Break-up or Make-Up? How to Know When it’s Time to Call it Quits
While love might be in the air, because hey, tis the season... you are not feeling very lovey right now. You just had your 80th fight with your partner and you have had it up to here (and you are not even all that sure where “here” is!) You might be thinking you made a mistake sticking around for so long... and at the same time, you had so many wonderful moments together... Maybe it’s worthwhile to keep trying?
According to psychological research studies, we are not very equipped to look at our relationships objectively while in the midst of conflict (MacDonald, Ross, 1999).
Why We Aren’t Able To Be Objective In Relationships
I’ll explain. Try placing your hand right in front of the middle of your face. You will have very limited vision of the room around you, and you will be looking for the most part at a blurry, un-detailed vision of your hand. Now start pulling your hand away slowly. The farther your hand gets away from your face, the more you can see, both the details of your hand and of the room. Sometimes when we are in the depths of interpersonal conflict, all we can see is that blur of the up-close-and-personal. The pain and hurt.
Our vision is actually obscured by what is right in front of us. When we start to make space from the problem, we can start to see other possibilities, solutions, the bigger picture... from a completely different vantage point.
It can be tricky to know when to call it “quits”
Deciding when and if to call a relationship quits is not a decision to take lightly, especially if you have devoted a significant amount of time and energy towards it. Sometimes we have to make these big decisions though, whether it’s for our own emotional wellbeing, safety or for the sake of children involved. And even if we know wholeheartedly that it’s the right thing to do, it’s can still be incredibly hard. Often, these decisions are not cut and dry.
Sometimes it’s hard to decipher whether we need help or we just need out.
I can’t answer you on what to do with your relationship, but here, below, are some tips to help you “pull your hand away from your face” a bit to give you a broader perspective.Here are some points to ask yourself when you are experiencing relationship turbulence (inspired by the work of Mira Kirshenbaum);
Break-Up or Make-Up, Some Tips For You Below
Who is “your” person? Do you have someone who can help you be more objective?
Is there someone in your life that you trust to help you flesh out all your concerns? Preferably not someone who seems to get a thrill being involved in other people’s drama. Drama seekers tend to rile us up and confuse us even more. A relationship psychotherapist, a mentor, a spiritual leader or an older friend can help you dig a bit deeper before you make this big decision, and it’s nice to have someone look at your challenges through different lenses than friends or family. An objective third party can be refreshing.
Do you need to decide right now?
Indecision is still a decision. If you are safe and nobody is in immediate danger, try to hold off making any big moves until the dust has settled from your most recent rumble or at least until you can take a step back and look at things with a broader insight. A bit of uncertainty is normal. Learning to live with uncertainty is actually pretty healthy. BUT… complete ambivalence is concerning.
Ambivalence means you have one foot out the door and you are probably tearing yourself apart trying to decide if you are right or wrong in your thoughts and choices. You are likely ruminating and causing yourself and the relationship more harm by stewing in your self-doubt and inner conflict. If this is where you are at, a choice one way or another will be helpful.
Are there BIG Red Flags?
If there are major red flags that you are becoming increasingly more aware of, you might want to hit the road sooner than later. Streaks of abuse, violence or any threat to your safety should be taken seriously. DO NOT IGNORE THESE BIG RED FLAGS. If you do see any of these, reach out for support. Come. up with a safe plan. And find a way to safety. And if you need to, Leave.
Was there a time when it was really good?
We all get into ruts from time to time. Times when we are not ourselves. The people who love us stick around. If the relationship was great for a time and your partner is just going through a funk right now, it might be worth it to stay the course and be supportive, especially if he or she is willing to get help. If the relationship was never very good though, and there was always something to fight about or run away from, it’s possible that this is the nature of your relationship and there may not be much structure to lean on. You may not be able to lean on something that has potential only as a figment of your imagination. See if there are some valid factors you can lean on and go from there.
Do you still have feelings for each other?
Once the dust settles from your whirlwind Hollywood-style romance, is there any emotion left in the relationship? Do you still have a feeling of friendship? Love? Trust? Kindness?... Marriage and relationships aren’t always what you see on the big screen. Deep-seated passion will never be a consistent part of a long term relationship.
Passion ebbs and flows.
If your passion dies down from time to time, you are a normal human couple. You can always try different ways to spice things up a bit but that is not a sustainable goal in and of itself. A successful relationship requires some sort of base emotional connection in which to build on. Caring is a good sign that there is potential there. If both of you want to work together and build on that feeling of friendship, care and compassion, all the power to you.
If you are both not feeling anything anymore, and haven’t for a while- you may want to look at that. Look out for any sort of spark to see if there is anything left to kindle.
Have you already “checked out” emotionally?
Sometimes people just know it’s over and they have moved on without realizing it. If there is no more active investment in your relationship, it could be a sign that one or both of you have already subconsciously made the decision to call it quits. Interviewing divorce lawyers or speaking to real estate agents to “keep your options open” likely means that you don’t really want your options open. Try to listen to your intuition in this case.
Are you staying because you feel stuck?
If nobody on earth would cast judgement on you or be impacted by your decision, would you stay? Would you call it? Investment aside, if the only thing keeping you in the relationship is other people’s opinions, it probably won’t last long anyways. If there are kids involved, your kids will be healthier in the long-run if you make a decision that is right for you. Kids get messed up when they think they are the cause of your pain and suffering.
Don’t stay ONLY for the kids. It will backfire. ONLY stay because you want to make it work and if there’s potential for a healthy relationship for both you and the kids (if there are kids).
Do you look forward to a future together?
Certain stages of life are tough no matter what. We go through turbulence. Our kids drive us nuts. We are left to grieve for loved ones and we change through all these experiences. We go through financial troubles or painful conflicts… but at the end of the day, when the dust settles, do you picture yourself growing old and settling down with your partner?
Do you feel excited to travel the world together when the kids move out ( after you replenish your savings)? Do you want to lie on the beach sipping mai tais with him or her? If yes, it’s a good sign that your troubles together are time-limited or situational. Maybe some couples counseling will do the trick.
Are your basic needs being met?
I’m not talking about a partner who brings you coffee every morning or who is committed to taking out the garbage. I’m talking about your need to feel understood, cared about, to feel a deep sense of safety and belonging? Does your partner make you feel bad when you express feelings or opinions or is he or she curious about what you have to say even when there are disagreements? Do you spend time together and talk? If you both don’t care about supporting each other's basic emotional needs, it’s not a good sign.
Do you have a shared mission, vision or values?
It’s important to have similar life goals if you care passionately about making your relationship work. Do you still have things in common? Do you want to work toward common goals? Do you share a deep-rooted value system? If yes, there might be something to build on here. It’s totally normal to have different interests and different personal goals from each other, but there also have to be some that are mutual.
Can you have normal conversations with each other?
Are you both willing to have open dialogue and hear each other out? Can you talk to each other without feeling judged or criticized? If you do feel criticized, can you call your partner out on it without him or her getting defensive and storming off? If your partner is open to growing in communication skills, it's a really good sign that there is potential. If conversations are shut down prematurely or everything turns into a fight, not a good sign.
Are you both willing to do whatever it takes?
Every couple has problems and rocky patches. But when mistakes are made, or when the chips are down, the true test of a quality relationship is if both parties are willing to do whatever it takes to fix things. If they can both set their egos aside for the greater good and share their concerns with each other. If they are both willing to consult a professional if need be and work on their shortcomings (which everyone has.)
Do you feel better or safer apart than together?
It’s normal to occasionally get hurt by someone you love and care about. But if more often than not, you are engaged in conflict or feeling hurt, it’s not a good sign. If you feel calmer when you are away from your partner and you are always on edge together, you might not be the best fit for each other.
How’s the Sex? Attraction? Or at Least the foreplay?
Sex should not be the only connective factor in a relationship, but there should be some sort of desire for each other. A healthy drive, an attraction, a desire to be playful maybe? To snuggle? If you are both nauseated by the thought of touching each other, it’s not a great sign. Good sex should not be the only reason to stay in a relationship, but if it’s one of the many pros, that connection could be what tips the scale.
Will the grass be greener on the other side?
I don’t like making comparisons, especially in circumstances as big as deciding whether to stay or break up with a life partner, but I have seen couples split only to find that the dating scene isn’t sunshine and rainbows, and their lives were better together. Oftentimes, the grass will be greener where you water it. If there is potential in this relationship, it can be so much more gratifying to revive it than to start again. If there is little to go on though, and you are feeling empowered, go out and plant your own grass.
How do you feel about YOURSELF when you are around your partner?
Do you feel like a moldy dish rag or a doormat when you are around your partner? Do you feel small and weak when you are truly wonderful and courageous in other settings? Do you shine with your friends but feel dull and lifeless with your partner? In a healthy relationship, both partners should be building each other up, not tearing each other apart. If your self-worth is suffering, check in with yourself to see if it’s because your partner is a jerk or if perhaps, you have some attachment wounds that are easily flared. This one is a toughy.
Check out my blog on attachment and reach out to a therapist for support if you need to. If you feel like crap in most relationships, it’s likely that you could use a bit of therapeutic support, but if you only feel this way around your partner, it could be a big red flag.
Whatever you decide… you are normal
If you have tried to make things work but feel like you keep hitting a wall…
If you don’t want to make it work and you are tired of having to put so much effort into something that doesn’t seem to have that much potential.
If you are confused and have no idea what to do…
If you think you have tried everything but you are willing to keep on trying…
You are normal.
If you need some help figuring things out and you live in the New York area, my talented staff is here to support you in your healing and relationship journey. Life can be tough, but so are you! Way tougher than you think.
Successful relationships can work if two people are ready, willing and able to push hard for what they want.
Sometimes in life, both outcomes are rough. Both require work. Both are hard. The question is, which tough choice is better? Which tough choice will create a better world for you in the long run? Which choice has less collateral damage? Which choice is better?
Once you have decided that, go all in.
I’ll be here in the background cheering you on!
May you be sprinkled with clarity, ease and may love surround you.
And if you’re thinking that some one-one-one personlized counseling can help- were are here for you to feel more clear in your relationships, and in your own self!
If you live anywhere in Long Island, New York, in Nassau or near our offices in Cedarhurst, reach out here.
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Sending strength and warm wishes,
Esther and The Integrative Team