The Sad, Sad Truth About Leaving a Relationship Before It Is “Done”
How do I know if it is the “right” time to end a relationship?
When I hear this question, I think about an episode of Dr. Phil that I saw almost a decade ago while waiting at the dentist’s office. In the episode, Dr. Phil said something like, “If you are still angry, you are not ready to get divorced.” Sage advice from America’s TV Therapist.
The Anatomy of Your Relationship
Your relationship serves a purpose beyond filling your need for love, belonging, security, and comfort. Your relationship provides a valuable mirror in which you can see unhealed parts of yourself. These parts, in general, do not show up anywhere else besides in your marriage or committed relationship.
Ever wonder how it is that you (or your partner) are such a great friend, co-worker, boss…or such a patient teacher, parent, board member…but somehow, when things get tough with your partner, parts of you come out that you nary see in any other venue.
Your psyche has this amazing function of projecting unhealed wounded parts on to your spouse. When something is projected, it is like a projector, and your partner is the screen. Your partner does a beautiful job of reflecting back to you these parts that need attention.
Remember when you fell in love? Remember how it felt like your partner totally “got” you? How he understood you so well? Remember how she made you feel so important and powerful? These too are positive projections that you put on your partner and she reflected right back to you.
Projection is not bad. It is very helpful because it shows up in us the parts that we would otherwise never know.
How else will you know what to work on?
The vast majority of people in unhappy relationships believe that it is their partner’s fault:
If he would stop being so emotionally unavailable!
If she would stop being so critical.
If he would just listen to me for once, things might change!
If he would just get off of his computer at night so we could actually see each other!
All of these statements might, in fact, hold some truth. He may be emotionally unavailable. She may be critical. However, this surface, cursory assessment neglects the richer landscape of what a relationship is and how it functions.
Self-reflection is key
In these periods of conflict, there is a HUGE, a MASSIVE, and a unique invitation to transform.
CONFLICT = INVITATION TO TRANSFORM
By transform, I do not mean that you simply need to get over your partner’s criticism or learn to ignore the pain of the emotional absence. I would never advocate that you be a doormat or squelch your feelings and needs. What I do mean, is that when the conflict arises you are given a chance to:
- Self-reflect on your own needs that you feel are being violated (i.e. “I have a need for connection and acceptance.” — click here for a list of needs).
- Identify the feelings that arise when these needs are not being met (“I feel hurt and alone when you are on your computer at night.” — click here for a list of feelings).
- Open to being vulnerable with your partner to share these feelings and needs.
- Practice being connected to your heart and higher relationship goals (i.e. growing a respectful, loving container of marriage) during these conversations.
- Grow your courage and personal resolve by standing in your own knowing and speaking from a grounded place who you are and what you need and want.
The truth is…it’s a lot like boot camp!
You are the only one who can know if your relationship is done. Though, sometimes it can help tremendously to have a third party help you suss out the parts that are hard for you to see. If you find that you have not practiced the skills listed above and if you are interested in your own personal growth and development…the best place to practice these skills is in a committed relationship…think: bootcamp. If you leave before it is done, you will (fortunately or unfortunately) likely have a chance to resolve them in your next relationship.
Jenny Glick, MA, MSC, LMFT is a licensed marriage & family therapist and relationship expert in Denver, CO. Need that third party to help you sort out if your relationship is “done”? Office, phone, and online sessions available. I look forward to hearing how I can help you!
Click below for your free 20-minute consultation or to schedule an appointment.