In Ephesians 5, Paul provides a list of things to avoid in our relationships if we want healthy relationships. He calls on us to show holy character: do not be immoral, impure, or greedy people. He calls on us to show that character with our words: avoiding obscenity, foolish talk, and coarse joking, instead sharing thanksgivings with each other.
In verse 7, he tells the Ephesian church “do not be partners with them” – with these immoral, greedy people who try to deceive you with empty words and for whom God’s wrath is coming.
Of course, it’s easier to start out by following this advice. Avoid partnering with people who treat you poorly and who disobey and disrespect God. But, what if we’re already in a relationship with people who are not treating us well? How do we end an unhealthy relationship?
We do not want to build up a list of someone’s faults (see 1 Corinthians 13), but it will be helpful to identify some specific examples of what is unhealthy about the relationship. What is it? Why is that unhealthy?
Honesty is not an excuse for cruelty. This may be particularly difficult after months or years of an unhealthy relationship – there may be desire for revenge or “getting back” at the person who has not been treating us well. (Again, see 1 Corinthians 13!) You may need to bite your tongue, and there will be need for humility in the conversation. Remember your words ultimately need to honor God.
Hopefully, you can end the relationship by sitting down and having a calm conversation. Prepare ahead of time, thinking about what you’ll say and what responses you might predict. Avoiding someone does not actually end a relationship, and can create hurt and confusion. Clarity helps you and them understand the new boundaries of the relationship.
If part of the unhealthiness of this relationship includes abuse or other safety concerns, bring a trusted other person into the conversation and make sure the setting and any follow-up is in a place where you are safe.
Our first and most important relationship in life is not with the people around us, but with God Himself. If you are struggling in an unhealthy relationship, cry out to God in prayer.
He will still call you to stay faithful to your spouse and to protect your children, even though you may need new boundaries in those relationships. He will still call you to forgive, not because this person deserves forgiveness, but because God has first forgiven you.
Cover this unhealthy relationship in prayer, and trust God to lead you through the ending or changing of the relationship.