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How Do You Know When It's Really Over?

Recognize when to leave your relationship.

Key points

  • If you are in an abusive relationship and your partner is doing nothing to change him or herself, it’s over.
  • Short of abuse it's nearly impossible to say when a relationship is over. A better question is whether you are losing your sense of self in it.
  • Once you truly connect to yourself, your relationship with your partner will either get better or worse.
4 PM production/Shutterstock
Source: 4 PM production/Shutterstock

Most people I have coached or treated were in relationships they knew were over for a year or so before they actually ended it.

This is really common. It happens for many reasons: Fear of leaving something. Fear of being alone. Guilt of hurting someone. Hope that it will get better. Not being sure if it’s you, or if the relationship really isn’t fixable. Not wanting to be the one who ends it. Thinking you can change someone. Not wanting to live with something that has “failed.” Kids. Not wanting to move out or ruin the living arrangement. So many reasons. And it doesn’t matter if they’re valid or not. They are all real.

So, then, how do you know if the relationship is truly over, and it’s time to move on?
This is one of the most difficult life questions to answer. It really is. I’ve struggled with it so many times.

But here’s the truth: You will never really, really know if the relationship is truly over. I’ve seen relationships rise from the dead. I’ve seen people rebuild after cheating and lying. I’ve seen people who couldn’t stand each other fall in love again. There are so many factors in a relationship, controllable and uncontrollable, that come into play. There are so many internal shifts which can happen that are unexpected. There are revelations we have daily that change the dynamic and our choices. We are indecisive creatures who change like the wind, depending on our feelings and our thoughts. I know that I’m one of the most indecisive people I know.

So it’s not about knowing if the relationship is truly over. Because miracles happen. Anything’s possible. People change. There is no relationship doctor who can predict outcomes with 100-percent certainty.

It’s about asking yourself this one simple question: Is the relationship causing you to break up with yourself?

First, let’s talk about what that actually means. Are you losing yourself? Are you drifting from who you truly are? Do you no longer like yourself, respect yourself, or know yourself? Do you feel invisible and powerless, and have no sense of who you are anymore? Do you feel hollow? Before you answer, you have to ask yourself how many of those feelings are due to the relationship and how many are on you and where you’re at.

Many blame their relationship because they’re at a lousy place in their life. If that’s the case, you have to own that and rebuild yourself. As you do, the dynamic of the relationship will change — or maybe it won’t if the other person is done. Remember, you’re only 50 percent of any relationship, and that’s what makes knowing if it’s truly over impossible.

On the flip side, if it is your relationship that’s causing you to break up with you, then it’s just a matter of time before you become so unhappy, that it’s over. There is a ticking clock, and for some, depending on your fears, your story, your definitions, and so many other things, it could be months, or it could take a year.

But it shouldn’t be a waiting game.

And this is the part I really want to emphasize, especially if you’re in something right now, and you don’t know what to do, because you don’t know if it’s truly over. (Assuming you’re not in an abusive relationship. If you are, and your partner is doing nothing to change him or herself, it’s over.)

Don't just wait for the other person or the relationship to magically change. Do something. I can tell you it’s your responsibility but I’m going to take another approach. There’s nothing worse than leaving something knowing you could have done more. Trust me: I’ve had to carry that. It’s heavy, and it sucks.

So what do you do?

Besides the obvious, like couples counseling and communication, you start to rebuild your relationship with yourself. So many people think that repairing a relationship only has to do with the dynamic and the other person. They forget about their relationship with themselves.

So then the big question is: What does it look like to start working on your relationship with yourself? It’s going to look different for everyone, but I can tell you what it looked like for me:

1. Lots of being still.

For most of my life, I’ve lived with noise. Drowning in my thoughts. You have to be still to think clearly or you’re just reacting. If you want to connect with yourself, you have to minimize the mental chatter. I lived from my chest. Connecting with me meant connecting to my breath and staying out of my head.

2. Seeking new experiences.

We learn about ourselves through new experiences, not through our thoughts. And new experiences don’t just fall into our laps; we have to seek them. That means we have to give them to ourselves. In these new experiences, I started to create new beliefs about myself.

3. Having non-negotiables.

When you negotiate too much, you start drifting from yourself. Non-negotiables created a framework for me to start rebuilding me. I created non-negotiables with friends, work, career, etc.

4. Committing to promises I made to myself. (This is how you build self-esteem.)

When it came to promises I made to myself, I talked a lot of trash, but rarely did anything. You can’t build self-esteem if you keep breaking promises you’ve made to yourself. The action of keeping promises to you is what loving yourself looks like. This is how I started to trust myself again.

5. Standing on my truth.

I stopped exchanging my truth for membership. I started to care less about what others thought and did what I felt was honest with me. In all areas of my life. Period.

6. Finding my voice.

I lost my voice many years ago. And when you lose your voice, you live muted. And that’s not living — that’s existing. I allowed myself to be heard again, not only by speaking up but also through creative expression like writing.

7. Discovering my wants and needs, and knowing the difference.

You have to know what you want before you can actually give yourself that, so I started to discover what I wanted and didn’t want. In all areas of my life. But before that, you have to know what you need. And that comes before your wants — it’s the foundation.

8. Finding a sense of purpose.

I never really had a sense of purpose. So I just floated through life chasing things. Purpose gave me tracks. And it pulled me out of my own unhappiness because there was now something greater.

9. Reconnecting to my body.

I worked out, but never really connected to my body. Movement through my body made me feel whole and complete, instead of just having parts.

10. Finally liking myself.

I finally started liking myself by accepting myself — all parts of me. As I started to let go of my insecurities and practice self-love and compassion, I realized how insignificant all of that stuff was in the bigger picture. I guess I never had a bigger picture before.

As you go through this process of rediscovering and reconnecting with yourself, your relationship with your partner will either get better or worse. You guys will grow closer or drift apart. Naturally. Because as you change, the dynamic of your relationship will change. You will either rediscover love with your partner or drift.

And that’s when you will truly know if it’s over.


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