So, you’ve been in a relationship for a year or two, or perhaps for even ten or twenty or more… but unfortunately for a while now, you’ve been really feeling unhappy or dissatisfied and have been thinking that maybe your relationship is past its best before date. How do know if it’s time to end it? It’s the very nature of relationships that sometimes, they end. In fact, all relationships we have in our life will come to an end in one way or another. In this blog, we’ll look at ways to explore and possibly end a relationship in a way that will help us feel more confident and positive in our decision and hopefully limit the harms to ourselves and others.
Please note: if you’re in a relationship that has violence or abuse it’s a different matter and here are a few links to some help in this scenario:
So how then should we go about making that big decision without having regrets, and then if we decide we need to leave a relationship, how do we do that in the best way possible?
Be sure you have really tried to make it work.
One of the best ways to make sure you don’t have regrets about leaving is to honestly look at the situation and be confident that you’ve really given it a good try. For example, if it’s been a ten-year long marriage making a decision to leave should be a well thought out and reasoned decision, not a decision made in haste due to anger or frustration at circumstances that just may be temporary! Ask yourself was the relationship good last year or even three or six months ago? If so, could it be good again, and if you both want to put in the effort, maybe it could just be?
Do the math
Really sit down and be honest with yourself. Look at the relationship accurately and with some sense of detachment if you can. It’s really important to really look at your situation without the filters of love/romance or of anger clouding our thinking — use your logical thinking brain and really look at the situation as clearly as you can. For instance, has the relationship been 40% good and 60% bad, or is good 70% of the time and only 30% bad? Is your partner willing to take responsibility for their role in the problems and are they truly willing to making things better or do they blame you for the situation? Are you honestly taking responsibility for your role?
Be sure that it’s the relationship making you unhappy
In working with hundreds and hundreds of clients over the years I’ve seen time and time again that sometimes people blame the relationship/their partner for their unhappiness when in fact their unhappiness has much much more to do with them, their thinking patterns and maybe even their negative attitude. Or maybe you’re suffering from anxiety, depression or with an addiction issue, if so maybe it’s important to really look at yourself first. Are you looking to leave for the right reasons or are there other things affecting your thinking and attitude? Maybe seeing a psychologist like myself or another type of therapist can maybe help you sort out what’s you and what’s the relationship?
How do you define love as a concept? Are your expectations realistic?
Now I’m going to say some things that are a little controversial. What is love? Often people say that I’m no longer “in love” with my partner. Or I “love” them but I’m not “in love” with them. What does that really mean though? Unfortunately, it often means that people equate being “in love” with the exciting rush of sexuality and passion that often comes with a new and sparkly relationship. In a shiny new relationship, there is a rush of exciting “in-love” hormones and neurotransmitters in our brain.
In a nutshell, evolution makes new relationships feel that way so that we hook up and procreate lots of babies! But is it reasonable to expect a long-term relationship to always feel like an exciting new relationship? Maybe we need to really look at how we define love as a concept? Perhaps deciding that love is a verb and committing to our partner through thick and thin and realizing that often the rush of love feelings will come and go and that’s natural. Maybe true love isn’t necessarily about the shiny fresh tingling feelings of passion and sexuality in a new relationship? Maybe true and abiding love is more about accepting our partner, flaws and blemishes and all? Maybe it’s about having their “having their back” and making the effort to the commitment to being with them, even though sometimes it will be hard to do that?
To me true love isn’t about the tingly rush of meeting someone new — it’s more about acceptance, effort and really giving our best self to our partner — where two people make the conscious and deep decision to be with each other for the long term.
Here is a link to a previous blog on how to build acceptance in your relationship:
Really look at what your life will look like if you end the relationship
It’s important to really look forward honestly at what your life will look like if and when you end it. For example, if you have children, what will it really be like to have to afford the costs of divorce, like paying for lawyers and having to sell a house or now having two households to pay for. What about dealing with all the challenges of having to co-parent? It’s more than OK to take into account financial matters and really look at how different your life will be after the split. Of course, money isn’t everything and shouldn’t be the sole reason to stay unhappy… but sometimes digging in and working on a savable marriage may be better than spending tens of thousands of dollars on two $500 an hour divorce lawyers.
Be sure you truly want to end the relationship
Sometimes we feel like we want out of a relationship when what we really want is a “remodel” of the relationship. We still love the other person but wish that things were different day to day. Maybe our needs aren’t being fulfilled practically, emotionally or sexually. Ask yourself would the relationship be better if… there was more or different sex, if your partner did more around the house, paid more attention to you, was more involved and present? Just because a relationship is unhappy or unsatisfying doesn’t mean that it can’t be changed with some work and effort if both people are willing to try to change things up. This is where it’s important to really be honest and forthright in letting your partner know what your needs really are. I don’t mean hints… I mean really having a sit down with them and being frank and honest about your needs and feelings and why things aren’t working for you!
Don’t cheat sexually or emotionally before you go!
Leaving a long term relationship should be done in the best and most honest way you can. Unfortunately, sometimes people look outside the relationship to others when things aren’t going well. Engaging in emotional and/or sexual relationships before you’ve ended the relationship often happens because the “leaver” is looking to build their self-confidence and prove to themselves that they are still attractive before they venture out on their own again. Sexual and emotional attention from being with a new lover can, of course, make us feel excited and giddy even! Some people even leverage this rush of good feelings as a way to feel stronger and then use this strength to leave their current relationship. The problem with this is that it often can really hurt the person being left — much more than if you left in a more respectful and kind manner. Infidelity can really affect people in lots of negative and painful ways; we’re actually wired to really be affected by infidelity and adding this pain on top of the pain of a relationship ending is unnecessary and even kind of selfish?
Here is a great TED Talk that takes a new perspective on infidelity from Esther Perel — Esther Perel: Rethinking Infidelity
Additionally, jumping into a new relationship right away before we’ve even left our current one often guarantees that the new relationship will probably crash and burn. A relationship built on the shaky foundations of deceit and dishonesty is probably not a good one. After leaving a long term relationship it is probably best to maybe take some time away from relationships and dating — a time to really concentrate on building our own life, distinct and separate from other people. It’s a time to maybe do a relationship autopsy and really figure out why our long term relationship ended. To honestly look at what was our role in the relationship ending. You’re really responsible for 100% of your 50% of what happened in your last relationship. It really takes two to tango! Try to leave with kindness, respect and empathy instead of anger and spite.
Even if you’re really ANGRY!!!!
Try to leave with kindness, respect and empathy
So if you’ve done the homework and decided its time to end it? Ask yourself how would you want to be treated if you were the person being “left”? What would you feel like if someone ended the relationship with you in a negative, unkind or even cruel way? Leaving someone behind can really hurt them and affect their life in many negative ways.
Even if you’re holding lots of negative anger and resentment towards your soon to be ex-partner, it may still be best to leave with “good karma”; to try to be kind and respectful. What if the relationship is really ending on a bitter note? What if the resentments and anger are really affecting you and the thought of being kind and sweet to them is too much for you to stomach? Maybe then it’s important to shoot for being neutral and detached rather than mean or spiteful?
A good strategy I often recommend to clients is to treat it like you would a business situation or decision. Try to be detached and keep your anger in check. This strategy is especially good to try if you have children involved or if you have assets to split up. Any divorce lawyer can tell you stories where a couple splitting up will fight tooth and nail over a few minor possessions. Really ask yourself is it worth it to battle it out over who gets the cheesy wooden salad bowl, the 10-year-old television or the threadbare couch in the basement? Try to be kind and respectful and if you can’t? Maybe the best strategy is to aim for neutral and “business-like”; really try to step away from your emotions and make this as pain-free as possible for everyone involved.
It’s also probably best for you emotionally and psychologically to make a clean break without anger and the creation of even more bad feelings and memories. Learning to let go of all the anger and resentments is probably the healthiest way for you to try move forward with your life.
Ending a relationship is never easy. Make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons and that you’ve really thought it through!
If you need help sorting this out further, maybe contact a psychologist like myself who can help you sort out what’s the best way to make this hard decision in the best way possible.
This blog is not intended as medical advice, treatment or diagnosis and should in no way replace consultation with a mental health or medical professional.