate on my work (not a good thing when you’re a surgeon.)

He barely spoke to me during this time. I slept in the other room. There was silence and more silence after the violence. He had an important letter to write, but he kept telling me the letter wasn’t ready.

I couldn’t bear it. I wanted to pull my heartstrings closer together. Leaving my heart open felt so raw, like my heart was bleeding love and hemorrhaging all over the floor. I wanted to close it back up. Keep it safe. Never let anyone in again. But I didn’t.

The Letter

When my husband finally read me his letter, he sat me down on the sofa and made me promise not to utter a word while he read it. No interruptions. No defensiveness. He wanted to read all ten pages straight through before I said a word. With my heart beating in my chest, I promised to be silent. 

I prayed that his letter would express his undying love for me. Surely, he would apologize, promise me he would never hit me again, make amends, agree to go to therapy and maybe stop drinking. Surely, he felt awful, good man that I knew he was, beautiful soul that I saw beneath the times he fell asleep in the back of someone’s car after closing out the bar at 2am and never calling to say he wasn’t coming home, while I paced the hallways all night.

But his letter didn’t say “I love you.” He wrote that I interrupt people too much. I judge them and impose my rules on everyone else. I’m a goodie-two-shoes with a closed mind.

I started sobbing and interrupted him. I got defensive, and he cut me off, reminding me I had promised to let him read the whole letter. He yelled at me to stop crying, chastising me for using tears as a means of manipulating him.

By the end of his letter, I was a blubbering mess, and I realized that while I had written a ten page letter about what was wrong with me, my husband had also written a ten page letter about what was wrong with me.

I’ll never forget the way my heart felt the moment that sunk in. I wanted to close it up forever, never let anyone come inside again.  But I didn’t, because love can’t get in when your heart is closed. Instead, I left him a few months later, on our two year wedding anniversary. I packed my bags, walked out, drove myself to the Ritz Carlton, ordered a $25 hamburger and a bottle of champagne, watched some stupid romantic comedy on pay-for-view, and drank myself to sleep.

When Is It Time To Cut Your Losses?

I’m certainly guilty of attaching to relationships because of the history we share, the memories of better times, or the certainty that the relationship is right on the verge of getting way better.

But what if your relationship will never be what it once was or what you imagine it could be? What if your dream of a perfect relationship is just that - a dream?

Surely, forgiveness is always a good thing. We all make mistakes and those we love deserve second, third, even fifteenth chances.

But at what point do you cut your losses and accept that the relationship brings you more pain than joy? When do you draw the line in the sand, even if you’re still in love, because you’re worth being treated better? When do you release someone you don’t love anymore, because to cling to a loveless relationship isn’t fair to either of you? When do you decide to cut your loved one loose? And how do you keep your heart open in the process?

Oh to know the answers to these questions…

How Do You FEEL?

As someone with two divorces under my belt, take what I say with a grain of salt. Although I’ve now been with my current husband for almost ten years, I’m certainly no relationship expert. All I know is that knowing what to do begins with being honest with yourself about how you really feel. Loving someone and having that love reciprocated is supposed to feel good - at least more often than it feels icky. How do you feel when you’re with the person in question, and what percentage of the time are those feelings joyful?

Your Inner Pilot Light

Once you’re honest with yourself about how you feel, check in with your Inner Pilot Light. Tap into why you’re still in the relationship. Is it guilt? Pressure from other people? Fear of failure? Financial concerns? Hope that things will change for the better someday soon? Religious beliefs? Worry about what will become of the person if you leave? Unwillingness to endure the pain of a break up? Lack of courage to initiate what you know you must?  Dread of the aftermath?

Been there. Done that. I feel you, my love.

I’m not endorsing breakups. I can certainly tell you divorce sucks and I hope I never have to experience it again. Breaking up with family members or friends is no easier.  But I’m also not a fan of staying put when it’s time to cut your losses. It’s not worth staying in relationships that suck the life force out of you, take advantage of you, injure you, keep you from thriving, drain you of your joie de vivre, leave you feeling disempowered or disrespected, or keep you from being who you really are. Life’s too short to stay in a relationship just because some people might think you “should.”

The Day I Left

The day I left my husband, he threw himself at my feet and grabbed my ankles. I remember walking down the hallway with my luggage in one hand, trying to shake him loose. It was our anniversary. He begged me to stay just one more day.

But the day before, something had happened that was the last straw. I couldn’t stay one more day.

How do you know when it’s time to cut your losses? When the pain of staying put exceeds the fear of the unknown.

I walked out that door, into an uncertain future.

If your Inner Pilot Light knows what you must do, you can do the same. I won’t lie to you. It ain’t gonna be pretty. It’ll get darker before you see the light. But it’s not worth trading in happiness and freedom for security and pain avoidance. When you fail to make a choice, you’re still making a choice.

Choose to get the most out of this one wild and precious life. It’s yours. Grab it. And don’t forget to dance while your heart heals.

Holding your hand,


Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.comPink Medicine Revolutionarymotivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.



Anonymous's picture

I need advice

Hi lisa I was married for 8 years and seperated 4 2years now my wife was caught having an affair wit my cousin I left her after that and I found myself a woman 5years bigger than me and she's also seperated for 2 years bt everytym I question her about her divborce nothing gets done and recenttly she has no interest 4 me we don't stay in da same town so we don't see each other often but my problem is I do everything 4 her i buy her wat eva she asks 4 she dnt work and I basiclly support her but she's always makin promises to move up to me but nothinmg is ever getting done also she got 2kids and I gt 3boys and the worst of all is she neva gives me answers bt always I must answer to her the thing is wit my wife oi was neva short of nothin and I shE still wants me back but the whole problem here is I feel like I'm waitin for sumthin that's neva gonna happen cos she's always makin empty promises I'm confused now wat to do plz help me wit sum advice

Lissa Rankin's picture


Thank you all for sharing your vulnerable stories. I am holding you all in my heart.
Much love

AliceK's picture

Hey Lissa, I have been with

Hey Lissa,

I have been with my college sweetheart for 10 yrs, and married for about 2 years. we have our ups and downs, and we have "tried" to break up several times, but we always get back together. After getting married, i thought things would change for the better, but there was this nagging pull in my heart that something is "not quite right", but i couldnt put a finger on it.

he is thoughtful, loving and ever patient with me. but we seem to bring the worse out of each other when crisis hits. it would be the small everyday details/habits, that shows how we dont "click". we would be on this cycle where i rationalise that the relationship is good, that the "true unconditional love" only exists in books and movies, and that he is truly a good catch, and i'll be happy for a while, before getting depressed and shunning away from him. i care for him deeply, but i dont feel "connected" the way i think we should.

6 months ago, i traded the marriage for the unknown. i left and it hurt him deeply. it was a calm decision. friends think i am crazy, or going thru a "phase". of late i'm wondering too if i am crazy to throw it all away. he is still hopeful to reconcile, supportive of me even while separated, but i dare not promise him anything. i wonder if i will patch things with him, as i always did in the past, or if i would brave the fear of being alone and unknown.

Anonymous's picture

How did I know? And yet I keep questioning myself.

Thank you for writing this piece. I cut ties with two siblings about 5 years ago. One is not well emotionally and is highly toxic. The other uses bullying as a survival tactic. Backing up from the first one was obvious when I was brutally verbally attacked one day after months of problematic contact. Backing up from the other happened after years of emotional abuse and one day it just hit. I was being bullied often and I didn't have to put up with that any longer. I was not going to. A flame of engagement blew out that day. I spent the next two years crying neary daily as though they had died. How I missed the promise of them! I do struggle, however, with the distance, especially from the second one who will make comments to our parents about how they are suffering over this. It is such a brain twist thing to hear because if they cared so much, what was up with the constant accusations and abuse and then withdrawing, saying they didn't want to talk about it? Way too much pain and drama and shame. It still breaks my heart. Horribly. But I don't see any reason to subject myself to this this.

Michelle Medina`'s picture

Thank you for this one

Thank you for this one Lissa!!!
I feel the need to comment often even if I'm only thanking you and not necessarily adding to the conversation because you pluck my emotional strings ALOT!!!
It's wonderful to have someone there who says what you need to hear!
It's also nice to get a fresh new perspective!
Thank you for not being one of the people who adds to the din of 'you should tough it out!' voices.
You rock!

Carz's picture

Thank you Lissa. You have

Thank you Lissa. You have described exactly why women stay with abusive men: because the pain of the known is less than the fear of the unknown. It doesn't matter how many choices you know you have, until that balance tips staying is easier and safer than leaving, even when it isn't.

Anonymous's picture

Thoughtful, compelling, and much appreciated

Thank you for your candor and honesty. Your words are so compelling and helpful, and the themes you raise are on point and crucial for understanding healing and illness.
Well done!!!!

JK's picture

Cutting Ties

I just had to cut off my relationship with my own mother. That felt awful. Many people don't understand, they think because someone is blood (especially a parent) you owe it to them to always put up with their crap. I've never been that person. Even as a child I stood for what I thought was right even when it caused me hell. Every time in my life I tried to gently bring up my grievances with my mother she would scream, name call, hang up/walk away. She could never face her own shortcomings, not for her own child. Apologies and acknowledgements were impossible to find. Out of my 3 children, I am the only one who has a bad relationship with her cause the other 2 pretend everything is ok when it's not. They will bash her behind her back but never bring things up to her. So I look like the monster because I am the only one that confronts her and because they never share their issues, it looks like I am the only one with a problem. I put up with her neglect and emotional abuse until I moved out at 19. For years I could keep her at a comfortable distance, being cordial and loving in the small doses I felt towards her. But with many years the issues pile on and I am a person that likes to live with integrity and authenticity. I cannot simply pretend everything is ok when it's not. I'd rather not have the relationship at all.

So a year and a half ago I tried to bring up something I was hurt over and yet again, same routine: she yelled, name-called, and hung up on me. I wrote her an email letting her know that it was the last time she would hang up on me again in my life. At that moment in my life I knew I had to walk away from the relationship for good. No matter what others thought, I knew this was right for me. She never responded to my email and we didn't talk for 4 months. The only reason we did is because my brother almost died in an accident. She had to call to tell me, at that point I stayed in contact with her only to get information on my brother cause he was across the country unable to talk or move. He slowly regained brain function and we were able to talk on the phone on our own. I still had to deal with her to get through to him because he moved in with her due to his incapacities. I was fine with being cordial towards her, that was all I could muster. She pretended as if everything was ok and still never tried to resolve our issues, even after the near death experience of my brother. Come to find out she was trash talking me to others acting like she didn't know why I was "only polite". I decided to make it clear to her one last time only to find out she was manipulating my brother (who still doesn't have all his mental faculties or memories). She turned him against me and told him many lies, manipulating him into thinking I was the culprit and that I was the one who owed an apology. She still never responded to any of my emails or conversations with her in the past. Always did it through others while bashing me to them.

So I had to once again cut her off completely and made it clear that I would no longer even be cordial. So now I contact my brother without having to deal with her. But now it's created a wedge between him and I cause he has been yelling, swearing, name-calling at me now. I can't even get through to him to understand everything and honestly don't feel appropriate doing so with his condition. I know this was a long story but I related to you Lissa and felt like sharing. I think it's prefectly healthy to cut off any toxic relationship, no matter who they are. Most imporantly, we should learn from these experiences and make sure not to treat others the same way we were. I know that if I am ever a parent, I will carry all of this with me to do the best job I can with my kids. To apologize and own up to things when I am wrong. To love them purely and protect them from harm as much as possible.

Anonymous's picture


I can't even begin to explain to you how much we have in common! You will be in my prayers. I feel like I'm having flashbacks and I still live with her. I know about the being lied on and that no one has a backbone to confront her. I will move on soon and there will be very limited contact. I'm not even sure if my child or children, when I have them, will be allowed to be around her unsupervised. And that's a very sad thing. However, that's okay with me. Good riddance to the suicidal thoughts and low self esteem, etc...... To God be the glory! I know what I need to do.

Jennifer E. Jones's picture


Thank you for sharing your story. And I'm glad you had the courage to get out of there.

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