Knowing when to walk away from a relationship can be challenging. When should you cut your losses? When should you stick it out?
Relationships take work. Everyone knows that. But when is a relationship worth working on, and when is it better to walk away? How do you know if your relationship has just hit a rough patch, or if it’s fatally flawed? Is it time to break up with your partner?
If you’ve ever come away from a fight with your partner feeling hopelessly lost, wondering whether you should cut your losses or continue to hang in there, hoping it’ll get better, you know it’s not an easy decision to make.
Sometimes I think it’d be better if we were all more open about our struggles with relationships; it’s too easy to look at someone else’s seemingly perfect relationship and judge what goes on behind your closed door to the face other couples present to the world. It’s that old ‘comparing your insides to someone else’s outsides’ thing, only with relationships.
The truth is, all couples fight. It’s normal, even healthy. And all couples fall out of love at some point and have to find their way back into it. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to fight all the time, or that you should stay in a loveless marriage, either. So, how do you know when it’s time to walk away from a relationship? Here are a few questions to ask yourselves, if you’re not sure whether to hold on, or move on…
What about the good times?
When I was trying to decide whether or not to stay in my marriage, the single most helpful book I read was called Too Good To Leave, Too Bad To Stay, by Mira Kirshenbaum. In it, Kirshenbaum takes readers through a series of questions designed to help them decide whether their relationship is worth salvaging, or whether it’s time to walk away.
I don’t remember most of the questions that ultimately led me to decide to leave my husband, but I do remember the very first one, which Kirshenbaum said is the most important factor in deciding whether to stay. “Think about when things between you and your partner were at their best. Looking back, would you now say that things were really very good between you then?”
When I read that, I had to be honest with myself and acknowledge that from the very beginning, I’d known that things weren’t right between my husband and me. I was always more in love than he was, always trying to gloss over my doubts and insecurities about the way he felt about me – always forcing things between us. It never felt really good. Telling myself the truth was hard. But once I’d made the decision, I never regretted leaving.
If you can’t look back at the good times and know in your heart of hearts that they really were good, then what are you sticking around for?
It’s not that you should never have had any doubts – we all have doubts – but you should feel an unshakeable sense that you were once both in love, and happy, and that there’s something special there worth saving.
Where are you going?
In Annie Hall, when Alvy Singer, played by Woody Allen, is breaking up with his girlfriend, played by Diane Keaton, he famously compared a relationship to a shark. “It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.” And while I hate to give Woody too much credit for being wise about relationships, I think he was on the money with this one.
In a successful relationship, you and your partner have to have similar goals. Maybe you want to get married and have kids; maybe you’re both committed to remaining childfree and traveling the world together. You could both be perfectly happy never living together and only going on dates once or twice a week, or you might want to move in right away but never get married. The point is, you have a shared vision of the future, and you’re moving toward it together.
If you feel like you’re stuck in relationship purgatory, drifting aimlessly and not moving forward, think about what you really want. Then have a no-holds-barred, brutally honest talk with your partner. Because if you’re not on the same page, it’s better to know now, so you can find someone who wants to go the same place you do.
What’s a deal-breaker?
No matter how many happy memories you share, or whether you’re moving forward together toward a common goal, there are certain things that are deal-breakers.
Physical abuse is a pretty clear-cut one; emotional abuse is too, although it can be harder to pin down. Everyone loses their temper sometimes; a partner who yells, cries, or stomps off in a huff now and then isn’t necessarily emotionally abusive. But gaslighting, name-calling, and making you feel stupid, unimportant, unsafe, or unloved is never okay. Refusal to get help for and alcohol, drug, gambling, or other addiction is another relationship-ender; if you’ve asked your partner to seek out therapy or go to rehab and they’ve repeatedly refused, you don’t have much choice but to walk away.
Cheating, surprisingly, may not be a deal-breaker: plenty of couples successfully work through infidelity and come out the other side stronger, having addressed the root problems that caused one or both partners to stray. But deal-breakers will be different for everyone. The key is figuring out what yours are, and then being strong enough to follow through.
Many couples stay together out of fear – fear of being alone, fear of an unknown future, or fear of ‘failing’ somehow. Other couples stay together in the vain hope that things will change, while never making any real effort to change. Whatever you decide, remember: you deserve to be happy. And, too – you never know what surprises life has for you, right around the corner. Sometimes what feels like the end of the world is just a new beginning.
Images via giphy.com, tumblr.com, and getoutfilm.com.
Comment: Have you ever struggled with whether or not to end a relationship?