How to Know When to End A Relationship?

5 things to consider first

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Painful endings are new beginnings in disguise

-Lao Tzu

Japanese organizing consultant turned Netflix star, Marie Kondo, offers sound advice to her clients who struggle with saying goodbye to things in their home they once loved.  In her ‘Clearing out your Closet’ episode, she encourages people to take each item of clothing, hold it to their hearts, close their eyes and then see how it makes them feel. Then she says, “ if it brings you joy, keep it, if it doesn’t thank it”.

Saying goodbye to someone we love is never easy, and it’s certainly much harder than saying goodbye to an item of clothing or “thing” we love or once loved. 

To make matters worse, we as human beings are wired for bonding, not for breaking up. 

Knowing when and how to do that is just as challenging, if not hopelessly confusing at times.

Why is that?

Because, once upon a time, we lived in small tribes, had a small selection of potential partners to mate with, often died around the age of forty, and if we didn’t, we then became the wise elders of our tribe who helped guide and advise the younger members and then died a few years after that.  Our evolutionary biological “mating wiring”, hasn’t caught up with the relationship dilemmas of modern love; one of which is, “should I stay or should I go?”

There are some people who are  fortunate enough to find their life mates at a young age, and successfully negotiate that relationship through them many changes and challenges of life, in sickness and in health, until “death do they part”. 

Most people however, will experience having two to three significant partners who “make sense” for different phases of their lives, during their brief, transitory and mysterious trip around the sun.

It means that ending a relationship or having someone else end it, is pretty much inevitable, as is the pain that accompanies the ending. Still, it begs the questions: how do you know if ending something is the right thing to do? Shouldn’t you at least try to repair it before you end it? 

While the latter is generally a wise choice to make first; repairing and renewing doesn’t always happen.

And if you are on the fence about repairing things before you make the decision to say good bye or trade in, here’s a few questions you can ask and answer for yourself  first, to help you make that decision.

1.     Think back to when you met this person. What part of you chose that person and what phase of life were you in? What were you looking for and what did you want to experience? E.G. sometimes people choose a partner because they are looking to start a family. Sometimes people fall in love. Sometimes people feel the pressure of social clocks and think that settling down is “the right thing to do”. Sometimes people are lonely and looking for companionship. Whatever the reason for your choice, know that there is no right or wrong reason for choosing someone, there’s just YOUR reason.

2.    Reflect on the course of your relationship. When did things start to change? What role did you play in that change?Remember: wherever you go, there you are; meaning that unconscious relational patterns will repeat if they are not tended to properly. Answering this question for yourself is crucial for your well-being, regardless of what you choose.

3.    If you could “rewind the tape” so to speak, and change some things you did or said, what would those things be?What do you imagine the outcome would have been if you could go back in time and get a redo? Take some time to imagine this and get a felt sense of “what could have been…and… if only you had done…” and see what insights come. Also, to help with any potential analysis paralysis with this line of questioning, see if your brilliant analytical brain can step back for a bit, while you explore your intuitive self.

4.    After taking your time to do step three (and rinse and repeat that step as many times as you need), ask yourself, what is it that you want now? Does your current relationship feel like you are spending time with a synergistic soulmate and or pragmatic partner with whom you have a shared vision for the future?  Do you both want the same things? Will possibly having different visions of the future work for you?

5.    Now, follow Marie Kondo’s advice, and honestly ask and answer whether or not your current relationship brings you joy. If it does, then keep it, knowing there is no such thing as perfect. If it doesn’t and you know that you have done your best; whatever that is to you, then thank that person. Tell them how much they have meant to you, and how they’ve touched your heart. Tell them how you’ve grown because of them, and how you know that you must do the next part of your life without them. 

Then wish them well and say goodbye. Consider giving them a small gift, perhaps a card or symbolic object, so they will have something of you to hold onto as the two of you transition into a new phase of life without each other. And though you will feel sad while this chapter in your life’s story begins to end, in time, a new chapter in your life’s story will start its first outline, first sentence, and first paragraph. And you, the author of your story, get to hold the pen to paper, while you create and then possibly start to co-create, a new story in your book of love and life.

For a free “Finding Hope after Heartbreak” workbook, to help you heal your heart, click here.

For a free chapter on divorce from my book: Finding Hope in the Crisis: A Therapist’s Perspective on Love, Loss, and Courage, click here.

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