According to writer and Reiki practitioner Sharon Vogiatzi, there are several ways one can identify when a relationship has run its course. She questions, “Do you feel good about yourself when your partner is around, or does your other half bring out the worst in you?” We’ve all been there, yes? We see the person we become in a failing relationship and want to run and hide.

We’re all of a sudden combative, jealous, petty and insecure, and the “new us” makes us miserable. We also recognize that we aren’t the only ones in the relationship transforming into a person we loathe; we’re also changing our lovers. Vogiatzi also asks, “How about your partner? Are you enhancing his/her life? Or are you fighting so much that there’s no time for anything else?” Often when we’re in troubled relationships and our answers to Vogiatzi’s questions are negative, we still have difficulties walking away.

It’s natural that we hold tight to the familiar—even if the familiar is painful and toxic.  Why? Because most of us are hopeful, and our hopes are among the things that make us beautifully human. We believe in our partners and ourselves, and further believe we can turn it all around. And while turning it all around does happen, and probably more often than we suppose, there are still those relationships that, no matter how we try, are irreconcilable. Psychologist and author Therese Borchard says this about unmendable toxic relationships and why we’re drawn to them over and over:

My guess is that those who feel like they are getting fixed are actually getting ripped off. That’s why they keep coming back, hoping that this time their partner will make the ouches go away, making them feel all sunshiny and warm inside. Instead, the ouch is bigger…

If these questions and answers speak to you, don’t feel alone. Allowing ourselves to remain in relationships that aren’t working, even if they’re noxious and abusive, makes us ashamed. We question our worth for staying. Sometimes our partners make us feel that we’re nothing without them and that they’re our best and only option. We internalize their emotional abuse and torture ourselves through senseless debates, filling our minds with pros and cons, remembering that things were good, even amazing, once.

But “once” was long ago though, was it not?

When I was as a young woman going through inevitable achy love things, my mother would tell me that young women suffer. “Baby girl, the longer you stay, the harder it is to leave.” What we’re most acquainted with is what we often believe is best for us, and time keeps on ticking. 

As I approach 37, I’ve actually become more an advocate of staying than I was when I was younger. I respect the marriages I witness that have survived (with private work behind closed doors that I can’t imagine) for 40 and 50 years. I often presume my generation has lost the desire to commit wholly and do the necessary work to outlast lost jobs and lost parents, infidelity and foreclosures. But I’m not foolish or irresponsible enough to advise people to stay in unhealthy relationships that impede their growth. Anything that isn’t growing is dead, and we weren’t created so stunningly by the Divine to take on the lives of zombies. 

Spiritualist Iyanla Vanzant, offers this about leaving toxic relationships:

We often hang on to old, toxic, worn-out relationships that keep our lives cluttered and prevent new, more nurturing relationships from coming in. Do you have friends and acquaintances (or lovers) you do not want or need in your life? Release them from your heart and mind.

The greatest point Vanzant makes is how toxic relationships clutter our lives, take up valuable sacred space, and prevent enchanting, new experiences and people from taking root in our lives. This is where our vision often blurs. If we speak to the universe that we want deep love, happiness, kindness and magic, we can’t hold on to all the things and people that are opposite of that. When we do, the universe boldly says “we need more people” and changes not a single solitary thing.

I want you to get muddy and dirty and fight for your love. Exhaust every option to make your relationship work. Even, as Rumi reminds us, “…find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against [love].” But never become a person you despise, whether through groveling or battling, and think you’re saving yourself or your dying relationship. 

Choose well, you gorgeous things.

Josie Pickens is an educator, cultural critic and scribe. Follow her musings on Twitter @jonubian.