STEPS FOR LETTING GO OF A LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIP THAT’S JUST NOT RIGHT
by Annie Gurton, Couples Counsellor from Sydney’s Northern Beaches
People tend to leave their lovers in the most vindictive and harmful ways. There may be any number of causes – frustration, irritation, loss of attraction, addiction, an affair (physical or emotional), growing disdain or anger. But when the end results in public drama and fireworks, or disrespectful dumping rather than a calm, loving, and honest agreement, it negates all the joy and any respect the couple might have experienced together. It can colour the entire relationship with pain and sour any happy memories you might have. So why do so many people, who have often spent years loving one another, choose to leave their relationships in such unconscionable ways? And how can it be done differently?
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Once we start hearing the death rattle (which makes itself felt through constant bickering or fighting, long periods of emotional disconnection, avoidance of sex, increasing times apart, finding other people attractive or an empty joylessness) we should roll up our sleeves and think about the best way forward. Once all efforts to revive the romance and quality of connection fail then everyone deserves to feel empowered to move forward. Hanging on to a dead past is destructive and demoralising for everyone, and if you know for sure that your long-term relationship is just not right, you need to think about the steps necessary for letting go.
One instinct is to do something so bad that the other partner is forced to end it, such as having a highly visible flirt or an easily-discoverable affair. It makes it easier for us if the other has no choice but to call it a day. But that’s the cowards way. It is better to face up to your deeper feelings and think of the best way to handle the situation with integrity and courage. Because its not easy.
Ways to leave your lover with love and respect:
1. HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH YOUR PARTNER: Tell them how you feel. Come to an agreement if you can. Its best to jointly acknowledge that things have come to an end and its time to separate. The alternative is to announce to your partner that you have decided to end everything or worse still, start another relationship before this one is properly over. Its better to split up in agreement rather than if your partner didn’t see it coming, or doesn’t want the relationship to end.
2. TAKE FULL RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR PART IN THE ENDING: Such as: ‘I stopped appreciating you and took you for granted.’ or ‘I gave up a long time ago when we were drifting apart and I just didn’t fight for us.’ or, ‘I need something different from what I am getting with you and I want to move on.’
3. TAKE TIME WITH DISCUSSING THE OUTCOME: Take time to formulate the ending by giving your partner reasonable notice and discussing ways to end things. You have had time to absorb the situation and become used to it. Allow your partner the respect to have the same.
4. SPEAK HIGHLY OF YOUR SOON-TO-BE EX: because what you say about them actually reflects a great deal about you. If you bad-mouth them, it says more about you than them.
5. PAY OFF ANY DEBTS AND THINK ABOUT HOW TO SPLIT THINGS UP: For some couples this becomes a reason to stay together – the idea of dividing everything becomes so overwhelming that its easier to stay together. Think of what would work for you and negotiate with your soon-to-be-ex. Be prepared to compromise.
6. IF THERE IS A NEGATIVE CONVERSATION: If any conversation becomes abusive or filled with blame, leave the situation rather than engage in a destructive argument. Often several conversations are required and things are rarely settled in one discussion. The separation is work in progress.
7. SET NEW BOUNDARIES: Respect your partner’s need to separate at a different speed from you. They may suddenly withdraw all need for contact, or they may want sex to continue or have clingy, comforting sex which only confuses things for both of you. Moving into the spare room but living in the same space may be difficult to navigate and it may be best to find an alternative place to live as soon as possible.
8. REFRAIN FROM ANY PREMATURE ANNOUNCEMENTS: Particularly on social media, until your soon-to-be-ex is ready for a joint statement.
9. TAKE TIME TO FEEL AND ACKNOWLEDGE ALL THE FEELINGS THAT ARE COMING UP FOR YOU: Preferably away from your partner. If necessary, start to see a professional to express all your thoughts a fears about the separation. Its not helpful, at this stage, to share your deeper feelings with your soon-to-be-ex.
10. AVOID ANY TEMPTATION TO APPORTION BLAME: No-one is right or wrong, there is only sadness and loss. Be respectful of your soon-to-be-ex in public and with family and friends.
It is often easier to say that your partner failed you, or caused the separation in some way and far harder to look at ourselves and acknowledge some behaviour or expectation in us that led to the situation. Much self-learning can come from old relationships, and work done on ourselves to ensure that future relationships don’t follow the same path. We often repeat relationship patterns unless we take time to examine what happened and why. So getting professional help to listen and guide can be hugely helpful.
Remember too that you will both be experiencing a sense of loss and grief, so be gentle with yourself as well as your partner. Practice self-care and take time to heal. Just as falling in love is a powerful sense of connection, falling out of love heralds a strong sense of loss which needs to be honoured, not ignored. If you can handle the separation well, you will both emerge feeling that the relationship was good as far as it went, and with happy memories. You can make a healthy space for your next relationship rather than taking forward any toxic baggage, both for you and your partner.