“Should I breakup with him?” That is the question that my client Carly struggled with as she sat in on my couch, moving her right crossed leg back and forth with a nervous, oscillating kick. “I think I love him – but I am not sure if he is right for me…” she added, as mascara ran down her cheeks. “I don’t know what to do?”
I handed her a box of tissues to wipe away the tears.
The issue of ending a romantic relationship with another comes up frequently in therapy sessions. It is part of the work counselors do to help clients figure out important life decisions. In Carly’s case, she has been dating a man named Ben for around five years. She cares for him dearly and has used the word love to describe what they share in past sessions.
The problem right now is simply this – the two have been constantly bickering, grinding on one another’s nerves and feeling pretty much crummy about their once powerful romance.
Carly’s concerns are similar to others I have worked with who come to the realization that things just aren’t working in their relationship. Common themes that pop up at this point include:
- Is this person even right for me?
- Are we having more bad days than good?
- Has our romance effectively run its course?
- Why am I still with him/her?
- Is this what love looks like?
Given where Carly is both emotionally and psychologically right now with Ben, I thought it might be a good time to give her a homework assignment. I have found that many times, real therapeutic healing takes place outside of the counseling office and away from the clinical environment.
What follows are five questions I asked Carly that you can use as a way of arriving at a decision about breaking up with someone. Bear in mind your answers to these questions can take time to uncover and that choices made in haste are never good – particularly when it comes to matters of the heart.
Let’s take a look at them.
1. Do we still laugh?
Healthy relationships necessarily need to contain elements of humor. Without laughter and joy, there is little to balance the bad – such as moments of anger and frustration. And so ask yourself: Do we genuinely have fun when we are together? Are we still able to laugh with one another and somehow find the silly?
If your answer is a resounding no, this could be an indication the relationship is over.
2. Do we still have enjoyable sex?
Sex in and of itself isn’t the most important aspect of a relationship but it does rank fairly high up there. Provided you are not buying into many of the common sex myths, the both of you should find moments of intimacy enjoyable – and meaningful. It won’t be the “4th of July” every time but there has to be some amount of snap and crackle going on (at least on more days than not).
If time alone in the bedroom seems robotic, like a chore – or worse – isn’t happening, it may be a negative sign.
3. Do we have similar goals for the future?
Relationships that grow and thrive are involved in the constant process of setting and then reaching goals. Examples include planning for something minor; like a quick weekend trip during the fall. A major goal might be jointly saving for the down-payment on a new home.
If there is disagreement on goals, that’s OK because at least there is dialogue taking place. If, however, one or both parties in the relationship are indifferent about the future and not talking about a shared vision – it doesn’t bode well for the future.
4. Do we address problems through healthy dialogue?
The occasional disagreement is going to pop up from time to time in a relationship. That’s the nature of the beast. But if the relational dynamic is in a suspended state of fighting, something is wrong big time. In healthy relationships, both people make an effort to actively listen to one another and resolve problems together. Is latter happening with you?
If there is no effort to engage in meaningful dialogue that somehow takes into account the other person’s feelings, make a checkmark in the “not good” column.
5. Am I caretaking?
Healthy relationships strike a balance where both people involved in the romance help one another in a number of ways. For example, if someone cooks dinner, the other offers to wash the dishes. In unhealthy relationships, there is often a co-dependent dynamic whereby someone assumes the role of caretaker.
If you are doing all of the work, paying all of the bills or engaging in all of the relational maintenance, you are effectively acting as that person’s parent. If it feels more like you have become your mate’s mom or dad instead of being their girlfriend, wife, husband and so forth – consider this a major problem.
In the case of Carly, she is still trying to figure things out. My sense is that she will likely give her relationship a bit more time. I do wonder on some level what Ben might be thinking. When I asked her how he might describe their relationship in the here and now, she was at a loss for words. This was a real indication to me that the two were not talking. I pointed this out to Carly and she completely agreed. Dialogue between the two was desperately needed.
If you are considering splitting up, I encourage you to think about the questions I have asked here. Give each one careful consideration. Be honest with yourself and don’t try to sugarcoat any of the answers. There’s a great quiz here on this site that can help you assess the strength of your relationship. I highly recommend! It may help you arrive at some of the answers you are looking for.
The decision to breakup with someone is never easy. Anyone who suggests otherwise doesn’t know what they are talking about. Once the split happens, there is usually an extended period of mourning. This point is particularly true if you live with your mate or are tied together in other ways. Dealing with the many losses is part of the breakup aftermath. It is for this reason you need to make your ultimate choice with care.
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