One of the hardest things to do is to leave a relationship. A more difficult undertaking is staying out. Maybe it wasn’t so bad. Maybe I didn’t try hard enough. Maybe she could change after all. Maybe I could put up with more than I thought; after all, I do love him.
When we leave our partner, we’re relieved (at first, that is) because it’s usually been a long time coming, and we’re just glad it’s over and done with. However, after some time passes, our doubts and loneliness creep in, and we start to think differently about the love we left behind. After all, even though there were bad times, there were also good times. And, when we were together, it sometimes was loving, comfortable, and warm.
But now that we’re away from the relationship, it’s easy to paint an unrealistic picture of how it used to be. Anything seems better than the scary, lonely, and helpless feelings that are often experienced after a relationship ends. So back in we go to try again, usually against our better judgment and the advice of our close friends. But take heart in knowing that each time we go back in and find ourselves in the same stuck place, we have experienced more clarity about the relationship than we had before, and we’ve learned why it still doesn’t work. This strengthens our conviction to finally leave once and for all, because we’ve seen the impossibility of the relationship and the necessity for it to end.
It takes a long time to convince the heart and emotions that something really doesn’t work, even though our head is telling us to leave and stay out. Repeated pain seems to get the message to our hearts that, I just can’t do this anymore. It’s when we slip into our fantasy about the relationship that we have our doubts. By dropping the fantasy and becoming more reality-based, the less we doubt our decision, and the stronger we get…so that one day it just happens that we’re done.
There are no rules or time lines for ending a relationship. Sometimes leaving the relationship when we’re not really done, and not allowing ourselves to go back in, makes us hold on to the partnership much longer. You can’t will yourself to be done. It’s a process and it takes as long as it’s going to take. But it is by staying with your truth that the end will naturally come, without force or will.
So if you’ve gotta get back in to get back out, remember the following:
1. You are not stupid or crazy to go back in – just human.
2. Do it with consciousness and choice and to become clear about your decision
3. Don’t be hard on yourself - that just weakens you.
4. There are no time lines about when you should be done
5. Sometimes if you don’t go back in, it can take even longer to really let go.
Please note that the opinions expressed in this article relate only to individuals in non-abusive relationships, and DO NOT apply to individuals in abusive relationships. I strongly advise that any individual, who is currently involved in an abusive relationship, or is contemplating leaving or returning to an abusive relationship, seek professional help immediately. Please check the internet to locate domestic violence services available to you in your community.
Also known as the "last ditch effort therapist," Sharon M. Rivkin, therapist and conflict resolution/affairs expert, is the author of Breaking the Argument Cycle: How to Stop Fighting Without Therapy and developer of the First Argument Technique, a 3-step system that helps couples fix their relationships and understand why they fight. Her work has been featured in O Magazine, O Newsletter, Reader's Digest, Time.com, Prevention.com, and WebMD.com. She's an expert at HitchedMag.com, where she contributes monthly articles on hot relationship topics. She's appeared on TV, Martha Stewart Whole Living Radio, and makes regular radio appearances nationwide. For more information, please visit www.sharonrivkin.com.