If your partner’s the problem, that’s one thing. If it’s you? You can change.
It’s a pretty common consensus that love takes work. Yet, 80 percent of Americans under 30 believe in a soulmate, the idea that there is one perfect person out there just waiting to be found. Even the expression “falling in love” makes it sound like love is out of our hands—that it just happens to us. Achieving long-lasting love isn’t usually easy, even when we meet the right person. However, it’s also not an endlessly laborious undertaking that takes more in struggle than it offers in pleasure. So how do we know when to give up on a relationship, and when to fight for it?
First, we should accept the reality that while relationships have the potential to be fairly sweet and simple, they are often terribly complicated. When any two people with separate minds, pasts, and sets of baggage come together, the future will not likely be one smooth sail into the sunset. Falling in love can be the most joyful experience one’s life, yet we tend to underestimate the level of fear, anxiety, sadness and even anger it can stir up. (See “7 Reasons Most People are Afraid of Love.”)
In a backward twist, these fears tend to grow even stronger the closer we get to someone else. Without knowing it, we all have defenses in us, based on hurtful past experiences, that can now operate to push love away. So, when it comes to deciding whether to call it quits on a relationship we once valued, the first things we have to ask ourselves are: How much are my own defenses at work? and, What am I bringing to the table that could be sabotaging closeness?
When approaching the actions you should take before choosing to break up, it’s important to adopt the attitude that the only person you can truly change is yourself. You control 100 percent of your half of the dynamic. You’re not a victim in a relationship; ultimately, you can choose to move on. Playing the blame game will leave you feeling powerless and going in circles. Even if you eventually decide that the relationship is not worth keeping, as long as you’re in it, you can make a practice of being the best person you can be. You can grow your ability to love, to be open, and to be vulnerable – skills that will greatly benefit you in life and future relationships.
With that in mind, here are five things to try before saying goodbye to a relationship:
1. Reflect on what drew you together.
We don’t always choose partners for the right reasons. Sometimes, we pick people who challenge us, who push us to grow and expand our worlds. Other times, we choose people whose defenses and negative traits fit with ours. If we tend to be passive or indecisive, we may choose someone who’s pushy and domineering. But the very qualities that first draw us in can become the reasons we wind up bailing out.
That sparkly attraction we feel at the beginning isn’t always a good sign. It could be a draw that’s based on our history—a negative dynamic from our past that we subconsciously seek to perpetuate. If we felt invisible in our families, for instance, we may seek a familiar scenario with a partner who doesn’t show a lot of initial interest, who doesn’t make us a priority or show his or her affections. If we had a parent who wanted to “perfect” us, we may find partners who “help” us, but later come to resent them for always seeing us as a problem that needs to be fixed or perfected.
While our partner selection can sometimes be off, it isn’t always to blame for a relationship’s downfall. If the attraction and excitement we felt at the beginning starts to fade, it doesn’t necessarily mean we chose the wrong person. That’s why it’s so important to consider our early feelings in the relationship. If we were truly in love with someone at one point, it is possible to regain those feelings. We should think about what drew us to our partner, and the months or years of shared history in which we enjoyed activities, affection, and intimacy. We can then look for the real reasons things took a turn for the worse and make a change that brings us back to those initial feelings and has a lasting impact.relationships,relationships,relationships