In therapy, one of the most frequent questions I am asked is "How do you know when it's really over? When is it time to give up?" That's a good question, one with many different perspectives. In today's society, it seems to be easier to quit and move on with a new love than to try and work it out with the old. And why not? New love is exciting, passionate and all encompassing. In looking at the idea of a new relationship to replace the old, we are continually flooded with media that gives us guarantees and promises of relief from old wounds. Dating sites are abundant, so that a person can even go "shopping" to see if there is anyone out there that better meets their needs, before breaking up with the current partner. Why stay with the old, broken relationship when there are so many other possibilities? Making the commitment to stay in a relationship that has gone south is a difficult one- so when does the fat lady sing? Here are some tips to tell if you should move on or work it out:
- Respect- do you still have some for each other? Answering "no" does not necessarily mean the end of the relationship. Respect, even when lost, can be regained with a change in actions, behavior and perspective.
- Goals and directions- if you have lost these with each other, can they be recaptured? All relationships go through stages, and the goals will change with those transitions.
- Values- moral, ethical and lifestyle. When these are out of alignment, it's difficult to make a relationship work. Common sharing of these values is the one of the predictors of relationship success.
Recently, a study, showed almost 30% of respondents indicated that they were interested in reconciliation, even after the divorce proceedings had begun (Doherty, 2010). Couples that participated in the survey were approximately half way through a divorce/co-parenting class, and indicated interest in reconciliation services, had they been offered to them. What does that say about our ability to make a decision, one of the most important decisions that we may ever make? It shows that in many relationships that we think are broken beyond repair, we still want the relationship to work! When there is motivation, there is still hope.
The single most important thing that I tell my clients is this- do everything you can to repair the relationship. You never want to have to look back and wonder "Could I have done more? If I had just done this, would we still be together?" When you can walk away and honestly say that you have put your all into it, your personal integrity will be intact. And that's what you will proudly be taking with you into the future.