The question of whether to end a relationship, be it a 20 year marriage or a 5 year commitment, is a painful and complicated one. It is a question that often implies loss, fear of judgment, sense of failure, self-blame as well as glimmers of hope and change. At times we avoid this question, we ask others to answer it, we act on it impulsively, we never stop asking it or we recognize we have no choice – we have to ask it of ourselves.
Here are some issues and underlying questions that you may find helpful as you consider this life decision.
The Importance of Knowing Why You Want to Leave
If you are thinking of leaving a relationship, it is important that you know why. Understanding your past and present informs the decisions you make for your future. No matter what the circumstances of the relationship you are ending, understanding it offers something valuable for you to know about you.
The Importance of Your Partner’s Knowing Why
Except in those cases where interaction and discussion could be dangerous, it is important for your partner to know why you are thinking of ending this relationship. The very thought of this may make you want to scream, “How could she/he not know?” The reality is that a painful familiar relationship is often preferable to change or the fear of being alone. Denial can be a powerful and long standing survival strategy. It makes communication crucial.
No one just shows up for a good relationship and relationships don’t just get better because time passes. It is what we do during that time that helps heal and enhance our relationships. Over the last few years I have written many blogs for couples. Here are six simple resolutions drawn from them that many have found enhance the bond they share with their partner.
Let It Go
If you are human and you are in a relationship, it is inevitable that at times you will be angry with your partner. Once you and your partner have come to some resolve or have agreed to a working resolution, let the contention and disagreement go.
You may think it is important to explain to your partner one more reason you were angry or to analyze his/her character flaw. It’s not. Your partner will not be grateful for this information. Let it Go!
Once you and your partner move on to a positive mood or enjoyable place, go with it, feel it- let it take. Positive memories and experiences build recovery momentum. They facilitate problem resolution because they broaden perspective, re-kindle appreciation of each other and build trust.
“ Why Can’ t You Just Say, Thanks?”
If this sounds familiar it is because most of us have said it or heard it.
Then… Why is it difficult to express gratitude to a partner?
People are complicated. Add in couple dynamics, prior history, unconscious factors, cultural context and you multiply those complications.
Consider Recognizing Your Resistance and Understanding the Possible Benefits of “Just Saying Thanks.”
It depends. It most cases it’s not the differences that threaten a marriage, it’s how the partners experience and react to those differences.
There Are Always Some Differences
Whether you were drawn together by the attraction of opposites or finally found your ideal match in terms of similar looks, education or socio-economic background, most partners at some point realize they are married “ with differences.” The fact is that no two people have the same goal, react the same way or enjoy the same thing, at the same time – ALL THE TIME. ( Thankfully)
When Do Differences become Problems?
Working with couples, it seems that differences become problems when they are unexpected, imply change or are experienced as a threat to either partner or to the relationship. Often partners react to the assumed threat with accusation or judgment which sets the stage for conflict. For example,
While most partners can live with having different tastes in foods and music, differences that emerge in the face of life events ( jobs, children, financial burdens) often threaten partners.
If you and your partner find yourselves battling over throwing out the garbage or doing the laundry, you are not alone and neither may actually be to blame. A closer look may offer some understanding and some alternatives.
The Division of Labor
What may seem, however, like an easy division of labor, “you shop” and “I’ll cook” is actually not so easy. In fact the notion that a perfectly balanced list could or should exist is a myth. People just don’t function that way.
Against the back drop of three waves of the feminist movement, both men and women might affirm that women ask for their needs. On a more personal note, if you ask married men the same question, too many might say “They never stop asking.” And if you are a mother or have ever faced a mother trying to get what she needs for her child – you know enough to step out of the way!
It comes then as a surprise that research across age and venue finds that as compared with men, women don’t ask for what they need, often settle for what is offered and tend not to think about negotiating on their own behalf.
Prompted by her personal realization in the corporate world that her male counterparts had received promotions because they had asked, Linda Babcock, together with Sara Laschever researched the differences between men and women in negotiating for what they need. The findings reported in their book, Women Don’t Ask are relevant in understanding women, men and meeting needs in and out of the workplace.
Last week the media reported the sad and unanticipated deaths of two men. Derek Boogaard of the Rangers died from an accidental overdose of the drug oxycodone mixed with alcohol and retired lieutenant, John A. Garcia, a 23-year veteran of FDNY who not only responded to 9/11 but responded and lost two of his men in the Deutsche Bank Fire. died by suicide.
One can’t help but wonder if the tragic deaths reflect the danger of hidden depression in men. Increasingly we have become aware that although women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression, many men, beyond the 10-17% diagnosed, may also be suffering with depression.
Depression May Be More Deadly for Men
What makes depression in men so dangerous? It too often goes unrecognized and untreated because it is masked by physical complaints, substance abuse, anger and other stealth symptoms.
For as many people as there are who dream of being with the right person, there are as many who dread breaking up with the wrong person.
Recently, there was a good deal of press about a study by social psychologists Ethan Kross and Marc Berman reporting that social rejection from an unwanted break-up was registered in the same regions of the brain activated when people experience painful sensations in their body. Clearly having someone break-up with you is not only emotionally but physically painful.
Is it equally painful to be the person who sets in motion the break-up?
While we may not yet have the MRI scans, most have personally experienced or witnessed through family and friends that breaking up is, in fact, “hard to do.” What I have found to be a commonly voiced deterrent for both men and women is the fear of being the bad one.
What Does this Reflect?
Whether the fear of “ being the bad one” is self-reflection or the expected judgment by the other partner, the fear of breaking up is complex and is underscored by human drive, attachment needs, sense of self, dependency issues, historical and cultural expectations.
Most people look toward their marriage or long term relationship as a context for love, support and affirmation. Research suggests, however, that a person’s self-esteem may significantly impact this relationship potential.
How Do We Define Self-Esteem?
In psychology, self-esteem is defined as a reflection of a person’s overall self-appraisal, of their own worth.
Measurement of self-esteem and the most commonly used definition in research was offered by Morris Rosenberg and social-learning theorists who defined self-esteem in terms of a stable sense of personal worth or worthiness, measurable by self-report. Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem Scale which is available for use, consists of 10 statements about self like the following:
“I feel I have a number of good qualities”
“I feel I do not have much to be proud of.”
These are rated from strongly agree to strongly disagree on a 4 point scale and are tallied to offer a score that ranges for 0-30 with scores below 15 suggesting low self-esteem and score 15-25 as within the normal range.
If you are human and you are in a relationship it is inevitable that at times you will be angry with your partner. I often suggest to couples that if you never hear the neighbors fighting, it probably means that they have moved or that you should call 911.
The goal in sustaining a vibrant and loving relationship is not to prevent authentic differences, feelings and disagreements but to express them in a way that does not escalate into anger that threatens the emotional or physical well-being of either partner.
Complying at all times, fear of making waves, hiding resentments, or equating every disagreement to the inevitable break-up is emotionally exhausting and anxiety producing. If it is not safe to be angry in a relationship – it is not a safe relationship.
Stephen Mitchell, author of Can Love Last, tells us that “The survival of romance depends not on skill in avoiding aggression but on the capacity to contain it alongside love.”