In the 35 years I’ve been counseling, thousands of couples have come to me wondering if they should end their relationship. Most of these people were in love at one point but are now really miserable with each other, or one partner is miserable with the other. Generally, they don’t know what the real problem is. They know what they don’t like about the other person. They know they can’t communicate about what is important to them. They know they fight about money or sex or time or chores or hundreds of other things, or they ignore the problems and are distant. What they don’t know is what the REAL problem is.
Leaving a relationship before knowing what the real problem is, is generally a waste of time (aside from domestic violence) - especially if you eventually want to be in another relationship.
The reason it’s a waste of time is because whatever you are doing to create your unhappiness, you are not going to stop doing just because you leave the relationship. You take yourself with you when you leave, and unless you heal your part of the relationship problem, you will continue to behave in ways that eventually destroys relationships.
You might be surprised to learn that the time to leave a relationship is NOT when you are miserable, but rather when you are happy, joyful and peaceful. When you have learned how to make yourself happy and bring yourself peace and joy, and if your partner is still distance, angry, needy, disconnected, resistant, unloving, or acting out addictively - then it may be time to leave if that is what you want.
When I work with couples, I help each partner learn how to take full, 100% responsibility for their own feelings and needs. Obviously, if both people are behaving in ways that bring themselves joy, they will have a lot of love to share with each other. As long as they are stuck believing that their unhappiness of the other person’s fault, they are being victims. As victims they want to control the other person and get them to behave the way they want them the behave. As victims, they are afraid of being rejected or controlled, and are behaving in ways to protect themselves from what they fear. All the ways they are trying to have control over not being rejected or controlled are creating the relationship problems.
Until you become aware of how you are being a victim and how you are trying to control your partner - and you are successful in taking care of your own feelings and needs - there is no point in leaving.
Most people who are unhappy in their relationship are reactors. They are reacting to the other person’s controlling behavior with their own controlling behavior. For example:
- When Jacob criticizes her, Hannah shuts down. When Hannah shuts down, Jacob criticizes.
- When Sally gets angry at Joe, Joe defends, lectures and explains himself. When Joe lectures, Sally gets angry and resistant.
- When Robert is demanding, Ingrid gives herself up to comply with Robert’s demands. The more Ingrid complies, the more Robert demands.
- When Michele complains, Hugh resists. The more Hugh resist, the more Michele complains.
- When Craig acts like an irresponsible child, Karen becomes parental and judgmental. The more Karen is parental and judgmental, the more Craig is resistant and irresponsible.
Each of these people are reacting in controlling ways, rather than acting in ways that take loving care of themselves. Both people are participating in creating a negative circle. Generally, they then blame the other for their own reaction: “If you wouldn’t criticize, then I wouldn’t withdraw.” “Well, if you wouldn’t withdraw, then I wouldn’t criticize.” “If you weren’t so resistant, I wouldn’t get angry.” “If you weren’t so angry, I wouldn’t resist.”
If they were to act in loving ways toward themselves rather than react in controlling ways toward their partner, then:
- When Jacob criticized, Hannah might speak up for herself instead of shutting down, saying something like, “Jacob, I don’t like being criticized. I’m not willing to have this discussion until we can be open with each other.” When Hannah shut down, Jacob could be curious instead of critical, saying something like, “Honey, you must have a good reason for withdrawing from me. Do you want to talk about it?”
- When Sally got angry, Joe could disengage from the conversation instead of trying to talk her out of her feelings. He would give up trying to have control over Sally’s anger and how she sees him and take care of himself. When Joe tried to control Sally with his lecturing and explaining, instead of trying to control him with her anger, Sally could speak up for herself, telling Joe that she doesn’t like it when he tries to talk her out of her feelings.
There is no point in leaving a relationship until you have learned to act in ways that are loving to yourself and your partner, instead of reacting in controlling and resistant ways. Leaving only delays this learning until your next relationship.
Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is the best-selling author and co-author of eight books, including "Do I Have To Give Up Me To Be Loved By You?" and “Healing Your Aloneness.” She is the co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding healing process. Learn Inner Bonding now! Visit her web site for a FREE Inner Bonding course: http://www.innerbonding.com or mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone Sessions Available.