We all know someone (yourself, even) who has stayed in a relationship far too long than was healthy, and has looked back in time and thought, ‘What was I thinking?’
Some people also leave relationships perhaps too hastily and regret it later, and think, ‘That person was so lovely and the relationship had so many upsides, why did I let it go?’
Knowing when to stay in a relationship and when to go is often a difficult decision to make. There are a number of issues that, while serious, can be overcome and allow your relationship to continue to grow in a healthy way. However, there are also situations which are absolute no-brainers, where it would be foolish and self-destructive to stay with your partner.
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When to let go
The first, and most important reason to leave, is abuse. As anyone who has been in an abusive relationship will testify, abuse often starts slowly, almost invisibly. Its like you are a frog in a pot of water set to boil. As first it feels uncomfortable, and looking back you can see some warning signs, but before you know it you are unhappy, feeling like rubbish and still making excuses or thinking that things will change.
Abuse comes in many forms. In some ways physical abuse is easier to deal with because you can see the bruises, bashes and black eyes. Its all too clear, and family and friends can see them too.
But the more subtle forms of abuse are equally painful and humiliating. The control, the financial or emotional bullying and the constant undermining may be invisible, but they are just as corrosive and toxic.
It’s a question people often think: ‘Why does she stay with him?’ (although there are female perpetrators too) and the answer is complex. Often it just boils down to the fact that she has love for her partner. But the damage is long term and often is an echo of what was experienced in childhood – therefore it is familiar, and the idea of giving up on him is unconscionable. But if you are in a relationship where you are not respected, you don’t feel loved and you are not honoured, you should be seriously thinking about leaving.
When to consider your options
For many, one of the top reasons to leave a relationship is infidelity. There are some basic agreements in most relationships and sexual loyalty is usually right up there as a deal-breaker. Especially if it is not the first time, and it comes with secrecy and humiliation. Sometimes a partner is unfaithful because they are unhappy in the relationship and doesn’t know how to express it. They are afraid of starting that conversation and don’t know how to get the love they want.
Paradoxically, if the couple is able to talk about things and deep, permanent changes can be made, the couple can embark on a new version of their relationship. I have seen many couples who have recovered after an affair and found their relationship stronger and more connected than ever. But, for many couples, knowing that their partner has been unfaithful is the end of the story. It’s a break of trust, a collapse of what kept them together, a rupture in their connection, or too much to navigate. It’s often the time to leave, although I am always keen to see couples who want to make their relationship stronger after an affair and don’t necessarily see it as the end.
Similarly, addiction and substance abuse is usually a reason to think about leaving. If your partner has started gambling, using class one drugs, drinking to excess, or has started engaging in behaviours which are alien to your values and beliefs and they show no signs of wanting to stop, then your only course is to end the relationship. If they are not willing to change or they cannot change, you don’t have to feel sorry for them. You are in a relationship to be someone’s partner, not to be their therapist. Maybe you leaving will force them to realise it’s time to make some serious adjustments in their life.
If that sounds harsh – think about the times when it feels like there are three in this relationship – you, your partner and the addiction. The addiction, whatever it may be, becomes such a powerful and overwhelming personality that it can take over and the relationship loses its power and connection. It’s not a time for shame, blame or criticism, but a time to really reflect on what the relationship has become. Ask yourself, is this really what you want?
If your partner sincerely wants to change, then make sure they are seeing a therapist and they are trying their hardest to reform. However, like with infidelity, when a partner’s addiction begins during a relationship it may be because they are unhappy and are not getting their needs met. They are usually unable to see that and use the addiction as a cry for help. So, as with infidelity, it may be worth giving them the benefit of the doubt and a chance to change before calling it a day.
Overcoming your relationship problems
Just as each of those three examples – abuse, infidelity and addiction – can be reasons to leave a relationship, they are also all things that can be overcome, and the relationship can go on to be better and stronger than ever before. We all know couples whose relationships have survived these crises, or others such as drifting apart, not feeling the love anymore, being criticised and disrespected, deception, or there’s no connection or communication is poor. These are all issues that manifest in my therapy room.
Sometimes, if there are children or other factors for trying really hard to get the relationship back into the loving zone, its worth overcoming an initial feeling that this relationship is over for one last effort with a therapist, but only do that if you are committed to making changes. Don’t bother to go to a therapist if, in your heart of hearts, you know its already over and you are already halfway out of the door.
If the couple wants to do the work, nothing is insurmountable, but it requires acceptance that there is a problem and a commitment to doing the work and changing. Often that’s a painful process with hard work involved, requiring a look at some parts of your history that you hoped you’d never have to go to again. It may involve uncovering things that you didn’t even realise were there and still affecting you.
But, as you move from an Unconscious to a Conscious Relationship, you will learn more about your partner and yourself, learn what motivates them, and what parts of them have been hidden since they were children. The result is a stronger connection, better communication, and a joyous aliveness which will make you both laugh, smile and feel happy. What more could anyone ask?
Annie Gurton has created a powerful course specifically to help heal broken relationships and to give you the tools to reignite the passion that is now replaced by anger, jealousy, arguments and distance. Take her powerful love quiz now to see where you are in your relationship. Find out more on how you can Reignite Your Relationship with Annie Gurton here.