You are unhappy in your relationship, yet taking the step to separate seems insurmountable.
Or the relationship is not so bad in itself, it simply has no future and you stay anyway.
Or you are afraid of regretting your choice, afraid of the consequences it may have on others, especially your partner or children.
The aim of this article is to help you better understand the underlying fears of this decision and the first questions you can ask yourself to help you make your decision.
Why it’s hard to make the decision to break up
The most important thing to know is that your reptilian brain, by default, prefers the status quo to change. This means that it will always try to prevent you from breaking up because it can’t predict what happens after the separation.
This means that if you want to break up, you will have to accept to break up despite the fear.
There are several other legitimate reasons why it is difficult to break up:
- You hope that the situation will change. To help you clarify this, ask yourself the following questions:
- For the situation to change, what do you have to change and what does the other have to change?
- Have you changed your part?
- In what you think the other person has to change, is it a personality trait or a behaviour towards you?
- If it is a behaviour, have you already asked for this change? And if so, has he/she realised the importance of changing it, is he/she implementing the change? If he/she has implemented the change, can he/she sustain the change?
- You are afraid of regretting your choice. A crisis in a relationship can last a long time (sometimes even a year) and it is worthwhile to mature your decision before acting. To help you make your decision, ask yourself the following questions:
- Why do you want to leave?
- Is it for personal reasons (you’re not in love anymore, you’re looking for another kind of relationship) or is it because the relationship isn’t working?
- If it is because the relationship is not working, what are you doing to change the situation? Does your partner also see this as a problem and show willingness to change the situation?
- Are you willing to make a couple’s therapy before you split up?
- If the partner does not want to work on himself, are you ready to start an individual therapy?
- What is the ‘price’ of staying (e.g. for your well-being, for family members) versus the ‘price’ of leaving?
- How much time are you willing to give to see if change is possible?
- You are afraid of being alone afterwards. As I said in the introduction, this is a default fear of the reptilian brain. To help you minimise this fear, you can remind yourself of the other times you made the decision to leave someone and ended up meeting someone good afterwards.
- You focus on the little things that work, instead of the core problem that’s wrong. Basically, it’s like enjoying the crumbs but not the whole cake. To avoid this behaviour, I suggest the hara-kiri method, which consists of reminding yourself why you want to separate from this person every time you start to appreciate the little things he or she does.
- You are emotionally dependent. This love pattern can be quite blocking and a deep work on your past is necessary to understand where this emotional dependence comes from, to change this pattern and to reinforce your self-confidence and your identity in order to be able to separate yourself from the other person.
- You are afraid of the consequences of this choice for others (your partner, your children, in-laws….). To get a complete picture of the situation, you can ask yourself about the negative consequences for others of staying, because there are also negative consequences for others, which are often not seen. For example, which is worse for a child: having two parents who divorce or two parents who stay together but don’t love each other or constantly argue? Having coached a lot of people, children of divorced parents are no worse off than others. You can also assess the cost of sacrificing yourself at the expense of others’ happiness and evaluate whether you feel able to assume the consequences this may have in your relationship with others, for example by making them indirectly pay the price of this sacrifice through your expectations towards them or in your emotional reactions (see my article on relationship debt).
Breaking up is a process that takes time
Breaking up is a process that takes time and deep thought to minimise your regrets. And it’s okay to give yourself that time.
It is also important to understand what is behind the relationship crisis you are experiencing, because often it is the wounds from each partner’s past that come to the surface at this time and make it difficult for the partners to interact.
Distinguishing between the part that comes from the past, the part that comes from the relationship, and the part that comes from you, can help you to better understand whether it is worthwhile to stay or to leave.
Individual coaching is often the most appropriate way to mature this kind of decision, especially if you have been in a relationship with the person for many years.