Ending a love relationship is one of the toughest life events that you will ever go through. It’s a death-like transition from sharing your life with another person to going it alone. No matter how many times you have gone through a romantic breakup, ending a relationship never gets easier.
Why is deciding to end a love relationship so hard?
No matter how difficult the relationship has become, we cant forget and let go of what we’ve shared and built with our partner. We share family, friends, children, activities and interests. We have built an identity together that has so many layers to it that its hard to unravel. Breaking up involves the dismantling of a complex relationship structure that may have taken many years to build. Also, we can’t anticipate every stress that may result from this change in our lives.
Romantic breakups open us to feelings of self-doubt, confusion, and failure that we’d like to avoid. We have to sit with questions for which there are no immediate answers.
“Am I doing the right thing by leaving?”
“Is there still enough that is good between us to make it work?”
“Will I ever find another person or be happy again?” and,
“What if I’m wrong; I don’t want to make the wrong choice.”
For example, last week, I was in the Trader Joe’s grocery store, when I saw the husband of a couple that I had seen in therapy many years ago. I said, “…….. is that you?” “Dr. Khoshaba,” he said, in a warm welcoming voice. I immediately asked how he, his wife, and children were. He replied in a whisper, that both disclosed his pain and the delicate nature of what he was about to share with me, “Dr. Khoshaba, we divorced several years ago” . Oddly enough, I thought he said that his wife had passed away several years ago. “No, no, we divorced, once the children got old enough to leave home.” Our carts were now pushed up closely against each other, right next to a wall, as if we had created a private space for therapy. “How are you doing?”, I said. “Better, now”, he replied. Those two words revealed everything to me; his heartache, loneliness and the fear that he may not find happiness once again.
“You will heal”, I said. He smiled halfheartedly that conveyed both his doubt and hope. I knew he had so much more to share with me about how he felt, but it wasn’t the place or time. We wished each other well and then parted.
It was ironic that this exchange happened in a grocery store. I hoped that our meeting nourished him in some way. He and his wife were never a match made in heaven, by any stretch of the imagination. I had always known that divorce was a strong possibility in their future.
What made them decide that it was time to call it quits after so many years of being together? One or both of them couldn’t find a good enough reason anymore to keep the relationship going. I know from once having them in therapy that they had considered for some time if their relationship was too good to leave or too bad to stay.
Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay?
Indeed, considering ending a love relationship is one of the hardest things you will ever have to think through. Every person connected to the relationship will be affected by your decision. I have helped many people through this process through the years, especially in deciding if a divorce is an inevitable conclusion to their relationship. You just have to look into the eyes of people contemplating a romantic relationship’s end to know the psychological and spiritual weight of having to make such a decision. The sadness in their eyes tell you that something deeply meaningful is on hand.
Author Mira Kirschenbaum gives us a thoughtful way to consider if it’s time to say goodbye to a love relationship. I have recommended her book Too Good To Leave, Too Bad To Stay to many of my clients throughout the years. What I like about Kirschenbaum’s approach is that she asks you to diagnose the quality of your relationship through questions that get to the heart of what it means to be in love and to be open to sharing your life fully with another person.
Although she focuses much on physically abusive relationships, Kirschenbaum’s wisdom and guidelines for thinking through a decision to stay or leave a relationship brings clarity to this very emotionally confusing subject matter. The following Question Checklist is similar to Kirschenbaum’s take on this subject matter.
As you read each question, think about how these actions affect the bond between you and your partner. Our actions can strengthen or weaken our attachment to each other. If an action is so debilitating to the health of a relationship that it weakens our motivation to continue partnering with each other, this is a sign that the attachment relationship is wounded. The more attachment wounds created, the greater the harm to the relationship, and the harder it is to repair.
First, answer the question with regard to how you feel, then, with regard to your mate’s behavior.
- Do you live or wish to live a separate life from your mate, although you still live under the same roof? (Do most of your interests and activities exclude your partner?). If this is the case for you or your partner, there’s a serious problem in your relationship. You may be arranging your life to limit activities with your partner. Curtailing involvement with your partner is often the first step toward separating. You are trying on the shoes of a single person to see if they might fit, while living under the same roof with your mate. If this is you, I encourage you to examine how this came about, what meanings this has to you, and take responsibility for what it means to the integrity of your relationship.
- In spite of your problems, do you and your partner have at least one positively pleasurable activity or interest (besides children) that you currently share and look forward to sharing in the future, something you do together that you both like and that gives both of you a feeling of closeness for awhile? If there are still good things between you and your mate, there’s hope for the relationship. Shared interests and activities create mental and emotional bonds that support the health of a relationship. These need to be nurtured, especially when times get tough between you two. That being said, there are some behaviors that destroy the health of a romantic relationship, no matter what, like physical and emotional abuse, and untruthfulness. Pleasurable activities and interests are not enough to offset destructive relationship behaviors.
- Do you ignore or avoid your mate’s attempts to connect to you through intimate or everyday conversation? If so, there may be more serious trouble in paradise, or a communication problem, or just so much going on that you don’t have the energy for such conversations. Whatever the reason, you have to acknowledge it and try to make it better, if you wish for the relationship to stay healthy. If you or your mate is tired of the other, there’s a greater problem on hand.
- Do you genuinely like your partner? When we fall in love, we like the other person, right? Unfortunately, over time, you may find qualities and behaviors in your mate that you don’t like, or vice verse. There’s a real problem when these flaws make you lose interest and respect for your partner. If you said no to this question, you have to judge how this affects the relationship and if there’s a willingness on either of your part to change.
- Do you do everything you can to avoid physical contact with your mate? When you like and love your partner, it’s natural to want to touch him or her. Something is wrong when you or your partner have little interest in holding hands, sitting side by side, or hugging.
- Do you do everything you can to avoid sexual contact with your mate? There are many reasons why this can happen in a love relationship. It’s natural for sexual contact to decline over the years. This generally signifies nothing other than growing older. But, there are reasons for avoiding sexual contact that have more to do with the poor condition of the love relationship. It may be that you are emotionally hurt by your partner, lessening your sexual interest in him or her. If this is the case, you most likely answered in the positive behavior direction to many of the questions on this list. Thus, avoiding sexual contact is often a sign of bigger relationship problems. On the other hand, if this is the only question you endorsed, you most likely have an isolated problem that needs your attention. Remember, the extent to which little to no sexual relationship can damage a partnership is the extent to which each partner values sex as contributing to the health of the relationship.
- Does your partner neither see nor admit to things that make the relationship too bad to stay in? Let me assure you that this problem is real and can cause great harm to a relationship. It’s often longstanding resentment over not being heard time and time again that forever harms the attachment bond. These are short-term little assaults on one’s sense of reality and self-esteem that over time take away one’s joy and interest in continuing to partner.
- Is there something that your partner does that makes it tough to stay in the relationship? Does your mate physically or emotionally abuse you or engage in some addictive behavior, like drug or alcohol abuse, gambling, sexual acting-out, or compulsive spending that threatens the integrity of the partnership? Has there been infidelity in your relationship? Affairs and addictive behaviors are deal-breakers, if they do not stop. Remember, your partner’s addiction turns you into a hostage of the relationship rather than a free-willing participant. Such problems often cause severe attachment wounds that are not easily repaired.
- Is your partner unwilling to change the behavior or quality of character that you cited in question 8? It may be time to say goodbye. If one of you is unwilling to change a behavior that clearly destroys the attachment between you, then the writing is on the wall: I care more about this behavior than you. These are non-negotiable behaviors that violate trust and security, and undermine the welfare of the relationship.
- Are you disrespected by your partner? This may take the form of ridiculing your ideas, thoughts, feelings and needs, putting your down or embarrassing you in front of other people. This behavior also causes deep attachment wounds. Over time, this leads people to protective behaviors, like the ones described in questions 1, 3, 5, and 6. And, the more you try to protect yourself from your mate, the more your mate is your enemy rather than your lover and friend. Need I say more?
Respect, loving feelings, openness to giving and being loved, and a readiness to solve problems together and in a way that strengthens the relationship is at the heart of these questions. If you or your mate answered true to many of these questions, the attachment foundation is weakened by one or more of these attachment-undermining behaviors. More positive relationship behaviors may have initially existed and eroded over time, or perhaps they were absent from the beginning. Whichever the case, it is time to consider strongly whether your relationship is too good to leave, or too bad to stay.
I suggest that you read books on the subject, like Kirschenbaum’s Too Good To Leave, Too Bad To Stay book . Also, don’t hesitate to seek out professional guidance to see if the relationship can be saved and put in a positive direction.
I hope you like my post today, and found something useful for your everyday living and love relationship. If you like my post, please say so by selecting the Like icon that immediately follows. You can also Tweet and Google+1 today’s article to let your friends know about it.
Warm regards to you, Deborah