Often, we reach a crossroads where although our love for another person may never end, the relationship has—or should.
We all know people who stay together despite being miserable, refusing to recognize or accept that a relationship has run its course. Those who stay despite unhealthy conditions and treatment do so for many reasons, including belief systems that are anti-divorce, fear of being alone, a society that frowns on quitting, feeling unworthy of or unable to do better, the romantic notion that time alone will improve things, etc.
Add to these reasons the fact that our society places a higher value on the length of a relationship than it does on the condition of it, or the quality of treatment of those within it. As a result, people stay together even though it’s evident there’s no life left in their relationship. One or the other partner might be hoping for their relationship to change, or both may know that it won’t, but are resigned to it despite dissatisfaction.
Many couples repeat break-up-to-make-up cycles for years, mistaking the unwillingness to let go for proof of love. They struggle with cutting loose and moving on—even when there is obvious evidence that the relationship is unhealthy, such as violence, emotional abuse or serial infidelity. This is why it’s so important to have a standard of self-love that governs your decision-making, establishes boundaries for your security (mental, physical and emotional) and makes honor, esteem and respect non-negotiable requirements.
Lasting love can only spring from healthy relationships. If the relationship is unhealthy for either party, it should not last. If the foundation is healthy, the longer the relationship lasts, the more opportunity there is to reinforce the things it’s built on and for it to grow all the stronger, with each partner supporting the other to create an enduring relationship built on lasting love.
The key questions partners must answer to determine whether a relationship is healthy and sustainable or unhealthy and destined to end, are:
1. “What attracted us to each other?”
2. “Why are we still together?”
3. “Do we truly love each other for who we are, or is it more for our appearance, possessions and abilities?”
If the answers to these questions are the qualities society tells us to value—sex, looks, money, status—then the relationship is only as sustainable as those things are, which means it’s likely to fail any time they are threatened or lost.
Unfortunately, too many of us are motivated by these attractors to commit to relationships, prematurely sharing our money, body, heart and/or home, making it harder to cut ties even when a relationship shows itself to be unhealthy, or the characteristics that brought two people together prove unsustainable. And because many of us are taught to keep relationships going no matter what, we make choices with life-long consequences, including marriage and children. All this in an attempt to rescue the relationship, instead of ending it—only to find that while marriage and parenthood do bond people together, they cannot improve the quality of the underlying relationship between them. When such life-altering choices are made, it becomes even more difficult to end things though the union has clearly become unhealthy. The longer such relationships last, the more invested the partners become, and—absent a major intervention to establish a new, healthy foundation for the relationship—the more brutal and costly the split when it inevitably occurs.
Clearly, the Grown course of action is accepting that most relationships are not meant to last. Know that you have almost no chance of finding and being prepared for Mr./Ms. Right as long as your time, energy and attention is being invested in Mr./Ms. Right Now. (Or, more likely, Mr./Ms. The-Best-I-Can-Do-For-Now.) Quickly recognizing and ending unhealthy relationships creates the space and opportunity to prepare for and find the relationships that are sustainable and healthy. Staying in unhealthy relationships equates to deferring, if not forfeiting entirely, any chance at a healthy one.
So how do you know that a relationship has run its course? This is not an all-inclusive, exhaustive list, but here are some clues that should at least spark an honest, heart-to-heart conversation with your partner:
1. If you suspect its run its course, it likely has—even though you may desperately hope it hasn’t or feel guilty about thinking it should.
2. You often think or fear that you started the relationship and/or are currently together for the wrong reasons.
3. There is no joy or fun between you. If the only thing sustaining the relationship is dutiful sex, or your joint financial and parental commitments, that’s a problem.
4. You’ve become indifferent, and stopped caring. Everybody deserves to be cared for in a healthy relationship. If you can no longer authentically offer that care, it’s not fair to either of you.
5. The relationship fails to bring both you and your partner honor, esteem and respect. It’s not enough to not feel bad about your relationship. A healthy relationship should enhance the capacity of both partners to grow and love both themselves and one another. If you accept less, you’ll get even less than that over time. That’s not love; that’s a sentence.
Remember that every relationship has value, and choosing to end one does not represent a lost “investment” or waste of your time. Grown folks draw valuable lessons, especially about themselves, from every relationship, improving their decision-making and increasing the likelihood of being prepared for and establishing healthier, more sustainable relationships going forward.
Relationships, including marriages, are like houses. Their value is determined by the condition they’re in, not by how long they’ve been standing. It is a mistake to equate long relationships with lasting love; they are not synonymous. Life is too short to keep trying to extend a road leading to nowhere. Or in the words of the Angie Stone song “Here We Go Again”: “If we’re gonna grow, then we need to know, when it’s time to just let go; life is too short to pretend, we’re in the beginning, when it’s the end.”