How to Tell When It’s Time to End a Relationship
My first marriage ended dramatically. I kissed my ex-husband goodbye in the morning and as soon as his car was out of sight, I started packing. I took my clothes out of the closet and laid them, still on hangers, in the back of my car. I threw drawers full of underwear, socks, and t-shirts in the floorboards. I worked quickly, fearing that he would return home before I could leave. Finally, I placed my cat Samantha in her carrier and locked the kitchen door behind me, never to return.
I managed to get away undetected. My ex didn’t realize I was gone until he came home from work, and by then I had already taken out a restraining order against him and was hiding out in a women’s shelter where I would stay until our court date a week later.
After my day in court, I filed for divorce and promptly moved out of state. By the time our divorce was final, I had a new life, new friends, a new apartment, and a renewed sense of hope for my future — something I had lost over the six years of our marriage.
In preparation for my grand escape, I spent the last month of our married life slipping our wedding china and my personal items into a storage unit. Piece by piece, household appliances, linens, and pictures diminished by half without him ever noticing. I guess he also never noticed that my love for him had diminished by far more than half by the time I initiated my plan.
The day I locked that door behind me, there was nothing but anger and hatred left in my heart for him. I had stayed far too long at the dance and because I had not been able to cut ties earlier, what was once merely dysfunctional had become a dangerous and tricky situation. Stealth became a necessary component of my exit strategy. My ex-husband was emotionally, mentally, physically, and sexually abusive. He would have never just let me walk away.
During our six-year marriage, I had drawn many lines in the sand, and he had proceeded to cross every single one. Just before our first anniversary, I found out he had been cheating on me. He was riding around town with various women while I worked nights at a grocery store. The news was delivered to me by a co-worker and friend. When I confronted him, he didn’t deny it but instead changed his story little by little so that all he was really guilty of was kissing another woman. He said this as if that should have made me feel better.
After all, he said, I was never around and he was lonely. I was too busy getting a college degree by day (something he resented) and paying half of our household bills by night. Somehow, it was all my fault.
I was so stubborn that I insisted that we go on the weekend trip we had planned to celebrate our anniversary. We spent a miserable weekend not having sex in a hotel with a mirror on the ceiling. I sat in the hot tub alone wishing I was old enough to buy an alcoholic drink.
I stayed until my hatred of him made leaving the kindest thing I could do for either of us.
I should have left when he crossed that first line but I didn’t. I didn’t leave when he cussed me out the first time. I didn’t leave the first time he pushed me into a wall during a fight. I didn’t leave when he spent money calling sex lines and had his mother lie to me about it.
I didn’t leave when he grabbed me by the hair and knocked my head into the floor. I didn’t leave until I hired a private investigator and found out that he had been telling me an elaborate lie, making me believe that people were following me and spying on me through hidden cameras behind the mirrors in our apartment (yes, this was some crazy shit, but I was so brainwashed by that time, I had no idea what was real and what wasn’t).
I couldn’t give up that easy. I was so ashamed of failing at my marriage that I allowed my dignity to be stripped away one crossed line at a time. I kept at it for five years past that first horrible anniversary, until I lost count of all the ways he had betrayed me.
I stayed until my hatred of him made leaving the kindest thing I could do for either of us. And when I left, I didn’t look back. I was done. It was relatively easy to be done with him. We had no children, we had few possessions. I was only twenty-four with many years still ahead of me to find someone better. Someone worthy of my love and devotion.
Not every relationship is as blatantly toxic as my first marriage. There isn’t always a clear line that has been crossed. Sometimes there is just gradual chipping away of love by one thoughtless action after another until one day you wake up and realize that you don’t care. You don’t hate them. You wish them no harm. It’s just that you don’t care if they come home or not.
Then what? How do you leave a completely mediocre relationship when staying makes more practical sense?
I’ve thought about this a lot. I have a tendency to want to make things perfect. I want to be a better person and I want others to want to be better people too. It is hard for me to admit defeat. It is hard for me to accept failure. And because of this, I find it hard to know when enough is enough. Especially when my decisions negatively affect other people.
But with age comes experience and with experience comes wisdom (if you’re lucky). I’ve finally come to realize that you don’t have to make excuses for your decision and you don’t have to let a situation become completely toxic before you give yourself permission to end it.
In my experience, there are a few clear signs that a relationship is not worth your time or effort. Here are the lines in the sand you should heed:
- You don’t share the same core values. When we first start dating someone, we tend to overlook the signs that our potential new love doesn’t share our basic core values. I’m talking about those values that dictate your life decisions. Values you want in a friend or a lover. Examples could include honesty, kindness, generosity, or open-mindedness. Without a strong core, you cannot build a satisfying relationship.
- Lack of emotional maturity. When either or both partners are unable to successfully manage their emotions, the relationship is doomed. Signs of emotional immaturity include poor impulse control, escalation of emotions, bullying, inability to take responsibility for actions, lying, and name-calling. No one wants to be married to a child. It is exhausting.
- Lack of respect for your person. This includes all forms of abuse. Anyone who refuses to accept that you are an individual with your own wants, desires, needs, and autonomy will eventually become abusive if they are not already. Long before my ex-husband ever laid a hand on me or called me a nasty name, he refused to accept my decision to hang out with my friends instead of him. He didn’t believe I had the right to choose. He believed I “should” want what he wanted me to want.
- One of you doesn’t want the relationship. You cannot beg your way into love. You cannot coerce someone into wanting you. You cannot convince another person to keep trying once they have decided they no longer care. Please save yourself years of marriage counseling and wasted tears of frustration by trying to save a one-sided relationship. Conversely, if you are the one who has secretly given up, do everyone a favor and leave already.
- You feel relieved when the other person is not around. This doesn’t need a lot of explanation. I first realized I needed to divorce my ex-husband when I moved away for three months for an internship and was happier than I had been in years. It was as if a dark, damp blanket had suddenly been lifted off my body and I could breathe again. It still took me six months to finally go but I knew what I had to look forward to — being light and full of happiness. If you are suffocating under the weight of someone else’s demons, leave.