When things don’t go the way you hoped, breaking it off with someone seems to be the most viable option. Here are 7 things to consider before throwing your relationship away.
I’m writing this towards one of the most reflective times of the year – Christmas. Like birthdays and New Year’s Eve, it’s one of those repeated items of the calendar that make you think about this time last year. It’s one of those times you reconsider everything in your life – your work life, how close you are to achieving your dreams, the decisions you’ve made this year, and – yes, of course – your relationships. David McCandless did a study for a Ted Talk whereby he found that one of the most common times of the year to breakup is the two weeks leading up to and including Christmas.
It can be really hard when you’re considering your dating or relational life to be stuck with a person and going nowhere. There are a lot of conflicting feelings going on and about a billion different scenarios your mind is running through.
And so, what will you do? Do you end what you’ve had with this person and try to move on? Or do you stick it out and try to make it work? They’re both messy, difficult, and riddled with emotions.
Of course, throwing your relationship away seems to be the least painful option. But I’m not sure if that’s always the case. We definitely know it causes more pain to the person who is being broken up with, but what about the person who is doing the breaking up? It doesn’t immediately do as much damage, but I have seen many a person who is living with regret and pain over a relationship decision they now can’t do anything about.
If you’re considering this major decision, I’d like you to run through these checkpoints with me to see if it really is the right decision for you or not. Here are 7 things to consider before throwing your relationship away.
#1: Your safety
I think by far the first consideration that should be making is whether or not you are safe or not. We live in a world where abuse is rampant, mainly due to porn consumption and the normalization of sexual violence on TV and other forms of media. Drugs and alcohol also play a factor. Sorry, was that too honest? Where do you think people get the idea that it’s okay to beat their partner like that?
You need to be safe in your own home. You shouldn’t be expecting your next night out, or your next night in, to end in a black eye, a bruised arm, or a broken spirit.
And it’s simply unacceptable to think that you should be expected to just put up with it.
There can be a lot of grace we give people when they’re acting out like this. I think that can be a good thing. People may just be repeating what’s done to them, or stuck in a bad habit that they’ve normalized in their heart and mind. But even if you’re giving someone grace, you should be able to do so from a safe distance where your personhood and/or your children are not at risk, until they change.
If you’re in an abusive situation, there is help available. Reach out before it gets any worse. I think if someone persists unrepentantly in their abuse, they deserve to lose you.
#2: The realities of long-term relationships
Long-term relationships are fraught with difficulty. Dating someone new for a little while is an exciting prospect – they look great, they’re full charming, you admire everything they do., everything’s new and fresh and happening.
But after a while, your partner eventually will become familiar to you. Maybe too familiar.
The thing with this is this happens to every single type of person. If you don’t believe that, look at the supermodels, rich people, and celebrities who break up, and continually break up. Guys, people will even break up with you even if you’re Brad Pitt or George Clooney. You’ll never look good enough to escape being put in the Familiar Zone.
The thing is that you might feel like someone isn’t attractive enough, that the habits you once admired have become problems, that you must have made a mistake initially, but the reality is that even the most perfect person on earth will eventually become boring and familiar…
…if you fail to stay amazed. If you haven’t purposed within yourself and prepared your heart for the long haul. If you’re not ready to accept someone as they are, and be committed to the journey of change with them.
People’s appearance will change. Their mood will change. Their hopes and dreams may alter over time. What they enjoy will change. Just like you. And just as you would like someone to not tire of you and to stay committed with you and to learn and continue to learn who you are, you need to be a committed student of your spouse or partner.
How do you love someone through all that without getting bored? When you’re ready to ask and answer that question, now you’re ready to go the distance with someone.
Or you could just keep changing out for a new model every year, leaving a path of devastation behind you, because you haven’t thought through what a lifelong commitment will require from you in terms of attitude and acceptance.
#3: The source of your advice
The son of the wisest king in Israeli history, King Solomon, destroyed the kingdom built on the wisdom of his father almost overnight. He did it by listening to his friends instead of to trusted and proven advisers in a particular area, and had the entire kingdom divided into two.
I wonder if you’re doing the same with your relationships?
It’s a bit of a dying artform to check the source of your facts. Look at all the untrue facts perpetuated online that leave a lasting legacy. How much more devastating are the facts and advice we hear from sources that are less than savoury.
Of course, we want to listen to people who are close to us – parents, colleagues, friends – but we aren’t always honest enough to ask, “Does this person actually have any credentials to advise me in this area?”. They may be close to you, but if they’re a man-hater, a womanizer, a relationship destroyer, or spread advice that consistently breaks people apart, then you might want to reconsider what you’re being told.
This is more than relationship status – this is considering the fruit of the tree you’re eating from. Is it wisdom, or does it just sound like it?
#4: Have you gotten help?
I think of equal negative impact to bad advice is getting no advice or help. I remember hearing a former pastor of a megachurch in Brisbane talking about how he became known as the “divorce pastor of Brisbane”. He said that it was unfortunate that people would come to him once the relationship was already terminal and people had already moved on, kids had already had to move schools and started new lives, and the damage was already done.
Some people refuse to listen to or to ask for help. But if you’ve never asked for it, if you’ve never sat in front of a counsellor or a friend or a mediator and gotten some advanced help on your relationship difficulties, then you haven’t really done all you can yet, have you?
Imagine if you were on a plane that started to experience some turbulence. Imagine if you decided to just jump out of the plane as a result. It’s too hard, it’s shaking too much, I’m gonna die, it’s easier to jump. Well, wait a second, have you tried using the seat belt? Have you assumed the right position? Have you followed the directions of the people who are experts in flight? Can you see where I’m going with this? I’m saying you might be treating your relationships the same way and blaming everyone else that you’re about to go KERSPLAT on the ground.
Look, maybe it’s really bad. Maybe you need to use the oxygen mask because the pressure is too high (or too low). Maybe you need a vomit bag to spew out the things that have made you sick.
But don’t do it alone. If you do it alone, you’ll definitely make the wrong decision. There is help, and good help available, to help you negotiate any storm.
#5: Trading an 80 for a 20
Let’s say the person you’ve found is 80% of what you want. Over time, you find out, well darn, they’re missing this 20%. Then enters Mr Man or Hot Legs or whoever, and you’re like wow they have the 20% I’ve always wanted. I mean, my 80 is alright, but this 5 and that 5 and that 5 and oh boy that 5 looks great on them.
And you do what so many other people have done and regretted – they’ve gotten the 20% they always wanted, but unfortunately lost the 80% of what they did have.
No one is ever going to be absolutely 100% of what you wanted. And even if they are, they won’t be that 100% of the time. The sex might be great until someone gets pregnant. The appreciation may be way up there until someone gets sick and oversensitive (I know I get oversensitive when I’m sick, I even demonstrated this in my own marriage this week!). They might be a great source of comfort, but when they hit a season of uncertainty about their own purpose or direction, you might not feel so comfortable.
So what are you going to do when that happens? Are you going to get the 20 you’re missing during this window? Or are you going to be grateful and bring out the best in your 80, and see them be the best they can be? Maybe they’re closer to the full 100 than you allow yourself to acknowledge.
A common one in this area is sex. When people don’t get it or get it the way they want it, they go wandering. The brilliant Gottman Institute highlighted that the only difference between couples who were fulfilled and not fulfilled in this area of their relationship was two things – they talked about it, and they made time for it. Both of these are actions, and neither of these involve going out and “getting what you need” somewhere else.
Another factor is having other relationships in your life to support you. You don’t just need a spouse, you also need friends. You don’t just need your family, you also need a support network. You need mentors. You need people ahead of you to lead you ahead. You need people you yourself can raise up and mentor. We were made for each other. Then maybe you won’t be so hit when you’re struggling because your 80 is not able to give you something they can’t give you – it could only be given to you by having a village of people around you.
#6: Are you acting in love?
“I’m such a loving person”.
Is that why your wife cries herself to sleep at night? Is that why your husband has suddenly had you blow up in his face without warning? Is that why your boyfriend or girlfriend never knows what you’re thinking? Is that why your partner feels unsupported?
I know in your head you think you’re a loving person, but if your partner treated you the way you’re treating them, would you feel loved? Now, not by what you say in your head, but by what your actions say?
People can’t hear your motives or feelings or well wishes, they can only hear what you say and what you do. And if you really meant it, it would be obvious.
“Well, they just don’t get it”.
Hey, but you need to make sure they do. John Maxwell rightly points out that communication isn’t just saying something, but making sure the other person has understood you.
I think it’s fascinating that some of the highest marital success levels are amongst couples with arranged marriages. I believe it may be because they adopt the attitude that all of us need to have in order to have a successful love life – it’s not “I love you, therefore become my wife” as much as it is “you are my wife, therefore I will love you”.
When ten years have gone by and the feelings of today can no longer be remembered, how will history remember you? What will your actions say about how much you love people? Inconsistently, until they bore you, until you’ve had enough? Or relentlessly, with great fervour, with the love of God himself?
We shouldn’t have to ask you how loving you are. Let your actions tell us. Because they’re telling us, and especially your partner, something louder than you could ever say with words. If they’re saying something you don’t like, you need to do something about it.
#7: Will you have these some problems with someone else?
The ultimate question I ask people in this boat, and really a summary of all the above, is to ask yourself, “will I have these problems with another person?”.
Many times, the answer is yes. Yes, you will get tired of someone’s appearance if you haven’t gotten your attitude in place for when it happens. Yes, your feelings will fluctuate over time no matter who you end up, even Mr Clooney or Ms Longoria. Yes, you will become annoyed at the thing you once admired. Yes, there will be days where you will struggle to love this person.
But there are some times where the answer is no. Will you always be in danger or fear for your physical safety? Well, no, not everyone is abusive. Will you be fearing that your money is going to be blown away by someone’s crippling gambling addiction? No, not everyone is a compulsive spender.
These are just examples of questions, they aren’t a definitive list, but the point is this – if it’s something that’s going to happen in your next relationship, if it’s an insecurity or a difficulty you’re going to have next time, then it’s time to confront it now before you take it with you and break it off again with the next person. Break the cycle. Deal with it this time, before you carry it into the next time and do it all over again.
I think people break up way too easily. I’m not gonna hide it – I would love it if you were able to stay in the relationship you’re in. I think you would love it too. The ideal scenario is to find someone to love and stay in love with them, in deed,and in truth.
That said, there are times when it’s the right decision, especially in the early days of a relationship. Once there are some years on the board, though, the role of commitment takes centre stage. There are also some things that you shouldn’t have to put up with, and that actually do give you some right to make a decision either way.
And I would just love it if you could really, hand-on-heart, honest to God, say that you’ve done all you could before you gave up on this relationship. I would hate to see for you, as I have had the displeasure of seeing in multiple people’s lives, the fallout of a relationship decision that was made without truly pursuing all the options.
So, what are you going to do? Are you going to be throwing your relationship away? Or are you going to see and celebrate what you have, and make it the best love story ever told? The best relationship you’ve ever had could be the one you’re already in, just with a bit more work.
The choice is yours, my friend.