One of my closest friends called me in tears yesterday.
She was angry. She was hurt. But most of all, she was heartbroken after letting an ex-boyfriend back into her life, then finding that the experience was not so unlike trying to pick up broken pieces of a mirror: nothing looked the same as it had been before, and she’d only cut herself trying to put it all back together.
Most of us have probably been through similar experiences. Instead of recognizing when it’s time to throw in the towel on a relationship, we see the potential in people instead of seeing them for who they really are. We believe that, if the other person can only see who we really are, everything will be fine. Or, we think that all we need to do is try a little harder and it will all work out.
Sometimes it does, especially when both people are equally determined to make things right. But sometimes, it just doesn’t.
Every relationship is different. There are no hard and fast rules for when to break up and when—or if—to reunite. But there are some situations in which “it’s over” should mean that it’s over.
I know because I’ve been there, too. I’ve cried the ugly tears. I’ve eaten the comfort food in bed, tucked into my covers, with Oprah on the television and the pretty decorative pillows piled up around me. Heartbreak hurts, but sometimes it just has to happen in order for you to become what you’re on your way to becoming.
What you are going through is not a mistake; it’s an experience, and it is part of your continuing journey.
I say this with as much compassion and understanding as a person can have—as hard as it is to move on, if your past relationship has any of these red flags, it is best to move on.
There are no apologies. Relationships and break ups take two people. If one or the other of you is not willing to accept your role in the break up, getting back together simply will not work. Even if you were the one who was wronged, there is a learning opportunity there. If you’re not willing to take it, or if your partner refuses to acknowledge his or her role, there is no moving forward.
There is abuse. If you or your partner has been physically or psychologically abusive, walk away. Even if they undergo treatment or counseling, it is easy to fall back into old patterns with familiar people. It is best for you, and for your partner, to move on. This is also true if you or your ex used controlling tactics such as forbidding friendships or withholding monetary resources, minimizing feelings, or using isolation, insults, or threats to intimidate or manipulate. If this is the case, wrap yourself in your own love and go. And don’t look back.
You became someone you are not for your ex. If you found yourself compromising important parts of who you are in order to please your ex, or in order to keep the peace, that relationship was probably not meant to last. There are people who come into our lives to make us better people, if only through our pain. Often, it is our friends or family members who point this out when we cannot see it. Chances are, your ex shined the light on a part of you that you needed to face, but that doesn’t mean they were meant to be a forever thing. It just means that they gave you a lesson that you’re supposed to grasp. Never compromise who you are. These lessons are important to us and are never experienced for naught. Be grateful for the opportunity to become stronger, and move on.
When your ex is not willing to learn. There is a lot to building a healthy relationship. Like the old song says, sometimes love just isn’t enough. The most important key is communication, and we are not simply born with good communication skills. Those skills need to be learned, and in order for us to learn them, we have to be willing to recognize the need. Often, too, in life, we pick up habits that are not healthy for relationships, such as lying, withholding the truth to protect people (or so we think), or to be passive/aggressive or otherwise unhealthy in response to being hurt. It’s one thing to be that way, and another to not be willing to learn a different way in order to develop a lasting partnership. If you (or your ex) are not willing to adapt and try new ways of communicating, you’ll be left with the old patterns. Nothing one of you can do will change that, because it takes two. If only one of you is willing to change, walk away.
When you are the only one trying. If your ex has displayed a pattern of behavior, such as affairs, addiction, or anything else destructive personally or to the relationship, and is not willing or capable of change, it is so important to recognize that you have no power over their inner stuff. You are not powerful enough to control your partner’s actions or thoughts; you cannot love them enough or compensate enough to make them healthy, and you cannot ever “make them see” what they do not want to, or are not ready to see.
I love my friend, and I love myself enough to recognize and say that walking away is sometimes the best choice. If you are both willing to work at it—and I mean really willing to work at it— that’s one thing. But if you see any of the above red flags, know that it’s a strength, not a failure, to keep moving forward with your life, and with becoming who you were meant to be.
Love will meet you where you’re ready to find it.
You are worthy. You are enough. And if a relationship makes you feel like you’re not, walk away. You will feel pain. You will have hard days. But I promise you, it will get better—better than you ever dreamed it could be—when you recognize your own worth and your own potential.
Author: Amanda Christmann
Editor: Catherine Monkman