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The Minimalists
The Minimalists are Emmy-nominated Netflix stars and New York Times–bestselling authors Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. Alongside their podcast cohost, T.K. Coleman, this simple-living trio helps millions of people eliminate clutter and live meaningfully with less. Learn More.

Letting Go of Shitty Relationships

Some relationships are particularly pernicious. We often develop relationships out of convenience, without considering the traits necessary to build a successful bond with another person—important traits like unwavering support, shared trust, and loving encouragement.

When a relationship is birthed out of proximity or chemistry alone, it is bound to fail. We need more than a person’s physical presence to maintain a meaningful connection, but we routinely keep people around simply because they’re already around.

It’s easy to develop a connection with a co-worker, schoolmate, or someone who’s always there—even when they’re not adding any real value to our lives. It’s even easier to stay in those relationships: old relationships are comfortable, and starting new relationships is difficult. New relationships require work—but anything worth holding on to does.

We’ve all held on to someone who didn’t deserve to be there, and most of us still have someone in our lives who continually drains us: Someone who doesn’t add value. Someone who isn’t supportive. Someone who takes and takes and takes without giving back. Someone who contributes very little, and prevents us from growing. Someone who constantly plays the victim.

Victims become victimizers, though, and these people are dangerous: They keep us from feeling fulfilled. They keep us from living purpose-driven lives. Over time, these negative relationships become part of our identity—they define us, they become who we are.

Fortunately, this needn’t be the case: several actions can be taken to rid ourselves of negative relationships.

First, you can attempt to fix the relationship. This is obviously the preferable solution (albeit not always possible or worthwhile). People change over time, and so do relationships. You can change how your relationship works—be it marriage, friendship, or family—without completely ditching the relationship.

Sit down with the person who’s draining the vitality from your life and explain to them what must change in order for your relationship to work: Explain you need them to be more supportive, you need them to participate in your growth, and, although they are important to you, the relationship in its current state does not make you happy. Explain you’re not attempting to change them as a person—you simply want to change how your relationship works.

Finally, ask them what they’d like to change about the relationship. Ask them how you can add more value. Listen attentively, act accordingly.

If you’re unable to change the relationship, end it. This is difficult, but it applies to any relationship: family, friends, lovers, co-workers, acquaintances. If someone is only draining your life, it’s perfectly acceptable to tell them: “This relationship is no longer right for me, so I must move on.”

You owe it to yourself to move on. You owe it to yourself to be happy in your relationships. You are in control.

Moving on is sometimes the only way to develop new, empowering relationships. Starting anew, empty-handed and full-hearted, you can build fresher, stronger, more supportive relationships—important relationships that allow you to have fun, be happy, and to contribute beyond yourself. These are the relationships we all need.

It’s also important to do your part. You, too, must add value to the relationship. Not by buying gifts or commoditizing your love, but by showing up every day and rigorously exhibiting how much you care, demonstrating your love through consistent actions, continually going out of your way to help the other person grow.

Both people must do their part to grow the relationship—only then will both of you be satisfied with the relationship you’ve built.

Read this essay and 150 others in our new book, Essential.