Ending a Controlling Relationship

  1. It is not your fault – no one deserves it.
  2. Get some help – find people who will build up your sense of self worth and your self-esteem.
  3. Ending the relationship will be a process rather than a single act.
  4. Develop a strategy – there is help out there!
  5. Find the right time to make the move.
  6. Take time to recover – get help to heal.
  7. Do it safely – your controller may push back against any sense that you are changing.
  8. Learn from others who have successfully ended their abuse.


I am currently running a course in relationship coaching and yesterday the students and I explored the topic of controlling, bullying, abusive or coercive relationships at length. It prompted me to recognise that a large proportion of my clients are, or have been, in such relationships and I thought it might be helpful to share my thoughts. Firstly to offer some support and guidance to any reader who recognises that this article relates directly to them, and secondly to encourage a sharing of comments, experiences and learning from people who have first-hand experience or have been involved, either in a professional capacity or as a friend or relative, with helping someone to end a relationship where there is an abuse of power.

Points to bear in mind:

It is not your fault.

Nobody deserves to be in a relationship where they are frightened, demeaned, controlled, bullied, hurt, attacked, belittled, disempowered or undermined. Feeling that you brought it on yourself or you deserve it is part of the picture in an abusive relationship.

The first step towards change involves recognising this. Your choice of partner, the dynamic you co-created and the quality of your relationship and any decisions you made were the best you could do at the time. As with all of us, they were driven by unconscious ‘programmes’ installed in our childhood and until we reach a time in our lives when we are ready to explore these, get to understand them and take steps to make more conscious and self-supporting choices we are powerless to change.

Ending the relationship is a process.

It may begin with working towards changing the dynamic in the relationship to create something more equal and respectful. This can be successful where there is willingness on both sides to accept some responsibility and make the effort to change behaviours. I have known this to work, and it can be helpful if you are unsuccessful to know you tried everything.

Often it becomes increasingly clear that a shift to a more mutually respectful dynamic cannot be achieved and you may, after several knock-backs, comes to the realisation that if you are to find a healthier way to live the only option is to leave.

Develop a strategy to leave.

This may involve exploring how you can do this safely, confiding in a friend who can offer practical and emotional support, building and planning an escape route, and possibly involving emergency services such as the police or a third sector service  – there will be one that fits for you.

Find the right time to make the move.

It may take some time to build up the courage, sense of self-worth and an abiding acceptance that it is no longer tolerable to stay.  It is common for people to leave and return several times before they make the final break.

Take Time To Recover.

There may be traumatic memories to reconcile and heal, strong feelings of guilt about leaving and a conviction that the abuse was somehow your fault. You may have anxiety, low self-confidence, a fear of managing alone, sense of being unworthy, an inability to make decisions and possibly some self-sabotaging behaviours or addictions.  You may need to learn some new skills as you build a healthy and self-supporting new life.

Move on.

This may start with some reflection on how the relationship came about, recognising past issues that may have created a self-sabotaging mindset and working on these so future relationships are healthier, respectful and constructive. You may need some therapy to change old patterns of behaviour and truly feel worthy of happiness.

There are some great books and talks on the subject, some of which are listed at the end of the article.

Find the right support.

1. Choose people who empower you.

Only you can take the decision to leave and then carry it through. Choose people who recognise this and will support you to make your own decisions. Finding friends and professionals who empower you, believe in you and sustain you without agenda is an important step in your journey. And remain watchful here. Over time, people who were genuinely there for you to start with may begin to lose their boundaries and show signs of controlling behaviour themselves. If so, it is time to move on. You may need to work with a few different approaches and individuals as you go through the process of ending the relationship.

2. Get Professional Help.

Therapy and coaching can help you take back control over your life by building your confidence, sense of self-worth and ability to listen to your ‘gut instinct’ or inner guide. You can be supported to imagine a healthier future and take baby steps towards it and also to be kind to yourself if you drop back temporarily into old patterns. Healing is like a spiral: we tend to revisit situations we thought we had left behind, but when we do we are not back at square one, we have learned a lot and we can regroup and move forward again.

Have a look around and find a practitioner you trust and has the skills to work with you. I am happy to have a confidential chat – I teach the Focussed Mindfulness Method that addresses trauma, fear and negative self-image and builds the inner resources that will support you. But I can also signpost you if another approach is what will serve you right now. You  can contact me here. Or call or text 07984115927.

You will find people, both professional and in your personal and work life, who want to fix you and offer conditional support but become judgemental when you do not follow their agenda. Others will collude with your plight and may even will you to fail because it makes them feel better about staying in their own unhealthy relationship.

Do it safely

Coercive and controlling partners will push back against any sense of defiance, increasing self-respect and self-worth they sense in you. This may be a dangerous time. Have they shown violence in the past or is their behaviour becoming more extreme? If this is the case, you may need to plan carefully and have protection in place before you make a move. Do your research first. There are organisations out there specifically for you. You can start here: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/getting-help-for-domestic-violence/

Learn from other who have successfully made the change.

This can give you the belief in yourself that will sustain you as you go through the process of ending the relationship. A lot has been written and spoken about it – you are not alone!

Below are a few links for starters. I would be grateful if other readers add to the list. Thank you!

This is not meant to be a definitive guide and I would welcome additional input and discussion from my readers.


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