When Should You End a Long-Term Relationship?

Relationships, particularly long-term relationships such as marriage, are among the most difficult aspects of our life. Relationships may either propel you to new heights or drag you down.

What if you fall somewhere in the middle?

What if your relationship is a solid 7 on a scale of 1 to 10? Should you stay, publicly committing to that relationship for the rest of your life? Should you leave and go for something better, something that has the potential to become even greater?

This is the terrifying state of ambivalence. You’re just not sure one way or the other. Perhaps what you have is sufficient, and you’d be foolish to forsake it in quest of a new relationship that you may never discover. Or perhaps you’re really impeding your ability to establish a truly meaningful relationship that will serve you well for the rest of your life. It’s a difficult decision.

Fortunately, there is an excellent book that outlines a methodical approach to overcoming relationship ambivalence. Mira Kirshenbaum’s novel is titled Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay. This book transformed my perspective on long-term partnerships when I read it many years ago.

First, the book demonstrates the incorrect way to make this conclusion. The incorrect technique is to employ a balance-scale approach, seeking to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of staying vs. leaving. Of course, everyone does this. Weighing the advantages and negatives appears rational, but it does not offer you with the necessary information to make this conclusion. Every relationship has benefits and cons, but how can you determine if yours is fatal, acceptable, or even wonderful? The negatives advise you to leave, while the positives tell you to stay. Furthermore, you must foresee future pros and drawbacks, so how will you predict the future of your relationship? Who knows whether your problems are transient or permanent?

Kirshenbaum’s idea is to abandon the balance-scale technique in favor of a diagnostic approach. Instead than attempting to weigh your connection, diagnose its genuine state. This will provide you the information you need to make an informed decision and understand why you’re making it. If you’re ambivalent, your relationship is in trouble. So determining the particular nature of the sickness seems like a good place to start.

The author provides a series of 36 yes/no questions to ask yourself in order to do a relationship diagnosis. Each question is thoroughly discussed over several pages of text. In reality, the diagnostic technique is the entire book.

Each inquiry is analogous to filtering your relationship. You move on to the next question if you pass the filter. If you do not pass the filter, it is suggested that you discontinue your relationship. You must go through all 36 filters to acquire the suggestion that you should stay together. If even one filter bothers you, it is best to leave.

This isn’t as harsh as it seems because the majority of these filters will be quite easy for you to pass. My judgment is that just about a third of the 36 questions will necessitate significant consideration. Hopefully, you’ll be able to pass filters like “Does your partner hit you?” and “Is your partner leaving the nation without you?” without too much difficulty. If not, you don’t need a book to tell you that your relationship is deteriorating.

The author’s recommendations are based on her observations of the post-decision experiences of several couples who either stayed together or broke up after experiencing ambivalence about one of the 36 questions. The author then observed how those relationships evolved over time. Years later, did the person who made the stay-or-leave decision believe he or she made the right decision? If the couple stayed together, did their relationship bloom or deteriorate into resentment? And if they split up, did they discover new happiness or do they regret leaving for the rest of their lives?

This thought was immensely valuable to me, similar to being able to turn the page of time to see what might happen. The recommendations are based on the author’s observations and professional judgment, so don’t take her advise at face value. However, I found all of her conclusions to be completely reasonable and without any shocks. I doubt you’ll be surprised to learn that a relationship with a drug addict is doomed to fail. What about a connection with someone you despise? What about a long-distance romance? Or a relationship with a workaholic who earns ten times your salary? Would you like to discover how similar relationships do when the pair stays together versus when they split up?