Ending a relationship is never an easy thing.
By the time anyone considers leaving, there has already been a lot of heart break and disappointment and, generally, one person is not willing or ready to let go. That person often ends up bullying, manipulating or guilting their partner into hanging around longer than is healthy, and both partners spend a ridiculous amount of energy trying to figure out what to do.
Something we often forget: we do not need permission from someone else to end a relationship.
It is a choice we get to make and honor all on our own. Though our partner may scream and shout and threaten and wheedle, we can still stay strong and do what needs to be done.
But how do we know when it’s time to leave? When we should just give up and move on?
I think it’s safe to say I stayed too long in every single relationship I have ever been in, with the exception of my now-husband.
If I look back at the ratio of good versus bad times with my four serious boyfriends, I’m sad to say that it probably comes out to around 30 percent good and 60 percent bad. In other words, I wasted a lot of time on “bad.”
If I had been smarter, or a little less desperate, or lonely, or just totally naive, I might have asked myself these questions:
1) Do I look forward to coming home? (Or do I look forward to being with my partner more often than not?)
After any of my relationships turned sour, the idea of spending time with my partner was more of an obligation than a desire. If we find ourselves dragging our heels when it’s time to go home or meet up with our guy/girl, that’s a huge red flag.
In my current relationship, I’m always happy to see my spouse. Really. Always. And we’ve been together for 16 years. I didn’t know it was possible to feel that way, but it is, and we should never settle for less.
2) What does this relationship add to my life? What does it take away?
If our relationship is draining our energy, our resources, either emotional or financial, preventing us from doing the things we want to do in life, or isolating us from other friends and family, that’s a problem.
If, however, we feel energized by our partner, supported in our hobbies, dreams and goals, and are pleased when we have other fulfilling relationships, we’re in good shape.
3) Besides practical ties like shared children, bank accounts and property what keeps us together?
In other words, are we staying together just because it’s too complicated to split up?
The logistics of a breakup can feel overwhelming; financial concerns, custody arrangements and even who gets the dog can all keep us stuck. But, while these are valid problems, they still don’t justify staying in a miserable partnership.
If we think creatively, and enlist the help of our friends, family, clergy or therapists, we will figure out a way to move on.
4) Am I afraid to be alone or that I’ll never find another person who will love me?
One of the many stupid reasons I stayed with my exes was that I just didn’t believe I would find anyone else. The world– despite what online dating websites would have you think—is a big scary place and it’s hard to meet people, especially soul mates.
But if we are willing to be alone, and sit with it, we can create space for the really right person to come into our lives. Once they are there, we’ll be amazed that we wasted so much time with anybody else.
5) Am I living in the past?
All romances start out with shared interests, laughter and maybe even a fluttery heart—but it’s not realistic to expect the romance stage to go on forever.
However, if the only good times were long ago, and the present feels like a terrible drudgery, pay attention.
6) Do I simply not want to admit this relationship failed?
There was always an element of pride in my reluctance to leave my boyfriends, especially the last one. I knew everyone else in my life thought he was bad for me (they were right), and he himself had often predicted I “wouldn’t be strong enough to make it work.”
I wanted to prove everyone wrong.
Needless to say, keeping my pride in tact while everything else was falling apart wasn’t a great strategy for attaining lasting happiness.
7) Have I honestly considered the insights and opinions of friends and family?
On that note, instead of my normal knee jerk reactions to the opinions of other people about my guy, I would have been doing myself a big favor by listening to them.
It turns out they saw things I couldn’t, as people who care about us but who aren’t involved in the problem at hand frequently can, and I regret not having availed myself of their wisdom.
8) Might I be trapped in a cycle of abuse, co-dependance or other dysfunctional behavior?
I include this because I was involved in an abusive relationship, but I never would have qualified it that way at the time. Abusive relationships seemed to me like they could only happen to “somebody else”.
If we sense that something about the dynamic between ourselves and our partner is unhealthy to the point of dysfunction, we should at least entertain the idea. Research, or talking it out with a therapist or trusted friend, can help shed light on the situation.
9) How would my life look without my partner?
I wish I had taken a minute to imagine what leaving my bad relationships would really look like—beyond the fear of leaving itself. If I had, I might have seen a stronger me, a woman in charge of her life and her destiny, and someone who doesn’t settle for scraps.
If we suspect that life without our partner would actually be far superior to life with our partner, it probably will be.
10) Do I tend to feel happy or sad? Agitated or peaceful? Angry or calm? And does my partner enhance or detract from those moods?
Overall, we need and deserve someone in our life who fosters positivity.
If our partner generally makes us feel sad, defensive, unappreciated, stressed, nervous, angry or lonely, we can do better.
Sometimes better means being alone, maybe for a while—maybe a long while—but as the saying goes, “It’s better to be alone and happy than with someone and unhappy.”
Author: Erica Leibrandt
Editor: Caroline Beaton