Sex Love / Breakups

5 Questions to Help You Decide If It’s Time to Break Up With Your Partner

5 Questions to Help You Decide If It’s Time to Break Up With Your Partner

Should I stay or should I go? Many of us have wrestled with this question at some point in our romantic lives. Whether you’re struggling with toxic relationship dynamics, physical or emotional distance, infidelity, clashing values, or you’re simply outgrowing each other, if you’re contemplating breaking up with someone, you know something isn’t working.In my work as a psychotherapist for individuals and couples, ambivalence about ending a relationship comes up frequently in therapy sessions. Clients often tell me: “Maybe if I give it a few more months, things will change.” “Maybe we just need some space.” “Maybe couples therapy will help.” “Maybe I should change my needs and expectations.” “Maybe I need to give an ultimatum.”Feeling conflicted about ending a relationship makes sense. After all, you’ve invested a significant amount of your time and energy, you may still care deeply for your partner, and the thought of being single and trying to meet someone new can be daunting. According to one 2017 study published in the Journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science, 49% of participants reported high motivation for both wanting to stay and wanting to leave their romantic relationships, highlighting the prevalence of the stay-or-go dilemma.So, how do you know when it’s finally time to walk away? I spoke with other relationship experts, examined common couples therapy techniques, and tapped my own knowledge as a psychotherapist to offer some insights. If you’re thinking about leaving a romantic relationship, these are some critical questions to ask yourself.Is the relationship abusive—physically or emotionally?Relationships that involve any amount of physical or psychological mistreatment require an immediate assessment of whether it’s time to leave, for the safety of one or both partners. On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. However, many victims have difficulty grasping that their life is in danger due to the cycle of violence, a concept coined by Lenore Walker, PhD, a psychologist and founder of the Domestic Violence Institute. This cycle includes a “tension-building” phase, then a “violent-episode phase,” and finally a “remorseful phase”—during which the abusive partner is apologetic and, yes, remorseful, which can make the abused partner think the violence won’t happen again. Another reason abuse can be difficult to identify: It doesn’t always leave visible marks. “If you’re in an abusive relationship, the behaviors you experience most frequently are emotionally and psychologically harmful,” Nadia Islam, PhD, LCSW, director of the Doctorate of Social Work program at the University of Southern California, tells SELF. If you’re not sure if your relationship is emotionally abusive, Dr. Islam, who specializes in working with survivors of intimate partner violence, suggests “considering if your partner insults or calls you names, criticizes you in a way that makes you question your worth, blames you to inspire guilt, plays mind games, or humiliates you. They might also use intimidation, coercion and threats, or even your children to influence what you do, as well as where you go and with whom.”A healthy relationship, on the other hand, is rooted in mutual respect: “Negotiation and fairness, economic partnership, shared responsibility (including parenting), honesty, trust, and emotional support provide a foundation for equality and nonviolence,” Dr. Islam explains. Leaving relationships that involve intimate partner violence and/or emotional abuse can be particularly complicated and often dangerous, which is why Dr. Islam recommends reaching out for help before you have the conversation with your partner. Resources like the free National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE) offer confidential support and can provide referrals to local resources, including domestic violence shelters and therapists trained in providing mental and emotional support for victims.Is my mental health making it hard to see the situation clearly?It can be particularly tough to figure out if a relationship is right or wrong for you when you’re struggling with your mental well-being. If you’re staying because you don’t think anyone else could love you, for example, that hopelessness “can be depression talking,” says Dr. Islam. This kind of distorted and catastrophic thinking coupled with low self-esteem can make staying seem like the only option. And if you’re sticking it out because you can’t stop worrying about the future—the thought of being alone forever or of not having a date for your next wedding, say—you might be struggling with anxiety. In fact, excessive worry (occurring more days than not) is a hallmark symptom of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).Conversely, being depressed or anxious could also cloud your view of a relationship that is worth saving. If you’re regularly feeling hopeless or fearful about the future, consider asking your primary care doctor to screen you for depression or for GAD, and think about exploring these feelings with a licensed therapist, if you’re able to. A therapist can teach you coping strategies and help you see more clearly whether you’re staying with your partner for the wrong reasons—and, if so, recognize that you’re worthy of finding a more fulfilling relationship.Am I staying out of love or out of obligation?As Esther Perel, LMFT, couples therapist and bestselling author of Mating in Captivity, put it on her blog: “Love is not an obligation—it’s a gift.” If you’re staying with your partner because you feel obligated—maybe you feel like you owe it to them since they supported you through grad school, or like you have to stay for your kids—you may be putting others’ needs ahead of your own. This can hold you back from mutually fulfilling relationships—and is also a trait of codependency.

How to Make Breaking Up With Someone Slightly Less Awful

How to Make Breaking Up With Someone Slightly Less Awful

Before starting the conversation, consider exactly why you feel the relationship should end, but be careful not to put all of the blame on your partner. “If you understand your reasoning for not wanting to be in a relationship or in that particular relationship, be really clear on it because that’s what eliminates some of the pain,” Dennis says. She recommends focusing on yourself when explaining why. So instead of saying, “You never have enough time for me,” put the focus on your feelings and say, “I’ve realized this relationship isn’t fulfilling all of my needs.” While you can’t avoid all hurt feelings, putting the focus on what you’re missing from the relationship keeps the blame game to a minimum. “It just lands a little differently,” Dennis says. “You’re saying the same thing, but from the ‘I’ perspective it doesn’t feel like an attack.”It’s important to give your partner the space they need to talk through their feelings, too. Understand that each of you is coming to the conversation with different perspectives and different needs. Validation is important in a breakup conversation, though it’s key to remember that validation does not equal agreement, Dr. Fleming says. For instance, you can say “I hear you” or “I understand why you’re hurting,” without implying that you necessarily agree with their viewpoints. “The important piece about this is reflective listening,” Dr. Fleming says. You’re validating your partner’s feelings (within reason), empathizing, and giving them the space to be heard. As much as you want to empathize and be respectful about your partner’s perspective, Dennis cautions against focusing too much on putting yourself in their shoes. “Breakups can be unpredictable and the initiator is taking a big step towards choosing self,” she says. Your intention in ending the relationship should be avoiding intentional harm, not trying too hard to understand your partner’s perspective.Beyond creating space for a respectful conversation, Tanner recommends avoiding giving false hope that you can get back together in the future. “If you’re sure about your decision to break up with this person, stay strong in that decision and don’t communicate about the possibility of the relationship reopening,” says Tanner.  Making the post-breakup period less awful Once the conversation is over, try to respect the level of privacy your partner wants, within reason. If they’d like to wait a few days or weeks before telling friends and family that your relationship is over, try to honor that request. Similarly, it’s a good idea to follow their lead when it comes to post-breakup contact. If they want a clear and immediate break on all fronts, try to respect that. On the other hand, if they want to continue to communicate in a way that you don’t feel comfortable with, be clear about that. Of course, any relationship that has lasted more than a few weeks will have logistics to deal with in a breakup. Do you keep following each other on social media? Do you go to mutual friends’ parties and birthdays? If you live together, who moves out and who keeps what? If you have pets, do you share custody now, or does one person take the pets? Unfortunately, there’s no easy guide for how to end a relationship. These questions either have to be part of the first breakup conversation, or you’ll have to schedule a second conversation to figure out what happens now. Dennis recommends thinking through your own logistics plan before the breakup conversation even happens. “You don’t want your next move to be dependent on your ex,” she says. That might include finding a place to stay if you live together and making a list of everything you brought to your shared living space or have left at your partner’s place.

20 Useful Tips for Actually Getting Over a Breakup

20 Useful Tips for Actually Getting Over a Breakup

Maintaining the option for communication or even saving old texts or phone calls, according to Zaman, “keeps hope that [you’ll] possibly get back together. It could also hinder the ability to move on with your life, without this person in it.”That said, one day after you’ve processed the relationship and can even look back on it fondly, you may wish you still had certain mementos from your time together. Which brings us to our next tip. 11. If you do save mementos, do it smartly. If you don’t want to throw out all the memories associated with your ex, Decker suggests putting them in a box and keeping it out of our eyesight until emotions have died down and you can make a less impulsive decision about what to do with your keepsakes.If you don’t trust that you won’t still dig out your ex’s old sweater that you always slept in—even after hiding it—consider asking a trusted friend to either hide or hold on to these mementos for you. 12. Try dating yourself. (Yes, seriously.)In case you’re tempted to roll your eyes at this one, know that it really can be helpful. “Whenever I am dealing with a break-up, I always act as if I am in a relationship with myself,” says Jeanine Duval, the editor of an online Tarot and astrology resource in Montreal. She takes herself on dates, cooks herself exciting meals, the whole nine. “Treat yourself like you are the best partner in the world! Because newsflash: you are your own best partner,” she says.13. Don’t keep tabs on your ex. You don’t need to know about what they are up to, so don’t fall into the trap of lurking on their social media or having mutual friends keep you updated. Knowing what they’re up to will not help you move on. “If you find yourself obsessively checking their [social media], it would benefit you to either unfriend, block, or hide them, as is an option on some apps,” Decker explains. Again, this is a time you may need to enlist the help of a friend who can take these steps for you if it’s too much to do them on your own.14. And don’t hook up with them! This might seem obvious, but it’s nearly impossible to sever the tie between you and your ex if you’re still physically connecting with them. 15. Take a break from dating if you’re not ready. Being single again might seem scary, but you don’t have to force anything. Jumping into something too soon, Decker says, can backfire when you have not yet fully processed your breakup. “This can lead to additional stress and regret that will further complicate the healing process,” she explains.16. And periodically check in with yourself to see if you are ready.How do you know when it’s time to date again? “When you consistently feel more positive emotions than negative ones, such as you often find yourself laughing and feeling more like yourself,” Decker says. Another good sign can be if you consistently think of your relationship without a strong emotional response, such as anger or sadness. But that won’t necessarily be true for everyone—you may be able to still find a special connection or just have a great time dating even when processing anger or sadness about your ex. Ultimately, though, dating will feel best if you’re looking to genuinely enhance your life, not just fill a void of loneliness.17. Don’t engage in revenge posting. You know the posts—where you’re curating your social media with the intention of posting things your ex will see (or hear about through mutual friends) in order to elicit jealousy, show them how great you’re doing, or just generally behaving with them in mind. This causes you to still prioritize them and allows them to take up significant real estate in your mind. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these kinds of posts, but if you’ll be disappointed if your ex doesn’t watch your story or text you after a particularly great post on your feed, that’s a sign to proceed with caution.  18. Consider volunteering. When Nelli Kim, a 43-year-old founder of a purpose-driven shoe company in New York City, went through a divorce, she found giving back both distracting and rewarding. “I volunteered for a mission trip to serve women and children who had been rescued from sex trafficking in Mumbai,” she says. Volunteering really can be a double whammy of goodness. In addition to, you know, ideally helping to make the world a better place in some way, research shows that volunteering can help boost your own emotional well-being2.19. Focus on creating new memories.After a breakup, it can be hard to go to your local coffee shop, listen to your favorite artist, or take your dog for a walk without your former partner if those are the things you used to do to bond. But use this opportunity to create new memories of your own that aren’t tied to your ex. “Try going to a restaurant you and your ex frequented with friends instead and choosing to have a great time, or picking a new restaurant and creating a new memory,” says Sam Bolin, a licensed clinical social worker in Linthicum, Maryland. 20. Don’t wait for “closure” before letting yourself move on.Having a mentality of “I’ll be over it when X, Y, or Z happens” is a sure-fire way to continue pushing off your healing. You may never get the apology or explanation you’re seeking—so your healing cannot be dependent on that. It is inevitable that there will be things that will remind you of your ex periodically as the months pass by. This is perfectly normal, says Zaman, and indicative of why there is no “perfect” form of closure, even after leaving a good relationship. Sources:American Psychological Association: Breakups aren’t all bad: Coping strategies to promote positive outcomesJournal of Happiness Studies: Does Volunteering Make Us Happier, or Are Happier People More Likely to Volunteer? Addressing the Problem of Reverse Causality When Estimating the Wellbeing Impacts of VolunteeringRelated:

We Need to Normalize That ‘Situationship’ Breakups Hurt, Too

We Need to Normalize That ‘Situationship’ Breakups Hurt, Too

It’s that magical time of year when leaves change, holidays approach, and folks scramble to find someone with whom they can weather the colder months. Or, if you were entertaining someone during the summer, you might decide that it’s time to end it before the holidays kick off because you just don’t want to spend all winter with them. These are the kinds of scenarios we’re talking about when we use terms like cuffing season, a phrase that describes the casual relationships that get us through the winter. And even though the coronavirus pandemic has changed how we date, people are still looking for these types of bonds. (Hopefully as safely as possible.)

But since cuffing season typically isn’t about searching for a lifetime commitment, it often involves a specific kind of dating interaction. Enter: The situationship. For the uninitiated, situationships are casual romantic partnerships where everyone involved has kind of agreed (either verbally or through their actions) that this relationship is contingent on the situation. While traditional relationship terms like significant other or spouse often describe more permanent commitments, a situationship is primarily determined by immediate circumstances. For instance, a summer fling is contingent on summertime starting and ending. And, most often, a situationship continuing hinges on whether each person is interested enough to keep making an effort. You can already see how this gets tricky, right?
It’s not all bad, though. Often, when casually dating, it’s tempting to think many steps ahead and impose expectations on someone you’re just getting to know. Situationships, however, allow you to (hopefully) explore possibilities without overemphasizing a particular destination. Of course, the caveat is that it works best if you talk to your situationship partner or partners to find out if your overall needs and goals align. The talking—the part where we’re transparent about our overall hopes—is where situationships can turn left quickly.

“There’s no right or wrong because relationships—even marriage—are a kind of social construct,” Vernessa Roberts, Psy.D., tells SELF. “So [situationships] can be fine if both partners are okay with it. But what’s happening, at least what I’ve seen, is one person is wanting more, and the other person isn’t. And so that’s where the problem comes about.” That’s also where a situationship sometimes ends.

Dealing with a situationship breakup can be so fraught, so if you’re facing that now and you’re not sure how to process, we have a few tips below that could be helpful:
1. First of all, you’re allowed to call it a breakup (or a shake-up).
There’s this pervasive cultural message that labels and titles legitimize relationships, so when situationships end, it’s tempting to try to reassure yourself by saying things like, “We weren’t together anyway.” But labels don’t make relationships real. The people in them do. Your particular situationship could still have involved “a lot of time, energy, and emotion,” Roberts points out. So call it a breakup if it feels like one and process accordingly. Or, if that word feels too intense, call it a shake-up—because it is a disruptive experience, after all. Circumstances that you’ve grown accustomed to are changing, and you’re allowed to have thoughts and feelings about it. On that note…
2. Remember that you’re entitled to every emotion that you’re feeling.
No matter what you decide to call this loss, endings bring up all sorts of feelings, including grief, shame, guilt, disappointment, or even some relief. If you’re reading this, I’m guessing that you’ve had some feelings arise about your situationship breakup. Acknowledge the emotions, Roberts says. She suggests reminding yourself, “It’s okay for me to feel this grief right now, and I’m going to work through it just like I would any other relationship.” There is no one singular way to feel.
3. Lean on support from friends and family (and observe how you talk to them about it).
This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s easier said than done. If you’re not allowing yourself to feel the emotions you’re having, it’s harder to believe you deserve comfort and support. To be clear: You absolutely do. Not only should you lean on your friends and family, but observe how you’re talking about what happened. If you find yourself saying things like, “It doesn’t matter” or, “We weren’t even together,” then it might be time to get more honest about what you’re feeling. And it’s okay to ask your friends and family members to just listen (i.e., keep their honest opinions to themselves).
4. If you can’t talk about your feelings, write them out.
Maybe being honest with your loved ones isn’t an option because there is “I told you so” energy in the air. That’s fine, but you still need to find ways to process what happened and journaling can help you do that. As SELF previously reported, writing down your negative thoughts can help you investigate your feelings a bit more. For instance, if you’re catastrophizing (“I’m a terrible person and I’ll never find love”), writing down those thoughts and then challenging whether or not it’s true can help you feel a little better. A great place to start: If your predominant thought is that you don’t have a right to feel anything because this wasn’t “real,” investigate what “real” means (and write down moments when, yes, you had a real interaction with this person, validating the fact that you’re allowed to also have real feelings about the situationship being over).
5. Know that these feelings might last a while.
It’s tempting to push emotions aside quickly, but it is a loss and you will have to let these feelings work themselves out. One of the most impactful things you can do is give yourself space to heal, Roberts explains, adding that remembering things you liked to do before the breakup can all be helpful. Another effective way to work through setbacks—romantic or otherwise—involves remembering other times you’ve survived difficult experiences. You might even make a list of other breakups, endings, and transitions you weathered to remind yourself that this will pass. Another tip? “Date yourself instead of just finding another [situation] as soon as you can,” Roberts suggests.
6. When it feels right, reflect on the lessons.
In time, when you don’t feel a pit in your stomach or lump in your throat anymore, it might be helpful to think about what you got from the relationship and what you’d want in your next one. “Maybe you learn from that relationship that you weren’t connected to your sense of self or you feel like it got lost along the way,” Roberts says. “Sometimes, the healing and grieving process is about being able to find ourselves again and asking: What do we want ourselves to look like after this healing process? Who do I want to be after this? Maybe it’s the exact same person.”

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