It’s a question in life that you never REALLY want to answer: When is it time to end a relationship?
Things build up. Something feels off. The magic has faded. Fights have taken over. Whatever it is that’s causing this burning question to rise to the top – it’s not going away. So you have to figure out if this skepticism is permanent, or just a phase. Tough call.
Many couples who’ve braved the pandemic together are coming out the other side stronger than ever – united by the vestigial traces of terror and relief that they made it through. Others, however, to put it bluntly, are sick of each other. With nowhere to go and little to do other than work and life admin – including childcare if you’ve been “blessed” with offspring – some may project a general lack of fulfilment onto their relationship and start thinking wouldn’t it be better maybe if they… weren’t in one? It’s only natural, during the planet’s year-long stagnation, that we start reexamining our values, priorities and goals. But are you really ready to make the break or is it just post-pandemic brain talking – the same way you get full of New Year vigour and convince yourself you’re going to transform into a vegan, protein-shake-quaffing gym bunny?
According to therapist Claire Elmes, you must first decide whether your problem is with your partner or just the general situation. “Having an ambiguous sense of something being “off” but not quite being sure what it is can be reflective of the current climate rather than a problem inherent to the relationship,” she says. Maybe it’s just a blip, maybe a few weeks of normality will make you see differently – but there are some key indicators that you are ready to end the relationship.
1. You do not communicate with your partner
“You don’t take time to listen to each other or respectfully voice your concerns, and often resort to shouting matches or avoid talking altogether,” says Elmes, a member of the Counselling Directory.
2. You and your partner are no longer friends
Sounds obvious, maybe, but it’s not just about the odd row. “Maybe you lack a baseline level of connection, trust, intimacy with them,” says Elmes. “You find that you don’t have fun together or enjoy just hanging out with them.”
3. You already act like you’re single
Do you make decisions like a couple, with consultation and compromise? “A relationship involves shared responsibility and communication,” says Elmes, “so if you find yourself navigating life individually without much regard for your partner, it could be a sign that the relationship has come to an end.”
4. You imagine yourself in another relationship
Fantasising about being with someone else, whether real or imaginary? “If you can picture yourself in a new relationship and feel unaffected or even excited,” says Elmes. “It could be a sign that you are ready to seek emotional intimacy and romance elsewhere.” And even if you don’t see yourself with anyone else but still picture a future without them, this too could be a sign it’s time to quit the band and go solo.
5. You both want different things out of life
It’s a cliché, but people do grow apart. Do you share the same goals for the future? Couples who want to be together make sacrifices and reach compromises. Are you willing to acquiesce so they can follow their dreams? Are they for yours? If one wants children, but the other doesn’t, or one fancies moving away or travelling, but the other would rather stay put it usually means curtains for the pair of you.
Even if you hit all those criteria, there could still be things holding you back from moving on – children, financial security, the house you live in, who gets brunch access to your favourite pals, for instance. “Your happiness, wellbeing, personal development and future trajectory all call into question the health of your relationship,” says Elmes. “If you know staying in your current relationship has a detrimental effects on any of those things and causes you to be unhappy or you can’t picture a future in which you’re content and the thought of ending the relationship brings you a sense of relief, that’s a very strong indicator.”
That said, you don’t have to make any rash decisions. The world is still waking up, after all. Unless you’re at risk of physical or mental peril, if you think there’s even the slightest possibility this is a blip, give it a little time and energy. Talk to your partner about your concerns. Maybe they’re feeling the same or have noticed a change in you but haven’t known how to bring it up. Both of you need to stay sensitive and constructive. “Use positive language. Assure them you love them and care for them and want to make things even better,” says Elmes. “Be open and willing to hear their point of view in order to identify and resolve any miscommunications and take responsibility for your own actions; don’t attack or blame them for how you’ve been feeling.” If this does turn out to be a pandemic-based wobble, you might be glad you didn’t vent everything you hated about them. Severed heads can’t be reattached. As things return to normal and we’re out of each others’ faces more, things might resolve themselves.
But if the worst does happen and it’s time to call it quits, is it possible to have a good split? When it comes to breaking up, you should think of it as a shared problem, rather than someone’s fault, according to Harry Gates, cofounder of The Divorce Surgery. And don’t be too hard on yourselves either. “Forty-two per cent of marriages end in divorce,” says Gates. “But that doesn’t mean everything that came before was a failure or a waste of time or that you’ve made bad choices.” It’s a good idea, especially if you have children, to try to remain positive and think about what you want your relationship to look like once you are exes. Even though you’re breaking apart, you’re still in this together. “Many approach breaking up wanting the best outcome for them as individuals, without thinking enough about the impact on the other spouse or the family as a whole,” says Gates. This often leads to acrimony and two losers. You might be tempted to say, “I’ll see you in court!” but Gates says you should avoid legal battles over children and finances at all costs.
Whatever you do, make sure it’s the best decision for you and for the right reasons. “The minimalist structure of our lives and pressurised environment of living in the midst of Covid-19 is not representative of ‘real life’ or of the dawning future,” says Elmes. “Look inwards, connect with yourself and your partner. Take some time to reflect and evaluate, all the while thinking about your happiness, your safety and your future.”
If you find yourself on the receiving end of an “It’s not you. It’s me”, hold off before rushing to a lawyer. Suggest couple’s therapy if you genuinely think it can help – rather than trying to put off the inevitable – but if it’s definitely over, try to stay classy. If you need to take legal advice, Gates reckons the best idea might be to take it together – it will keep costs down and stop things dragging out. It will be hard, but it’s time to be a grown-up about it. “If you handle the split right, you’ll have a new relationship afterwards,” says Gates. “Different, yes, but one that recognises the commitment you each made to resolve things amicably to your mutual benefit.”
You survived a devastating pandemic; you can do this.
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