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Deciding to Leave a Relationship

Sometimes knowing when to stay and when to leave is complicated.

Creative Commons
Source: Creative Commons

Whether it’s a family, friend, romantic, or work relationship, the people in your life can either add to your happiness or increase your misery. Relationships can help you live your best life or hold you back.

Challenges exist in any relationship. There may be emotional moments when you are sure you want to end the connection and never see the person again, only to have those feelings pass quickly. Those moments happen more often in some relationships than others. When your feelings go back and forth, and you are confused about whether to stay in the relationship or leave, that creates misery.

Choosing to end an important relationship can be a difficult decision even when the relationship seems full of conflict and emotional pain, with little joy or support. You may remember how it used to be, or what you hoped for in the connection. You may also wonder if staying in a conflict-filled relationship will result in a stronger bond. Sometimes long-term relationships are strengthened and more intimate after a period of conflict. You've probably heard such stories from your friends.

When you are in the middle of the tension, though, you don’t know if the relationship will improve. How do you decide to end a relationship or work on it? Consider these ideas, based on Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).

1. Make your decision when you are not emotionally upset to the point where you can’t think clearly. In DBT that means using your wise mind and not making the decision when you are in your emotion mind. When you are strongly emotional, you are likely to make decisions that are impulsively based on how you feel in the moment, rather than considering the overall quality of the relationship. It’s like ending a friendship after being disappointed about another missed birthday or canceled celebration, only to realize the next day that the relationship has more positives than negatives.

When you are emotional, it’s harder to problem solve or even consider solutions to difficult issues. All relationships have issues to work out. In the moment, you may view a problem as unsolvable or unacceptable when that is not actually the case.

2. Think through the reasons you want to end a relationship. List the positives about the relationship as well as the negatives to help you see the overall picture more clearly. Be careful about ending a relationship, because “It feels like the right thing to do.” You may intuitively know the right decision, but still, think through what led you to that view. Usually, intuition is based on facts that may not be immediately evident. Understanding these facts will help you make the best decision.

Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse are clear reasons to end a relationship. If you are in an unsafe relationship, the decision is how to leave safely.

3. Consider whether overall the relationship enhances your life or is destructive or restrictive. Sometimes love is not enough. Significant people in your life should encourage you and support you in living the life you want to live.

You may know that you are in a relationship that is not healthy, but the love is so strong that you can’t imagine leaving. The chaos that such a relationship usually creates will wear you down over time and affect your life in negative ways. In this situation, consider counseling or other ways to improve the relationship. If resolving your issues is not possible, and it's not possible to set limits to protect yourself, how can you end the relationship? What do you need to help you leave?

4. Are your expectations realistic for a long-term relationship? Does stress in the other person’s life explain the behaviors that upset you? If you are expecting the other person to be perfect or for the romantic high of the first few months to continue throughout the relationship, then maybe evaluating what you want in the long run is important.

Long-term romantic relationships have a different type of connection, one that is built on sharing values, support, and experiences. You may or may not want that type of connection in your life at this time or not want it with this specific person. Sometimes the most romantic or passionate relationship is not the right one for the long term.

6. Think about what you would miss about the person if you ended the connection. How important is what you would be giving up?

Deciding to leave a relationship can be very complicated. These are only a few ideas to consider.

Photo: Creative Commons

Note: The Emotionally Sensitive Person podcast offers ideas for coping with intense emotions.