how to decide if you should break up
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Should we break up?

After Christmas and New Year, many people think about breaking up with their partner. Holidays are in some ways unnatural, because we are spending lots more time together than usual – even more than in previous lockdowns. It’s often in a confined space with the heating on too high. We – or family members – can have unrealistic expectations about wanting the perfect Christmas which are inevitably dashed. We don’t have any goals except relaxing, eating and drinking, or trying to tolerate family Zooms, which can feel a bit meaningless. And there we can spend all our time focusing on others’ needs and not our own.

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It’s important, therefore, to recognise that your perception of your relationship may have been distorted. There hasn’t been a balance of the good and the bad, and you may not be thinking objectively. So how can you assess the situation clearly, to avoid making a big mistake? One way is to plan to keep records over the next couple of months to get a better overview. Here are some ideas for what to record.

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  1. What are your emotions towards your partner each day? What do you feel – respect, gratitude, fondness, love, disgust, scorn, anger, frustration, irritability, repulsion, fear? Or are you completely numb? What about more general emotions towards life – contentment, excitement, depression, sadness, loneliness, tearfulness, anti-sociableness, fear about the future? Are there contributing factors such as work, your living environment, or caring responsibilities?
  2. What are your goals and values and do you share these with your partner? This is a big area that you might need to explore during coaching.
  1. Are you being the best version of yourself each day, and if not, what is stopping you – is it your partner, or other issues? Are you able to make a positive contribution to society and treat your family and friends well, or is the relationship so dysfunctional that you are having a negative effect on others? Sometimes we are so worried about hurting our partner by breaking up we don’t consider the effects a bad relationship is having on everyone else.

  2. Record practical issues such as how much time you spend together, whether the chores are shared, what time you go to bed, whether you go to bed at the same time.

  3. What is the quality of your communication? Include interesting topics of conversation and arguments. Were the arguments about trivial things, or do they reveal insurmountable differences in values? Are you able to talk about your feelings and be honest? Can you debate without getting angry or irritated with each other? Can you respect each other’s point of view, even if you disagree? Do you really listen to what each other is saying? Do you ever change your mind and concede they are right? (Read here for practical suggestions for communicating in a more positive way. You might also want to sign up to my mailing list to hear about my relationship skills workshops.)
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  1. How do you treat each other? Gottman, in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, backed up by many years of research on married couples over time, finds that there are four warning signs that predict marriages are likely to break down. Ask yourself if you could improve in any of these. Otherwise, getting out of the relationship might not be the solution – you will be the same next time. Don’t worry about the other person yet, just focus on what you can do to improve things first: 

(a) Do you treat your partner with contempt, rolling your eyes or laughing at their contributions to discussions?

(b) Do you criticise them for who they are rather than their behaviour?

(c) Do you become defensive when they criticise you, rather than being humble enough to want to improve?

(d) Do you stonewall, walking away from arguments or sulking, rather than addressing the issues?

Of course, when a relationship is breaking down, these things are more likely to happen. But when it’s a case of you being unsure about whether the relationship is right for you, you need to make sure it’s not just you that’s wrong for relationships!

Once you’ve fully dissected your own argument style, you can think about your partner’s argument style. If you think either of you are displaying any of the four behaviours above, you could try counselling (e.g. with Relate). Sometimes relationship coaching is better if you don’t want to go into too much depth about your relationship but just need some training on how to talk to each other better. 

  1. Record any physical symptoms you are having, such as stress, anxiety or depression related ones. These can include stomach pain or upset, headaches, nausea, chest pains or palpitations (visit a doctor soon for these to rule out more serious causes), sleeplessness, lack of concentration, tension, fast breathing. By keeping a record, you can see if some weeks are worse than others and whether that is more due to hormones, workload or caring responsibilities rather than your partner. If you think you may be suffering from stress, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, etc, get information and help here and visit your doctor, who can refer you for different types of therapy on the NHS, depending on the severity of your symptoms. You can explore through counselling what might be causing your symptoms, whether it’s your relationship or other issues, and by trying to reduce your symptoms you might find your relationship improves. Relate offer telephone counselling as well as face-to-face counselling. You can also have a short session of online chat, which can be a good way to get started. Mindfulness is also a good way to get in touch with how your body is trying to communicate with you. 

  2. Record how often you have any kind of sexual intimacy and whether you felt closer to your partner during and after. Don’t just count full sex here: include kissing and cuddling too.
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  1. Do you feel safe with your partner? If you are experiencing any form of abuse, whether emotional or physical, or feel afraid for yourself or your children, you must get help. The same applies if you are having suicidal or violent thoughts. You may need medication or other forms of therapy.

  2. If you are a member of a minority group, such as the LGBT+ community, ethnic minorities or displaced persons, you may be underestimating the effect of isolation, social disapproval, and lack of support on your relationship and mental health. Seek specialist help from people who understand.

  3. Give an overall score each day for the general quality of your relationship, based on all of the above.

Keep records for a couple of months at least. It’s possible that hormonal changes might affect some women’s perception of their relationships, and so might being ill (for all genders), so be aware of fluctuations, and don’t make big decisions on the spur of the moment.

If your records seem to be pointing towards the need to break up, you then need to think about managing the break-up and about practical considerations, including financial and legal. To find out more about these, you could visit the Divorce Club website, where there is a wealth of information, advice, personal stories and videos about how its members coped with the divorce process. Most of the advice and principles apply to couples that are not married too.

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You will also experience a myriad of emotions and agonising thought processes while trying to make the decision. You may be afraid of being alone, concerned about the impact on other family members, reluctant to hurt your partner, sad that the relationship is ending. There are different ways to end a relationship, some better than others. A good book to read to help with this is Breaking up without breaking down, published by Relate.

Breaking up is hard. So is staying together and working at your relationship. There are no easy answers. But you are not alone.

Thinking through your options: join an online event Thursday 13th January 8 pm to find out more

You are warmly invited to join our January online event on the pros and cons of breaking up. (You can join anonymously.) Or get in touch to arrange a one-to-one consultation: the relief of talking out loud in a confidential, safe space will help a lot.

Getting help with your relationship

Get help, from Relate or other counsellors who specialise in relationships, or for practical strategies and tips you can get relationship coaching.

Talk to others who’ve been through break-ups

Meet people who’ve been through or are going through divorce or break-ups at our Divorce Club events, such as our in-person event in January. Rachel has been through divorce and you can hear her talking about her experiences here (and there are many other videos on this website of individuals telling their stories).

Whichever course of action you decide on, remember no relationship is perfect, present or future. Relationship skills should be worked on by all of us before we get to the crisis stage. Regular “health checks” with a coach or counsellor should be the norm for all relationships. We can all aim for better relating in 2022!

 

 

Rachel New
Rachel New is a Dating Coach and regular blogger on dating. She is particularly interested in the social psychology of dating and in promoting ethical dating: treating each other well, challenging norms, keeping an open mind.

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