One way to take power out of unhealthy relationships.

I throw the word "love" around freely. I love my son. I love my best friend. And I love this particular man in my life. For the last few months I've been wondering why I love him, because he hasn’t been treating me all that well. Yesterday, I learned the answer and it made me question every relationship I've ever had.

I met this man about a year ago, when he responded to the ad I placed on Craigslist. It felt like fate for how much we had in common, and for how perfectly we complemented the things we didn't. He was everything I didn't even know I could ask for in a partner. I thought he would eventually be mine.

And then he disappeared, slowly extricated himself from my life over a period of two months, before finally "going dark," to use his words. He was dark for six months, a time period I realize is longer than our entire relationship.

I saw him again for the first time last week and we picked up right where we left off. He was handsome. I felt special. We talked, and laughed and flirted. And we had hot sex in the back seat of his car. The next day I admitted - more like proclaimed - to myself, my therapist and my best friend that I still loved him. We know, they all said patiently.

Over the last week I've been thinking about him, and wondering exactly why I still love him. Because I don't love that he disappeared on me, and I don't love that when I told him how hurtful the disappearing act was, he was surprised. Despite these “minuses,” I continued to love him... until yesterday.

That's when I came across a thought from Eckhart Tolle about love and what it means to most people. He thinks that when we love people, what we really love is the sense of identity they give us. Alarm bells started going off in the back of my mind. Did I love this man because of who I was when I was with him? And there it was - yes I did.

I went through the list of all the reasons I loved him, a list I've gone through probably hundreds of times when I want to feel really depressed about my chances of ever meeting someone like him again, and realized they were all about me.

When I met this man, I was a new mom, suffering from low mom-confidence and an absentee partner, and was overwhelmed by the idea of taking my son to anything more exotic than the neighborhood park. This man taught me that is was possible, fun and liberating to take my son on big adventures. Now we hardly spend any time at home.

When I met this man, I was a tomboy - a coping mechanism I learned as a child. This man saw the “pretty woman” in me, and through his encouragement - and sometimes even instruction - taught me that it was safe to be feminine, and that it was possible to be both feminine and strong at the same time.

When I met this man, I considered myself to introverted and shy. He was the polar opposite - a true social butterfly if those come in manly 200-pound packages. I loved that his world was huge, and fun, and full of interesting people. I want that to be me! I thought, seeing him in action. He taught me that I am an extrovert at my core.

In his company, I grew into myself - self-actualization through relationship - and when he left, I thought he took me with him. All those months when he was gone, I loved him because I loved who I was when I was with him, and when he popped back into my life, I let him because I thought he was going to bring me back.

When I read Eckhart Tolle's words yesterday, two things occurred to me. The first is that I didn't need this man in order to be those things I loved about myself. If being feminine feels good and right then I am free to embrace it, and if I'm a secret extrovert, I should just start acting like one. Understanding how to separate my identity from his presence in my life took all his power away.

Taking power away from your partner will help give you the freedom to leave if that's what you ultimately decide is best for you. You can begin to do this by figuring out exactly what that relationship is doing for you. It can be a practical thing, like supporting you and your children financially. It could be a status thing, like gaining you invitations to important parties. It could be an emotional thing, like expanding your social circle.

Once you have identified the main functions of the relationship in your life, see how many of those needs you can fulfill all by yourself. It may not be possible for you to take over all of them, at least not right away, but every single one counts. And they build on each other because you'll be gaining confidence in your ability to meet your own needs. When you've taken as much power as you can away from that relationship you can finally evaluate it for what it's worth.

Whether you’re thinking about leaving, have just left, or are in a new relationship, you are operating from a position of power when you engage in relationships for the right reason. What is the right reason? Because being in that relationship helps you grow. If you’re in a relationship because your identity depends on it, take power back by figuring out how to have that same identity on your own.