It can be hard to know, but these suggestions may help preserve your well-being and happiness.
This article is not intended for married couples, or for couples who have children. These tips are for couples who are dating—maybe even engaged. It’s also for relationships where there’s no violence, addiction, or other complex problems, but in which, for one reason or another, one or both people involved is considering a breakup.
If you’ve ever tried to separate from someone, you know how hard it is to make that decision. Here are some steps you can take to decide which path to follow: persevere or move on.
STEP 1: KNOW WHAT DRIVES YOUR HEART
“We didn’t get along,” “We were too different,” or “We have completely opposite characters.” These may be good arguments, but in my opinion, they’re insufficient. I know a lot of couples who don’t get along and who come to therapy. There are a lot of marriages in which the husband and wife have different characters and are passionate about completely different subjects, and they consider it their great wealth. So, in this step, it’s not about arguments.
It’s about what your heart tells you. It’s about that inner voice that can sometimes be so difficult to hear in the chaos of everyday life, disputes and misunderstandings. It may be saying something like, “I’m just not happy with this person,” “I don’t want to marry someone who doesn’t like children,” “I’m not ready for a serious relationship yet,” “I don’t want to involve anyone in my personal problems right now.”
Next, let’s discover why it’s so important to listen to the voice of your heart.
STEP 2: TAKE A CHANCE AND TALK
I don’t know why some people think that the decision to separate should be one-sided. Yes, there are situations where—for some reason—you have to make that decision quickly, inform the other person of it, and leave almost without saying a word. However, there are many more situations in which you can share your thoughts with the other person. That’s why you need to recognize the voice of your heart: so that you know your fears and doubts and can discuss them.
You should know exactly what you want to say and invite the other person to join you in making this decision. Watch out! You shouldn’t try to scare them, blackmail them, or tell them your fears with the intention of forcing them to change. Rather, if necessary, you should sincerely invite them to help make a change in the relationship, knowing they may choose not to.
STEP 3: ACCEPT UNCERTAINTY
From the very beginning you should get rid of the belief that you’ll make a decision that convinces you 100%. Believe me, no one is usually 100% sure, and if they are, it’s most likely only under the influence of the emotions of the moment. When they calm down, doubts usually arise.
It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to eliminate all doubts, but that shouldn’t stop you from taking action. You can try out various options. For example, you can ask for a break in your dating and see how you function without each other. You can give the relationship more time and see how you feel about it. Doubts can be your ally, keeping you from making a rash decision. Try to look at it that way.
STEP 4: CONSULT AN EXPERT
I recommend working with family therapists, because the main focus of their activity is observing relationships. The expert should help you understand why you have doubts about whether to stay with someone or leave them, and why you have those specific fears or concerns and not others. Perhaps they will help you notice some repetitive patterns in your relationships—or are the arguments just excuses? What’s behind your fears? If you have doubts, why don’t you just split up? In meetings with a specialist, you can see your situation from all angles, and the questions he or she may ask you can help you discover something new.
STEP 5: WHAT DO YOU UNDERSTAND BY LOVE?
This is a very important question. You may already have told the person you’re dating that you love him or her. If you’re wondering now whether it’s worth continuing the relationship, you need to ask yourself what love really means to you. What did it mean when you told them you loved them, and what does it mean to you now?
Here again, it’s worth listening to the voice of your heart. For example, if the voice says, “I want to leave him because I won’t be happy with him,” what’s the connection between happiness and love? Does love necessarily make you feel happy? It’s an honest question. Everyone has their own definition of love, and it’s very important that you know yours, and realize if it has changed. What are the limits of love? To what extent does it include sacrifice? What is the role of feelings in love? People often leave each other because they no longer feel the “chemistry.” Is it necessary to stay together? These are just some of the questions that should be asked at this step.
Once you have completed these five steps, it’s a good idea to look at yourself from a bird’s-eye view: who was I before, who am I during the relationship, and who will I be after it ends? What was my life like without this person, what is it like with them, and what would it be like without them? What will happen if I don’t make any decisions yet? Don’t give in to pressure: it’s never a good counselor.