One of the questions that plagued me for the longest time about relationships was this:
When it starts to go bad, how long do you wait and work before you know it’s time to let go?
I’m Inherently An Optimist
See, I’ve got this problem – it’s called optimism. And most days, it’s awesome, but when things are going south in a relationship, I never know when it’s time to cut bait and let go. I’m always fishing, hoping for better bites in the form of an improvement: a stronger, healthier relationship. I’ve struggled with this question for a long time. How do you know when it’s time to let go?
When You Know It’s Too Long
I’ve been able to establish what is definitively “too long”. A healthy relationship has definitely become an unhealthy one when true misery sets in: when you dread seeing the other person or find yourself angry at them all the time. When your list of resentments exceeds your list of loves and desires, you know you’ve stayed too long. This is the time that most people wait for. It gives them the motivation to leave. But that’s not who I am – I don’t need to be miserable to be motivated. I am always motivated to make my life better, to make my relationship healthier, to become a better person. I move towards what I want – not away from what I don’t want. So this was always the rub:
How do I let go quickly if it’s bad WITHOUT throwing away a good, healthy relationship that has just hit a temporary speed bump?
And, After 43 Years, I think I Finally Have the Answer
The answer is: it’s time to leave when I begin to abandon myself. This means:
- When the terms of the relationship turn me into someone I don’t want to be (fearful, distrustful, controlling, power-struggling, etc.)
- When I begin to fundamentally change myself to become what the other person wants (NOT because I want it)
- When I start to feel like I’m tied up in knots and can’t move in the “right” direction because I have no idea where that is
When I stop being me, I’ve stopped relating and the relationship is over anyway – it just doesn’t know it yet. I cannot control the other person’s actions. I cannot change how they are behaving towards me or what they are choosing. All I can do is be me – fully, authentically, and completely. When I am tempted to stop being me to save the relationship, it’s time to get out.