How to Let Go of a Relationship That Stresses You

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Research shows that having ambivalent friendships in your life—relationships where interactions are sometimes supportive and positive and sometimes hostile or negative—can actually cause more stress than relationships that are consistently negative.

This is, in part, because you may never quite relax when you are around these people, but you don't keep your guard entirely up either, making you more vulnerable when there is conflict. The experience is similar to that of chronic stress, where your body never fully recovers from the stress you experience before becoming triggered by the next stressor. Eventually, it takes a toll.

Relationship conflict and stress have also been shown to have a clear negative impact on health, affecting blood pressure, contributing to heart disease, and correlating with other conditions. It can also affect your emotional well-being, leaving you feeling frazzled, overwhelmed, and less confident in handling other stress you face in life. 

It is in your best interest to reevaluate your relationships, identify the taxing ones, and minimize or even eliminate these negative relationships in your life. The following tips can help you minimize the stress of ambivalent relationships when you need to.

Make a List

Make a list of people in your life. Include everyone you think of when you think of your friends, including those you only communicate with on social media, those you see regularly, and everyone in between. Also include romantic partners, both those who are currently in your life and those who may make a comeback at some point.

Recognize the Problem

Examine your relationship to see if it’s a benefit or a detriment to you. Below are a number of questions that you might ask yourself to assess the current quality of your relationship.

Questions to Ask

  • Is this relationship worth the amount of work required to maintain it?
  • Is this a person I would choose to have in my life if we just met today, or have I been holding onto this relationship out of habit?
  • Does this person make me feel good about myself? Am I uncomfortable around them?
  • Is this friend competitive with me in a negative way?
  • Do I like who I am when I’m with them, or do we seem to bring out the worst in each other?
  • How deeply can I trust this person? Could I count on them if I needed to? Could I share my feelings freely?
  • Do we have common interests and values? If not, do I benefit from the differences?
  • Am I receiving as much as I give?
  • If I gave this relationship the effort it deserves, would it benefit me and enrich my life?

After answering some of these questions, you should have a clearer picture of whether the relationship is adding positively or negatively to your life. Circle those people you believe have a positive influence on your life or those that could, given an appropriate amount of time and energy. Otherwise, cross off the name.

Find the Root of Your Stress

Therapist and relationship coach Ivy Kwong, LMFT, a Verywell Mind Review Board member, recommends thinking about the source of stress when you're considering whether or not to end a stressful relationship.

"How much is directly attributed to your relationship and how much may be influenced by external factors?" she asks. She volunteers thinking about stress from work or other people in your life, perhaps children, friends, or other family members.

Other elements to consider are things like whether or not there are patterns in your relationship or needs not being met and whether or not any of the sources of stress are insurmountable, she adds.

Ivy Kwong, LMFT

Are there deeply embedded patterns repeating (are you fighting about the same thing again and again) or stressful relational dynamics that you may be recreating from your parents' relationship? If so, seeking therapy may help with the healing of unconscious relationship patterns learned in childhood.

— Ivy Kwong, LMFT

Think of the Benefits

Think of the benefits of leaving the relationship. What are the positive effects of not having this person in your life anymore? Make a list of all the things you'll be able to do, all the things you won't have to deal with, and all the reasons why your life is better without this stressful relationship. Writing these down could help you cope.

Write a Letter

It can be hard to end a relationship, even if the relationship isn't a positive one. Consider writing out all your feelings in a letter. You can give your letter to the person or throw it away. Taking the opportunity to write out and process your feelings can help give you the clarity and courage you need to move forward.

Identify What You Are Hesitant to Let Go

It's natural to feel hesitant when faced with difficult choices. Identifying what makes you hesitant can help you identify what's important. "By identifying what is making you hesitant about letting go, you can affirm what is important to you and what you may seek in the future, but with fewer factors causing harmful stress," Kwong says.

This process can also help you figure out whether your hesitancy is linked to fear of the unknown. "It can be helpful to reflect on whether you are accepting a certain degree of discomfort with what is known to avoid the discomfort of the unknown," Kwong says, "In choosing this, you may keep yourself stuck in what is familiar but no longer serving you."

Forgive Them (and Yourself)

Not just forgetting, but truly forgiving someone may be better for your health, according to a 2012 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine. Be sure to also forgive yourself.

You may feel guilty for setting boundaries with this person. While totally understandable, give yourself permission to free yourself of this guilt. Kwong says having feelings of guilt and sadness is a common response when letting go of a relationship. "Remember what there is in addition to guilt and sadness—strength, hope, courage, self-love, self-care, and self-respect," she says. "Allow yourself to feel what you feel, and choose which source you will let lead and what your actions will look like moving forward from that source."

Ivy Kwong, LMFT

Anyone worth keeping close in your life will listen to, respect, and honor your boundaries in respecting who you are. Remember you are worthy of love, care, consideration, and respect.

— Ivy Kwong, LMFT

Ask for Help

If you're having difficulty trying to move on from a relationship that's negative, don't be afraid to ask for help. It might be helpful to talk to someone, such as a close friend or family member, about your struggle.

Alternatively, you can also confide in a therapist or other mental health professional who may provide the added benefit of helping you learn new coping mechanisms and work through your relationship stress. Having the support of strong relationships can help alleviate some of the stress you're feeling from the less positive ones.

Empower Yourself

Experiencing problems in a relationship with a friend or family member can really take a toll. Fostering resilience can help you empower yourself to get through this life challenge. For example, be sure to surround yourself with supportive and compassionate people, focus on finding purpose, and take care of your physical and mental health.

Press Play for Advice On Self-Improvement

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Move Forward

After going through these exercises, it's time to put more of a focus on the relationships you have with the people whose names you circled.

Healthy and supportive relationships are worth the time and energy you put into them. Give them the time and attention that they deserve.

As for the names that you crossed off, you can decide whether you want to keep sending them holiday cards and maintain a friendly rapport when you see them, or if you want to make a clean break. But don’t allow them to continue to add stress and negativity to your life. Reserve your energy for your true friends.

If some of the names you encounter are those of family members, co-workers, or other people who are difficult to remove from your life, look for ways to avoid conflict and reduce the stress they can bring into your life.

A Word From Verywell

Letting go of a relationship that's stressing you can be a difficult process. In the long run, however, ending stressful relationships can ultimately relieve stress and will give you more time and energy to devote to the positive aspects of your life, including the positive people. And fostering strong relationships can be really good for your health—even more of a reason to focus on the positive people in your life.

8 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Rook KS, Luong G, Sorkin DH, Newsom JT, Krause N. Ambivalent versus problematic social ties: Implications for psychological health, functional health, and interpersonal coping. Psychol Aging. 2012;27(4):912-923. doi:10.1037/a0029246

  2. Umberson D, Montez JK. Social relationships and health: A flashpoint for health policy. J Health Soc Behav. 2010;51(Suppl):S54-S66. doi:10.1177/0022146510383501

  3. American Psychological Association. Breakups aren't all bad: Coping strategies to promote positive outcomes.

  4. Larsen BA, Darby RS, Harris CR, Nelkin DK, Milam PE, Christenfeld NJS. The immediate and delayed cardiovascular benefits of forgiving. Psychosomatic Medicine. 2012;74(7):745-750. doi:10.1097/PSY.0b013e31825fe96c

  5. Mental Health America. How can I set boundaries with my family?.

  6. American Psychological Association. How stress affects your health.

  7. American Psychological Association. Building your resilience.

  8. American Psychological Association. Life-saving relationships.

By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.