Wander Woman

Guidance for the goal-driven woman

End Your Relationship With Dignity

How to part ways without killing a long-term union

Long-term relationships and marriages end for many reasons. Rarely do they end for no reason. If the reasons are not clear and understood by both parties, including the one choosing to leave, grudges and guilt will destroy good memories. The bad breakup could end up as baggage affecting future unions.

Relationships bring joy and sadness, delight and suffering. What you remember about your relationship often depends on how it ends.

I chose to write this post in response to a number of comments written for my post, What a Female Mid-Life Crisis Looks Like. Although I was referring to the crisis as a restless search for purpose and significance, some readers related this phenomenon to a woman's decision to leave a relationship. A few comments named hormonal change as a cause for women walking out.

Although pre-menopause might cause mood swings and symptoms of depression, I have never seen a client or friend walk away from a healthy, fulfilling relationship. Those who left experienced communication or intimacy problems or they had drifted away from their partner due to conflicting desires and expectations. The relationships had unaddressed troubles starting years in advance of the ending.

If you are contemplating leaving a long-term relationship, there are ways to do this that could limit the damage. In addition to my psychological training and personal breakups, I compiled ideas from over twenty online articles and blog posts by psychologists on the topics of building and ending healthy relationships. Many good ideas come from Lloyd Thomas, PhD in his column titled on Practical Psychology.

First I will explore how you can determine if it is time to leave. Then I will list actions that could facilitate a gracious ending. Finally, we'll look at what to do if your partner won't work with you when you decide to leave.

1. Be certain you want to end the relationship. Don't threaten to leave in an effort to get your partner to change. Make sure there is a lack of love, respect or joy that can't be revived. If you can, get counseling to determine if there is a way to save the relationship. It is better to feel certain instead of angry when you make the choice to say goodbye.

What people like, hope for and leave behind shift through their phases of life. This can create confusion, disappointment and resentment when this causes partners to grow apart. If you don't fear abuse, talk about these changes with your partner. Even if you have trouble articulating what you feel, the process of trying to share your thoughts is vital. All satisfying relationships list frequent and honest communications as crucial to their success.

Sharing negative feelings can be risky. Your partner may get defensive. That is why using a couples counselor or therapist to help facilitate the conversation is wise.

I ended my last relationship with the help of a therapist. We sadly parted after two months of counseling but neither of us felt broken. After a year of healing, we were able to speak as friends.

2. Don't kill the relationship before you end it. Blame, criticism, accusations, complaining and keeping secrets may get you the end you desire, but the process is unnecessarily painful.

Don't find fault with your partner in an effort to cover your guilt for wanting to leave. Take responsibility for your choice. Identify what you want from your partner and your life. If you are sure you can't find this in your current relationship, then set a date to leave.

Many relationships linger for years after the energy has drained out of them. After the slow erosion, something happens and one partner "wakes up" to how unhappy she feels. You can usually trace a path of complaints, disrespect and neglect leading up to this revelation. Try to recognize these signs and talk about them before the relationship is killed. Once respect is lost, it's not likely the relationship can be revived.

3. If you have to walk away, start with forgiveness. Forgive your partner for being human. Forgive yourself for choosing to leave. You may not be able to make a clean break, but you will be less likely to inflict harm as you walk out.

Don’t sneak out unless you fear a violent outburst. Choose a private place to share your decision with your partner. Then prepare to stay calm if the response is anger or manipulative behavior.

Hopefully, you have had discussions and even worked with a therapist before you reached this place so your partner shouldn't feel shocked. There could still be an emotional reaction. Don't attempt to calm him down. Be honest. Answer questions with kindness. Apologize for the pain he feels but not your decision. Then ask when you can find the time to disentangle property and expenses.

You may still face a difficult divorce. You probably won't be friends. But try to show respect to the person you once loved who may still love you deeply.

Once you have begun the separation process, set your boundaries. If you have explained your reasons for leaving, you don't have to do this again. You might establish a friendship later but you need time to confidently establish your life apart. Plus, you might need to find other ways to cope with loneliness than to appease it with your ex.

Finally, ask yourself what you have learned from the experience. Write your answers down so you can frequently access them as you move forward. You left for a reason. Make sure the reason helps define your next relationship.

For more tips for choosing what you want instead of focusing on what you don't want anymore, read these posts: Consciously Choosing Your Relationships and What Story Do You Want to Live.

For more tips for women wanting to change their lives, read Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction.

Marcia Reynolds, PsyD., is the author of two leadership books, The Discomfort Zone and Wander Woman. She is President of Covisioning, a leadership development and coaching firm.


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