Relationships are tough! It take a lot of bravery to enter into one and even more to walk away. So how do you know when it’s time to walk away?
Why Relationships Are Hard
Relationships are hard because we tend to be drawn to those who fit our into comfort zone. We like people who inspire us to be our highest and best selves, love us the way we want to be loved, and help to maintain our shadows. This last piece keeps us in our dysfunction unless we grow. And if we do grow, then that person is no longer a match.
For example, if our pattern is to find comfort in taking care of others, we choose partners who need that care. If we feel inferior, we may choose a partner who puts us on a pedestal. If we have a lot of shame or guilt, we may choose someone who either validates that by putting us down or someone who accepts us as we are. Either way, the partnership keeps us in our shadow.
When we begin to grow, if our partner isn’t growing with us or in the same direction, we grow right out of the dynamic that brought us together. So, it can often feel like we have to choose between what’s in our best interest vs. what’s in the interest of the relationship. If we choose the relationship and stay the same, a part of us dies.
When To Walk Away
So, when is it time to walk away? Well, there is no right or wrong answer. What is “right” for one person won’t be right for another. It’s not black and white. So, the guideline is to know yourself. Know what your deal breakers are. They are times when the cost outweighs the gains. Here are some possible deal breakers.
I put this one first because I hope that we all agree that where there is no safety, there is no relationship. I refer to physical, emotional, and spiritual safety. We all have a right to sovereignty. Our bodies are a sanctuary. Our thoughts and feelings are also precious. They are ours. We have a right to them. If they are invalidated or violated, we cannot thrive. We all owe it to ourselves to choose situations that allow us to be our highest and best selves.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that our partner agrees with us or caters to us. It does mean that we are free from harm, coercion, and judgment.
Children are forever relationships. They are non-negotiable. If one of you wants children and the other doesn’t, it’s a deal breaker. Forcing someone to parent who doesn’t want to parent is a recipe for disaster.
If you already have children and the children don’t accept the new partner, the relationship will endure unbearable stress. You may be able to help the kids feel more secure in time. So, this could be more of a “let’s slow down” thing than a “we need to break up” thing. If the children perceive it’s a choice between them and your partner, someone is going to lose. It’s best for all if things move at a pace where everyone can feel loved and like they have a choice.
If your partner’s ex makes co-parenting with you impossible, that could also be a long term hassle that is just not worth the cost.
The other common issue with children is when partners have a radically different parenting style. Believe it or not, money and children are the top two reasons that couples argue. When one is too lax and the other is too strict, this can be a deal breaker. Parents care about their kids. They want them to be healthy and happy. When parents have different ways of achieving that, it can feel invalidating.
Compatibility is a balance between sameness and differences. The things that are the same provide us with a foundation for commonality. Our differences keep things exciting so that we grow. Compatibility looks at things like socio-economic status, age, religion or spirituality, education, intelligence, recreational preferences, political ideology, sexual likes and libido, etc.
Unfortunately, one of the things we often overlook is our families. We say, “I’m marrying you, not your family” when in actuality, it’s a package deal. We might get away with not seeing the in-laws often, but if there are kids, the in-laws become aunts, uncles, and grandparents who are now a part of their lives and your family. If they are inappropriate, violent, aggressive, disrespectful, or have radically different ideas than you, you can only go so far away. Separating your partner from her family isn’t a reasonable request. Separating yourself from your partner’s family isn’t very unifying either.
If we’re creating a trend, it’s “deal breakers are anything that make you choose between yourself and something or someone else.” In this case, it’s addition. Lots of people in a relationship where their partner has addiction issues say that it’s like having another person in the relationship. The person with the addiction seems powerless over it. So you never know when the next shoe is going to drop. Maybe the next surprise is a financial hit, an affair, a medical issue, or a legal one. It often feels like a betrayal. You know it’s coming, but you don’t know when, what, or how. So, it’s like waiting to exhale.
There are all kinds of ways to be dishonest. They range from telling withholding the truth, telling “white lies”, half-truths, bold face lies, and gaslighting. (Gaslighting is deliberately manipulating to make the other person question their sanity). Relationships are based on trust. Anything short of honesty undermines trust.
It takes two to tell the truth. One to speak it and the other to hear it. If the fall out for telling the truth is not worth it, then perhaps the relationship is not healthy enough to sustain itself. It’s like a choice between “Am I going to maintain my integrity for me, or am I going to sacrifice it to stay in this relationship?” And if you choose the latter, is it a relationship that you want to be in?
Works in Progress
We’re all works in progress. We make mistakes. All relationships go through growing pains and challenges. Sometimes we go through period of the problems above and we can work it out. Sometimes we compromise our integrity or comfort for a while out of love for our partner. That’s not a bad thing. Commitment is often lacking in our modern world, so it’s commendable. Only you can choose when enough is enough.
If you’re going through this process, I suggest you ask, “What is staying costing me? Is this a price I am willing to pay?” Then proceed mindfully. Accept the consequences and cost. Look at the growth opportunities for you and allow the situation to take you out of your comfort zone and into a healthier place. Whether you stay or go, you will come out healthier, so it’s a win/win.