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What's the Right Way to Walk Away?

Whether it's a relationship or a job, walking away doesn't have to be painful.

Source: wrangler/Shutterstock

In marriage, the seven-year itch occurs when a couple that has been together for a while—say, seven years—suddenly experiences a decline of happiness in their relationship. But the phrase, which became popular through the book of the same name, and its 1955 film adaptation, is applicable beyond relationships. The itching has spread to switching careers, making purchases, and pretty much any other situation. And thanks to the rise of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), a panic-inducing psychological state enabled by social media, the incubation period has shifted: It now often requires only a few months, days, or even hours before you’re ready to call it quits.

Walking away from something, however, doesn’t have to be a bad experience. Here’s expert advice on how you can ensure a happy ending:


Try not to end things out of anger, suggests April Masini, a relationship and etiquette expert. Endings are just as important as beginnings, as they allow you to “redefine your communication skills, the way you define yourself and your relationships with others.” Tell your partner or spouse “how much you loved them and what you would never erase,” she says. “If you end these events well, you will eliminate feelings of guilt, anxiety, and the feeling you wish you’d done it differently and better.”

Major decisions, such as divorce, should come from a place of confidence and strength instead of “raw emotion," says Alicia Taverner, a marriage and family therapist. Before calling it quits, she asks clients to picture the consequences of what will happen if they end their relationship. By predicting the emotional toll of their decision, she says, clients "can put a plan in to get to healing."

But always end things face-to-face, advises Laurel Wiers, a marriage and family therapist: “You want to be gracious and honor them by quitting in person.” It also makes it easier to have a straight conversation about why you’re leaving.


Take a step back, observe your behavior, and analyze yourself before deciding to quit, says Carol Phillips, a health and wellness expert. “Get to know who you are and think about what works for you and what doesn’t," she says. "Use this information to locate your strengths and weaknesses, especially as they relate to what you want to quit." Knowing your potential as well as your limitations can help you determine if your next steps are ripe for success.

Make sure your decision to quit comes from a “desire for change, rather than fear,” advises Lori Scherwin, founder of the coaching firm, Strategize That. Don’t let your fear of success or potential for failure change your course. The right time to quit a job, she says, is when "your circumstances have changed and you are unhappy; with no future path; are blatantly disrespected and undervalued; and have already tried various solutions to make things better.”

Scherwin also says to choose a “run to" vs. a "run from" scenario. It’s better if you know where you want to go for your next move rather than simply “escaping the current.” Otherwise you risk finding yourself feeling equally discontented somewhere else.

And avoid a dramatic exit, says Roy Cohen, author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide. We’ve all fantasized our own cathartic versions of a Jerry Maguire-inspired signoff, but it’s probably best to leave the theatrics to Hollywood. Cohen admits that all of his clients who impulsively left jobs later felt remorse and fear about their actions.


Is the reason you want to quit yours or somebody else’s? Life coach Kristi Daniels suggests listening for trigger phrases, such as “I should” or “I’m supposed to.” These are indications that you’re focused on external pressures rather than your own instincts. Daniels also says to pay attention to the tone of your voice: “It’s very subtle, but you’ll know the decision is yours when you’re strong and resolute.”

Hold only yourself accountable, says Holly Parker, a psychologist who teaches at Harvard. “If you make a choice to leave, take personal ownership—not blame—for that choice,” she says. Owning your decisions makes you feel empowered and less likely to resent others who “made” you quit.

Sometimes the best way to quit is to simply stop saying the word “quit.” At least that’s what Elaine Taylor-Klaus, parenting coach and creator of ImpactADHD, recommends. “Reframe it from a negative to a positive,” she says. “It’s not quitting—it’s choosing a different path.” This way, "you can set a clear intention of what you’re moving toward” instead of what you’re leaving behind.

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