There’s no such thing as a relationship without challenges. However, some stumbling blocks are merely garden-variety annoyances, while others are bona fide deal-breakers. If you’re on the fence about which category your gripes belong in and whether or not they’re worth enduring, consider the advice of Lundy Bancroft and Jac Patrissi, authors of Should I Stay or Should I Go? A Guide to Knowing if Your Relationship Can — and Should — Be Saved. Below, they offer five ways to know whether your romance is doomed or likely to go the distance.
1. Consider how you and your partner resolve conflicts
In all relationships, partners experience periods when they need to express their disappointment and/or disagreement. “These periods are characterized by a sense of vulnerability, and they are difficult,” says Patrissi. “Yet, though relationships may get very difficult, you will know that they are working and healthy because each time you navigate these difficulties — and you will, countless times — you are growing closer and developing ways of being together that work for both of you.”
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In an unhealthy relationship (i.e., one that really isn’t working), when you hit those periods of conflict, you’ll notice either right away or soon enough that you are not a team struggling for mutual well-being, Patrissi says. Unsure about whether you and your partner are have an unhealthy conflict resolution approach? When you argue, does it become about who can win and/or who can hurt the other more effectively, or does one (or both) of you become explosive or cruel? Is it characterized by your partner thinking almost exclusively about what is good for him or her, not about what’s good for you or the relationship? If any of these statements ring true for you, Patrissi says it’s probably a wise decision to get out.
2. Recognize the difference between irritating habits and deal-breakers
Patrissi says that some of the most troubling and potentially deal-breaking problems one can face with a partner are immaturity, addiction, unresolved or untreated mental health issues (including the after-effects of trauma, depression and personality disorders) and abusiveness: “Each one of these is a big ticket item, meaning it will likely cost you a great deal of emotional energy and time to be in a relationship with your partner and one of these issues. I know you want just your partner, but sometimes the partner doesn’t come without the issue. And that’s the heartbreaker.”
But is it a deal-breaker? That depends on a number of things, including where you are in your own life, where you are in your relationship, and what is safe and possible for you, explains Patrissi: “For example, you may have always known since childhood that if a partner was abusive to you — especially if he laid a hand on you in anger — that this was your deal-breaker. Yet if it happens, you will find yourself faced with many more ethical and practical questions that play into your decision-making than you had anticipated. Also, given your life history, you may decide that, no matter how much you love your partner, you don’t want to put so much energy into dealing with anything so consuming.”
3. Focus on yourself for a bit
Often, the easiest way to find clarity about your relationship involves shifting your focus away from it and to the center and joy of your own life instead. “In rediscovering what brings you joy, reinvesting in a daily routine that will support you, rediscovering some of the values you hold and creating a self-nurturing plan that includes skills for regulating your emotions when you feel out of sorts and creating a parenting-from-your-center plan if you have kids, you will create your own ‘no matter what happens’ life goals for yourself,” Patrissi explains.
Once you identify a couple of these life goals, you’ll enter into a process of addressing all the barriers to your own growth — some of which may involve your existing relationship. For example: You may realize that you are exhausted from coping with your partner’s issue; you may have poor financial health, which is a common consequence of destructive relationships; or, you may not be physically safe enough in the relationship to initiate moves toward investing in a routine that supports you — all of which should provide clear reasons why leaving your current relationship would be preferable to sticking around.
4. Think about the consequences of ending the relationship
When debating whether to leave or stay, Lundy advises first considering whether you’ve ever felt frightened of your partner. Has this person ever physically attacked you, or made you feel that he or she was on the verge of it? Has your partner ever forced you sexually? Has your partner said anything like, “You’d better not ever try to leave me” or anything similar that suggested he or she wanted you to be afraid of ending things? If your intuition tells you that your partner may have a volatile reaction, that’s a pretty good sign that walking away from your relationship is a good idea.
That said, it’s incredibly important to plan your exit carefully before doing so to ensure your safety, says Lundy: “Before telling your partner that you’re ending the relationship, figure out how you are going to get your belongings safely out of your place,” she advises. “Consider whether seeking a protective order might increase your safety, and deliver the news in a public place.” If you’re concerned that your partner may engage in self-harm, let key people in his or her life know that your relationship is ending — and that you are concerned about your partner’s welfare. “Once you’ve done that, you have to let go; your partner is responsible for his or her own choices, and you are not the cause of his or her deep misery,” Lundy says.
5. Imagine a life without your partner
Anyone can lose track of his or her identity in a relationship. “You may have put aside your own goals and dreams, lost track of your own favorite activities and closest friends, sacrificed your taste in music or movies, or altered your political beliefs,” says Lundy. “Though all this accommodating can help hold a relationship together, the price is too high; you vanish in your partner’s current.”
When you’re trying to decide whether staying in your relationship will be truly beneficial or not, ask yourself if you have remained true to who you really are during the time you’ve been with your partner, and what your life would look like if you were no longer together. Remember that having love, approval, kindness and appreciation for yourself is at least as important as getting it from someone else; if these feelings are impossible to have while in your current relationship, it’s time to get back into having a loving, supportive connection with yourself.
And as much as we all enjoy being in love, Lundy cautions against jumping right into seeing someone new: “Give yourself time to get the benefits of being alone and to work through the grief and anger you’re carrying from the relationship that just ended. Build resources into your life that will support you and help to fill the gap left by your partner’s absence. Make friendships a priority, especially with people you can really trust. If you have children, you now have an opportunity to spend significant extra time with them, focusing on having fun and feeling close.”
When DC-based journalist Chelsea Kaplan isn’t helping you solve your relationship problems, she’s making jewelry. Check it out atwww.chelseabellejewelry.com.