Don’t hold on too long. Know when it’s time to go
by Crystal Jackson
I would never have stopped trying. I know that about myself. If he was in it with me, I would have done whatever it took to nurture that connection.
But I was, as I’ve often been, alone in the relationship. At least, I felt alone, which is really the same thing. I wasn’t perfect, but I was trying. The truth about relationships is that it takes more than one person trying to work out.
People will often say that the divorced gave up far too easily and that relationships of any kind shouldn’t be easily discarded. Yet, their assumption is that any ending looks easy.
Sometimes, I think that’s my fault. I’ve made even the worst heartaches look easy. I, like so many other adults with childhood trauma, clung to my resilience, independence, and resourcefulness to pull me through. It doesn’t mean I wasn’t going through hell. It just meant that I thought I had to go through it alone all the while looking like I was fine.
I love the fact that I’m loyal and that I don’t give up on people easily. Yet, there are times when we should absolutely give up. We should quit, walk away, and say that enough is enough. Here are signs that it’s time.
We’re Alone in the Work
We shouldn’t be the only ones working at making a relationship work. Every relationship requires effort, attention, and time. If we’re the only ones keeping the connection alive and nurturing the bond, then we need to ask ourselves why. What are we getting out of this relationship? Why do we think we deserve less than someone’s love and effort?
I ended up in more than one relationship where I felt completely alone. I wondered sometimes what would happen if I just stopped trying so damn hard. But we know what will happen, don’t we? That’s why we feel like we can’t stop working at it. After all, we’re the glue holding the entire house of cards together.
But we shouldn’t be. In a healthy relationship, both people are willing to work through conflict and nurture the connection. It’s a reciprocated effort, a partnership. In the healthiest bonds, both people work on themselves and on the relationship. There are healthy boundaries in place and good communication around them.
When this doesn’t exist, when the only person willing to consistently work on the relationship is us, it’s time to go. If it’s a relationship in name only, it might be time to get help from a couples’ counselor or walk away.
We’re Being Abused
Abuse is a damn good reason to walk away. However, it’s important to acknowledge that physically abusive relationships can be dangerous to leave. In the United States, there is a domestic violence hotline for resources and support at 800–799–7233 or text START to 88788.
Emotional abuse is another reason we should walk away. It may not leave physical scars and bruises as evidence, but it does just as much damage and can be just as dangerous to leave. I’ve been in one emotionally abusive relationship, and I felt like I had to jump over hurdles of gaslighting, manipulation, and volatile moods to make my way out.
Sometimes, people are telling us to work on the problems without realizing that the problems involved are detrimental to our physical or mental health. We don’t always talk about the terrible things that have happened to us, but that doesn’t make them less valid. It does make them a good reason to leave the relationship behind. Just be safe doing it.
We Want Different Things
We have two choices in life: we either grow, or we stagnate and regress. There’s not really another option. In our relationships, we’ll either grow together in the same direction, in opposite directions, or one person will outgrow the other.
When we want different things for our future than our partner, it’s okay to let go and move on. It’s not even that anyone did anything wrong. Sometimes, relationships don’t work out simply because there’s not a shared vision of the future, and our future plans just don’t work together.
While there are some areas of our future plans that we might be willing to compromise on, there are many that are non-negotiable. If we don’t protect our own dreams, we’re likely to give them up in service to someone else’s. In healthy relationships, there’s room enough for both people to dream.
We’ve Done Everything We Can Reasonably Do
I am confident that I did everything I could to save the relationships I invested in and can walk away without regret. This doesn’t mean I was a perfect partner. That couldn’t be further from the truth. But I loved hard and kept trying to be better.
Of course, I know now that trauma therapy would have alleviated many of my triggers in relationships. I know that understanding attachment styles and love languages better could have gone a long way to achieving better health and boundaries. But I know that I did everything I reasonably could at the time.
There was only one relationship that ended that I truly regretted. Even there, I made attempts to apologize and amend for my part of the relationship failing. I took responsibility, and I made that effort. I’ll never wonder “what if I had reached back out?” because I did. I did everything I could reasonably do. It’s okay to let go and accept that I’ve done all I can.
When we reach the point where we know we’ve tried everything we can to make a relationship work and still aren’t happy, we can leave. We can have the peace of knowing that we did what we could with what we knew at the time. If we’re really invested in being healthier, a loss can propel us into therapy so that we have even more knowledge and resources the next time we enter a romantic relationship.
Our Needs Aren’t Being Met
We all have individual needs we’re responsible for meeting, but we also have relational needs that can be met by a partner. Understanding the difference is the key to being able to differentiate between codependent and interdependent relationships.
In the codependent relationship, we expect our partners to meet all of our needs — even the ones we’re capable of meeting ourselves. This isn’t a reasonable expectation. We’re responsible for meeting our own needs and dealing with our own issues and triggers. Thrusting this on our partners creates strain on the relationship — and an unrealistic expectation of what relationships should do for us.
In interdependent relationships, we meet our own needs but are also willing and capable of meeting relational needs. Erskine et al. (1999) developed the following 8 relational needs most often expressed by psychotherapy clients, or needs we can only have met by another person:
(1) The need for security;
(2) The need to feel validated, affirmed, and significant within a relationship;
(3) The need to be accepted by a stable, dependable, and protective other person
(4) The need for confirmation of personal experience;
(5) The need for self-definition;
(6) The need to have an impact on the other person;
(7) The need to have the other person initiate;
(8) The need to express love.
These needs can be narrowed down to the following 5 categories:
Support and Protection,
Having an Impact,
Shared Experience, and
Initiative from the Other.
A healthy relationship should include each of these relational factors. These factors combine to make for a feeling of satisfaction in relationships. On the other hand, dissatisfaction results when any of these qualities are missing. If we have partners who are unwilling to meet these needs, it may be time to let go and move on to a relationship that shows more equal investment.
Authenticity is a sign of safety and security in a relationship, and it also builds trust. Support and protection are both equal parts of healthy relationships. We want our partners to share experiences with us and for the relationship to have an impact. It’s also important that both people take the initiative to show love, affection, and attention or to initiate intimacy.
The 5 categories shouldn’t be surprising. A relationship missing these qualities is headed for failure. Know when it’s time to go.
I will never regret trying so hard. I do sometimes wish I hadn’t tried for so long. It’s wonderful to have such a loving heart — but my loving heart needed much better boundaries and self-love. I put so much energy and time into those relationships. I drained my time, money, effort, and mental and emotional resources trying to connect with people who weren’t as invested in connecting with me.
Now, I can look back and see that a healthier me would have handled things so much differently. In some of those relationships, self-love would have had me walking away so much sooner — at the first signs of abuse or at the confirmation that our paths for the future did not align. In the relationship I wanted very much to keep, I know that I could have communicated better and set clearer boundaries in the relationship. I don’t know what it would have changed, but I do feel it would have made a difference.
These days, I feel confident that I will be more authentic, direct, and self-loving in my choices. I won’t just settle for a relationship that doesn’t meet my needs or add value to my life. I won’t be so hungry for the crumbs of love that I accept less than I deserve.
People will tell us that we shouldn’t just walk away. Don’t listen. Our hearts will never want to quit, but if we’re listening to them, we’ll know when it’s time to go and love ourselves instead.
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