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​​Is there any idiom or proverb for recommending someone to end their relationship/ friendship/ partnership with somebody whose behaviors or actions seem toxic, harmful, and thus really intolerable?

Like a relationship in which:

  • the wife is paranoid and controls her husband continuously and makes the life miserable for him.
  • the man is jobless and a drug addict who beats his partner once in a while and asks her to give him money to buy the drugs.

We Iranians use a (figurative) proverb that says:

"(Just) pull out the tooth that aches and throw it away"

It implies that there is no need to tolerate this pain, (if you have tried all the ways for reducing or removing that pain, but they haven't worked,) just get rid of it; even though that "tooth" is part of your body (so you like it and thus it is hard for you to lose it).

We use this proverb when we want to recommend someone to end a painful, harmful, and useless relationship or friendship and not to tolerate it any more. Like :

Why don't you break up with him? He is just a pain on your neck and sooner or later would ruin your life; as the proverb says you'd better just pull out the tooth that aches (= this painful relationship) and throw it away (=end it). There is no use in putting up with this relationship.

I have found "better cut the shoe than pinch the foot" in some "Persian to English" books as the equivalent for this proverb; does it have the same connotation with that Persian proverb?

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just kick him/her to the curb – ChongDogMillionaire Mar 4 at 14:33
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As Paul Simon says, Just slip out the back, Jack, you make a new plan Stan, don't need to be coy, Roy, just listen to me, Hop on the bus, Gus, don't need to discuss much, Just drop off the key, Lee, get yourself free – bib Mar 4 at 16:08
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Your question is completely valid. But, if it's a question inspired by an actual situation, I strongly recommend that, for such an important message as this, you stick to forms of words that you and the person you're talking to know and fully understand. It's much better that you say something like, "You should leave that person. They're bad for you." rather than taking somebody's advice to say, "It's time to wash the elephant, man" (this is a completely made-up example; do not say this) and have them say "Huh?" or think you mean something else. – David Richerby Mar 4 at 17:11
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@ David Richerby, Thanks for your recommendation. Actually, Iranians are kind of conservative, and specially in situations like this, avoid giving their opinions directly, It's a cultural issue. :) But I think that western people give their opinions more directly and straightforwardly. – Soudabeh Mar 4 at 17:21
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you know that "it's time to wash the elephant" is going to stick, @DavidRicherby ! :) – Joe Blow Mar 6 at 14:15

22 Answers 22

up vote 14 down vote accepted

You might say,

She/he isn't your cross to bear. Ditch him/her/Cut all ties with him/her now or you might regret it for the rest of your life.

bear one's cross and carry one's cross

Fig. to handle or cope with one's burden; to endure one's difficulties. (This is a biblical theme. It is always used figuratively except in the biblical context.) It's a very painful disease, but I'll bear my cross. I can't help you with it. You'll just have to carry your own cross. McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs

ditch

: to stop having or using (something you no longer want or need) : to get rid of (something)

: to end a relationship with (someone)

: to get away from (someone you do not want to be with) without saying that you are leaving

(Merriam-Webster)

cut/break (all) ties with (someone)

To end or discontinue a relationship—romantic or otherwise—with someone or some group. Mary cut all ties with her family when she moved to New York City. The government began cutting ties with the war-torn country after its human rights atrocities came to light. Farlex Dictionary of Idioms

[leave] that guy/girl before he/she spells trouble for you

spell trouble

To be the cause of possible problems in the future (often + for)

Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, 2nd ed.

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1  
I thought about posting this. I now realize this could be better than my suggestion. – Rathony Mar 4 at 15:36

Consider to cut somebody loose

to get rid of or release someone or something

[The Free Dictionary]

USAGE

The husband cut loose his nagging wife.

Posting from Mobile web during travel. Excuse formating

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Toxic relationship/friendship territory looks extremely relationship oriented, so cutting loose might not be the best fit, in the sense of cutting loose could mean a free pass without negative connotations. A good approach nonetheless. – Sakatox Mar 4 at 15:10
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+1 because it's the one so far most specific to ending relationships, but it's maybe a little casual. "My boyfriend was starting to bore me so I cut him loose" - this fits. "My boyfriend was a drug addict and beat me, so I cut him loose" - not wrong, but it downplays the situation. – user568458 Mar 4 at 16:24

Another answer because they are totally separate phrases. If I should make my responses one answer, please let me know.

I have often heard people use the phrase "just rip off the band-aid" in American English for many things, necessary breakups included. I suppose you could say "rip off the plaster" in British English but it isn't as common a phrase.

The meaning behind this is that it's often painful to remove band-aids/plasters because they get stuck to the hairs on one's skin, and instead of removing it slowly and more painfully, tearing it off all at once is preferable. It's often used as a metaphor for just ending a relationship which is dragging out and making everybody miserable.

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I grew up in Britain, and some form of the phrase was certainly very common. I’m afraid I can’t confidently recall what noun it would have used (plaster, Bandaid, bandage? could be any), as I’ve since lived in the US for several years, so they all sound natural to me now. But some form of the phrase is certainly very standard in BrE. – PLL Mar 5 at 17:14

One I have heard often (though perhaps not often enough to be an idiom) is "you are not required to set yourself on fire to keep others warm".

So in this case, setting yourself on fire would be to stay with the toxic partner.

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This is a good one: Contains both a reference to pain and the advice to stop the pain, states that the pain comes from a relationship with a person, and is easily understood even if you haven't heard it before. – BSMP Mar 5 at 16:57
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To make it more idiomatic, I'd change it slightly to "you don't have to set yourself on fire to keep people warm". – QPaysTaxes Mar 6 at 2:01

Quit beating your head against the wall.

beat one's head against the wall and bang one's head against a brick wall Fig. to waste one's time trying hard to accomplish something that is completely hopeless. You're wasting your time trying to figure this puzzle out. You're just beating your head against the wall. You're banging your head against a brick wall trying to get that dog to behave properly.

beat head against the wall. (n.d.) McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. (2002). Retrieved March 4 2016 from http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/beat+head+against+the+wall

It's not specific to relationships, and it's about futility more so than pain or toxicity.

Cut the cord means to quit supporting someone else (or to stop receiving support). But it doesn't imply the relationship is harmful. It would need additional context.

cut the (umbilical) cord to end support of someone or something, esp. financial support He needs to cut the umbilical cord, get away and find his own place in the world. By criticizing his party so strongly, he cut the cord and now has to raise campaign money on his own.

cut the cord. (n.d.) Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms. (2006). Retrieved March 4 2016 from http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/cut+the+cord

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I believe

cut one's losses

may be close to what you are looking for. It can be used fairly generically for ending any sort of relationship before it creates more/any harm. It's often used in the business world, but is sometimes applied to personal relationships as well.

"I believe it's time to cut our losses and sell off our failing applications division." or "I think Fred needs to cut his losses with Betty and run before her addiction issues get him in trouble."

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To break it off, as in to break off an engagement, works here.

I imagine it originated as a phrase to indicate giving up in a futile battle, though it works just as well for the other type of engagement, as well as many (all?) other relationships.

What should I do in a bad relationship?

Break it off now before it gets worse.

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Drop (that person) like a bad habit.

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Came here to say this. – erip Mar 6 at 17:03

If you have a problem that is growing bigger and more intolerable as time goes by, you could consider using nip something in the bud which means:

to put an end to something before it develops into something larger. (Alludes to destroying a flower bud before it blooms.): 'I wanted to nip that little romance in the bud. The whole idea was nipped in the bud.'

Your example:

I need to nip my relationship with my partner in the bud before he gets further addicted and tries to kill me.

[McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs.]

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13  
Nipping in the bud implies stopping something before it becomes an issue. This question seems to refer to situations that have already flowered, so to speak. – asmeurer Mar 4 at 18:03

"quit while you're ahead"

Could be used as follows:

"I think you should quit while you're ahead and find someone new"

The use of "quit while you're ahead" in the above example would suggest that you have been somewhat lucky to date (even though it has been miserable), but that the relationship is only going to get a whole lot worse!

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Columnist Dan Savage popularized the acronym DTMFA ("dump the motherf***er already") for this purpose.

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To break free of someone could work.

There is some implication of breaking free from an 'imprisoned' lifestyle.

break-free-of-something-or-someone

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+1 a famous example is the song "I want to break free" by Queen which is from the point of view of exactly someone in this situation – user568458 Mar 4 at 16:21

The following advice from the world of chess would clearly work best when suggesting to a man that leaving his wife might be in order:

Sometimes you have to “give up/sacrifice your queen to win the game"

(example usage from ‘Pandolfini's Chess Complete: The Most Comprehensive Guide to the Game, from History to Strategy’ by Bruce Pandolfini, vie ‘Google Books’)

(A more general and gender-neutral expression that kind of captures this notion involves “losing the battle to win the war,” but I think that version could be too easily confused with “pick your battles,” and that is definitely not what you should be suggesting to anyone, male or female, in such situations.)

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To my mind, most of the examples don't address an important aspect of the OP's saying. The point is that the parting is painful now but better in the long run. The closest I can come to this in an idiomatic way is: "just rip that band aid off quickly". Not, I realize great in the case of romantic advice, but closer to the original.

The Biblical example above captures the point better, in my opinion but is also not great for romantic advice and is less idiomatic. So take your pick. Or wait for someone else to come up with something really good.

"Cut your losses" does pretty well for the necessity of ending a toxic relationship but doesn't speak to the aspect of present pain.

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This should be a comment. – stannius Mar 4 at 20:35

"Take the bull by the horns"

(to take action in a difficult or unpleasant situation)

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I think the best answer so far is "to cut one's losses". A similar one is "Don't throw good money after bad, that is, you've already lost a lot of your time and emotional energy, don't continue when you could save what you have left. A good deal of these answers are idiomatic, but don't really convey what the asker is looking for, they just speak of leaving a relationship. The expression "Get out now, while you still can" suggests the claustrophobic nature of toxic relationships, and that that they and steadily more difficult to leave, similarly, "Get going, while the going is good," or "Get out while you still can!" I. e. While the way out is still open. However, these address more the difficulty of getting out, rather than more general toxicity. The biblical verses quoted here do not apply to this situation. Here, Christ was referring to habitual sin which needs to be cut off, even if so ingrained as to be considered a part of us. I considered the bible for what you're looking for, but all I could think of was "Better to live in the corner of the roof than to share a house with a quarrelsome wife" Proverbs 25v24,NIV). Again, not really suitable.

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The relevant passage is the saying of Jesus:

And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

Matthew 5: 29-30. KJV.

The highlighted portions seem very close to your Iranian example. Does that come from an ancient scripture?

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Pardon my ignorance but can you please highlight the idiomatic expression? Are we supposed to say the entire passage? – BiscuitBoy Mar 4 at 14:53
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As much as i care not for the Bible or its contents, this is strange. Why is a relevant passage an idiomatic expression? "if thy offend thee, pluck it out," would be ample, short, though not too idiomatic. Provide more context/usage please. Boy, I can't wait to wake up in the morning and use this idiomatic expression! – Sakatox Mar 4 at 15:03
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There's also the expression translated as Bad friends ruin good morals which is expressed in many alternative ways according to BibleGateway. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 4 at 15:07
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Pithy it ain't! :-) – Kristina Lopez Mar 4 at 15:10
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If a friend of mine said this to me while I was asking for relationship advice, I'd start backing away slowly... – user568458 Mar 4 at 16:21

You could tell them, "Your house is full of evil bees".

Advantages:

  • It's specifically about being in an abusive relationship, not just a bad one.
  • Like the Iranian proverb, it describes the situation as painful.

Disadvantages:

  • It's not a well known idiom. (I've seen it referenced other places but the linked comment is the origin of the phrase, so it's fairly new.)
  • They may not react well to you comparing their relationship to a haunted house horror movie when you explain it.
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If somebody said this to me without explanation, I would nod gently and back away without making eye contact. – TimLymington Mar 5 at 11:38
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@TimLymington - Well, I don't expect the OP to say it out of nowhere and a lot of idioms sound weird when you don't know what they mean. I just thought this one was interesting, because none of the other idioms are specific to an abusive situation. – BSMP Mar 5 at 16:49

Drop that ...

Examples: Drop that loser, Drop that chump, etc.

You might also tell them to cut the dead weight. Example 2 fits here I believe.

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It sounds like you want an analogy for both the harmful person/relationship and the cure, rather than an idiomatic single phrase. Consider cancer or gangrene for the first, both being conditions that spread into healthy tissue until they become fatal, and some form of cut, particularly amputation, for the necessary action.

You may also compare the harmful individual to one of the most infamous mistresses ever: Delilah

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Yes, exactly! @Ben Voigt. As you see by using this Persian proverb, the speaker is trying to convince the audience that their relationship is painful like an untreatable tooth pain and it is unwise to tolerate it, instead it should be treated/cured ( =ended). – Soudabeh Mar 5 at 17:09

I'm currently in love with somebody I really don't want to be. So, for me a good phrase would be ..

It's time to walk into the sunset.

It means say goodbye.

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I've often heard or read the phrase to rip the bandage off in similar situations. (Sometimes, 'bandage' is replaced with 'Band-Aid', a brand of bandages.) It hurts to rip a bandage off, especially if there is hair or sensitive skin underneath the adhesive, but after a short bit of pain, the whole situation is much better for it.

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