Many have been there at one time or another — in a relationship that is causing stress, maybe too much stress. There is potential for the relationship to fulfill your ideal, but something keeps it from getting there. You may end up battling, at times to your own emotional detriment, to keep the relationship going even through chronic disappointment. You may break up, get back together, frustratingly chase and fight for your partner to do better or change. But the question keeps coming up — when is it time to end the relationship and begin the process of moving forward?
Nobody really wants to end a relationship. So much emotion, time, and energy is put into building and growing as a couple. But sometimes, in order to realize your own potential and also to satisfy your core needs and goals in life — as well as for your emotional health — ending a relationship becomes the healthier decision.
In an unstable relationship, the weight of hurt emotions and the desire for emotional stability in the relationship can often cloud the bigger picture. It can be easy to lose sight of long term emotional health and at times battle for relationships that cause more hurt than partnership. Consider asking yourself the following questions (and even better, discussing these questions with your partner). View each question not only in terms of concrete, but also acknowledge emotional priorities in your responses:
1. What are your values?
What is important in your life? What are the principles that guide you in your life? What do you prioritize? Family, work, travel, children, spontaneity, security, organization, emotional calm, on-the-go lifestyle, and more. Where do you and your partner stand in terms of each other’s values? Even if the values don’t necessarily line up, the more important question is if there is room in the relationship for each other’s values to co-exist, including room for some compromise.
2. What are your goals?
How do you see your life in the future and what are the milestones you want to accomplish along the way (children, career, home, hobbies, etc.)? Where are you flexible and able to compromise, and what is non-negotiable? Can you and your partner jointly reach your goals together, even if your goals aren’t identical?
3. What is non-negotiable (deal-breakers)?
There are areas of our lives where we can compromise for the sake of the relationship, and there are values for everyone that aren’t negotiable. Figuring out which of our values, goals, and ideals (including emotional goals — affection, care, support, listening, sex, intimacy) are flexible or non-negotiable will help you to see if and where there is room for work with your partner.
4. What is your level of motivation?
Couples are often frustrated by the other seemingly not trying hard enough to change to make the relationship better. One of the biggest frustrations I see in relationship-focused therapy is the perceived “empty promise” — a person feels they are actively doing all the work while the other talks about working hard, but doesn’t seem to follow through. However, I’ve also observed that partners are often working on the areas that are less important to the other, so the work is overlooked and this leads to feeling unappreciated. If you feel you’re doing all of the work, talk with your partner about the joint level of motivation and discuss the questions above to focus the work on the areas where you can both improve your relationship.
While the above questions are a way of helping orient you towards some perspective in your relationship, it is very difficult to fully rationalize something that is so emotionally intertwined. If you’re struggling with internal conflict about your relationship, therapy is a good place to sort through your ambivalences. The more we understand about ourselves and our relationship dynamics as a whole, the better we can understand the best and most healthy way to make difficult decisions.
Contact Nathan Feiles to inquire about therapy.