Do you remember the story about the new prisoner on the block? He is settling in nervously on the first night of his sentence, when he hears a series of numbers yelled out, each one followed by raucous laughter from his fellow inmates. Nervously, he asks his cell-mate what is going on. The cell-mate replies, “That’s the lifers, they have been in here so long that they have heard all of each others’ jokes, so rather than telling the joke, to save time they just shout out the joke’s number.” If your friends and family could tell this joke to describe how you talk about your relationship issues, you might want to read this post.
But seriously, breaking up is hard to do and inspires procrastination in the best of us. The writing may have been on the wall for months or even years, yet the exit out of a relationship can be a painstakingly slow process. Even without marriage and children in the mix, wrestling with the dilemma of when to hold and when to fold is often painful.
There are times when it may be blindingly obvious to everyone around you that it’s time to walk away, yet you still need to come to your own conclusion. The exception to this rule is if there is any kind of violent or abusive behavior taking place. In this case you need to get help and get yourself away and to safety immediately.
Loyalty, commitment and a willingness to work through difficult times are all valuable qualities to bring to any relationship but it’s good to be aware that these virtues can also sometimes work against us and cause us to prolong the suffering by clinging to a relationship long after it has ceased to be good for us. At times like this it’s great to have kind and patient friends who can support you along the way. But most important, is to give yourself some space and time to really explore what you are thinking and feeling. As one of my wise friends says,
“You’re not done ‘til you’re done and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, because only when you know you’re done will it really be over and when you’re done, you’ll know it.”
Sometimes it’s helpful to ask yourself a series of questions. Journaling your responses may allow you to go deeper still, in search of the clarity you need. Here are some to start you off.
1) What am I afraid of?
Get really honest with your answers here, – some of the most common are, the fear of being alone, fear of what other people will think and fear of making a mistake.
2) Are those realistic fears?
Once you have listed your fears, go through the list one by one and ask yourself how realistic they are.
3) If I wasn’t scared that x,y,z might happen– what would I do?
Next, taking each fear in turn, ask yourself how your course of action might be influenced if this fear wasn’t a factor.
4) Am in love with this person, or the person I wish they were? (aka The Imaginary Boyfriend)?
This questions deals with the perennial problem of falling in love with the potential.
5) If I could get an email from myself ten years from now, what advice might it have?
This is another good trick to get a different perspective on the problem and to get in touch with the inner wisdom we all have. My thanks to Havi Brooks for inspiring this one with her dialogues with her “slightly future me”.
6) Is this relationship bringing out the best in me?
Take a look at the person you have become in relation to who you were before. Do you like the comparison?
7) Have I given my best?
It’s always easier to come to closure when you can honestly say that you gave it 100%.
8) Should it be this much work?
What does this relationship add to your quality of life?
9) Do I make excuses for or justify my partner’s behavior towards me?
Your friends and family will be able to fill you in here.
10) How would I feel about my little sister/brother/daughter/son being in this situation?
This one may surprise you, it’s often a little shocking to see the standards we will tolerate for ourselves compared to what we think the people we love deserve.
11) What have I learned from this relationship?
What have you learned about what works and what doesn’t work for you?
12) What haven’t I learned from this relationship?
Where are you stuck?
13) Is this a familiar pattern?
Have you seen this all before? What do you need to do to take responsibility for doing it differently from now on?
14) Have I honestly expressed what it is that I want without trying to hide my vulnerability or blaming or judging?
It’s hard to ask for what we really want when we are scared we won’t get it but everyone deserves the opportunity to hear requests kindly and clearly.
15) Do I think I can love this person in the way they deserve to be loved?
Let’s turn the tables for a second, can you give your partner everything they have a right to receive?
16) If this is all there is, will it be enough?
It’s a great test to ask whether if nothing changes. Could you really be happy with this person?
17) If I weren’t angry, how would it change things?
When we have had our needs unmet for a while, resentment can build to the point of rage and obscure rational thought.
18) If I forgave my partner, what difference would it make?
To err is human, but to forgive is divine. One of my favorite quotes says that refusing to forgive is like continually drinking poison and hoping the other person will die. If your partner has done something or many things that have hurt you, ask yourself what might happen if you gave them a fresh slate?
19) If I forgave myself what difference would it make?
Self-compassion can be a wonderful vehicle for growth and clarity, if yesterday didn’t exist at all, would you still feel the way you do?
20) If today was my last – would I regret ending or not having ended the relationship more?
Finally, this question raises the stakes a little and challenges any sense of complacency. It can give you a real sense of perspective, by asking how you might do things differently if you knew you wouldn’t have another chance.
Try these questions out or add and subtract your own and don’t forget to trust your inner knowing. Deep down, you know what’s best for you.