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Work on Your Relationship, or End It?

italianscrpdSometimes we’re unhappy in a relationship but we don’t know which way to go with it. If you find you’re in a holding pattern, here are some questions to ask yourself in order to get moving. (These can apply to all sorts of relationships: romantic, family, friendships, even work.)

1)  Is it them, or is it me?

This is a bit of a trick question. Most often, it’s the dynamic between you and the other person. (If so, skip to Question 3. This is the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure of relationship blogs.)

But sometimes, it is one of the extremes. If it’s you, then maybe the relationship that needs the work is the one you have with yourself.

If you feel the other person is more than 60% of the problem, then go to Question #2.

2) Is the other person willing to self-reflect?

Self-reflection is the precursor to change. If the other person is in denial about his/her own role in the problem, then gentle confrontation might help. But if you think that he/she is simply incapable of admitting fault, ever, as a matter of character and personality, then you’ve got your answer: The relationship needs to end.

3) How much work is really required to transform this relationship into the one I want, and deserve?

Be honest about how vast the differences are between you and the other person, and what it would take to traverse them. Perhaps you would have been willing to put in that level of effort at another time in your life, or if you had kids together, or if you needed the job more desperately than you do. But based on where you are in your life at this particular moment, do you want to do what it takes?

Too often people pretend that a problem is going to get better on its own, or with minimal work. Don’t delude yourself about what’s really involved. It takes commitment to improve a relationship. You’re also less likely to get discouraged along the way.

4)  How much distress does the relationship cause you? Does it rob your life of joy, energy, and purpose?

Take this in conjunction with Question #3 – Is it taking away more than it’s giving you, PLUS it would take a lot of effort to change it? If so, you might have your answer.

5) What’s it worth to you, really?

Sometimes we  fall into traps. The trap of habit, the path of least resistance, the fear of confrontation, the need to please others. You have to consider what you value in your life, and in your relationships, and how this particular relationship fits into that system.

You’ll notice that the theme throughout these questions is brutal honesty, and the throwing aside of denial. I would submit that these methodical questions will actually lead you to what your gut and your heart know already, but have been perhaps too cluttered or afraid to admit.

The self-reflection has to go both ways.

Stefano Carnevali /

Work on Your Relationship, or End It?

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2016). Work on Your Relationship, or End It?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 17, 2019, from


Last updated: 12 Apr 2016
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