Many of my clients struggle with knowing when it’s the right time to end a relationship.
Mary asked me:
“I married my first boyfriend 36 years ago and I don’t think I was ever in love or even knew what love meant. I believe now that I ‘escaped’ a codependent relationship with my parents by quitting school and following a seemingly confident young man who made me feel special. He says he wants to grow, but he also has a lot of passive and overt anger towards me now. I feel like I don’t have the strength to stand up for my inner child when I have so many years of putting his feelings ahead of mine. I am so tired and feel his insecurities have depleted me. I read “Healing your Aloneness” and want to use my pain for learning, not avoid it as I have in the past… but when is it ok to just say, “This is not helping either of us” and call it quits?
Of course it’s always “okay” to call it quits if that is what you want. No one can tell you whether or not it’s right for you. But – and this is a big ‘but’ – if you are in a situation like Mary’s, you might want to do your own healing before ending the relationship.
The clue to the fact that Mary isn’t ready to leave this relationship is this: “I feel like I don’t have the strength to stand up for my inner child when I have so many years of putting his feelings ahead of mine. I am so tired and feel his insecurities have depleted me.”
Caretaking her husband’s feelings while abandoning her own is Mary’s contribution to this codependent system. If Mary leaves now, she will take her part of the dysfunctional system with her, and likely create a similar system in her next relationship – unless she just wants to be alone for the rest of her life.
I would suggest to Mary that she utilize her current relationship to practice loving herself rather than caretaking her husband. It’s easy for Mary to believe that it’s her husband’s insecurities that have depleted her, but in fact it’s her own insecurities and self-abandonment that have depleted her. If Mary weren’t insecure, then she wouldn’t have been trying to control her husband by putting his feelings ahead of hers. We will always feel tired and depleted when we give ourselves up and try to have control over getting the other person’s love or approval, or control over avoiding disapproval. Mary is very aware of her husband’s overt and passive anger at her, and she is aware that she has been putting his feelings before hers, but she doesn’t seem to be aware that it’s this self-abandonment that’s causing her depletion.
Mary needs to learn to make herself feel special rather than relying on her husband or others for this.
Unless there is physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse or severe addictions, I suggest that people stay in a relationship until they have shifted their end of the relationship system from controlling to loving themselves. As long as you are trying to control your partner with anger, explanations, defensiveness, compliance, resistance or withdrawal, you have much healing to do. As long as you are avoiding responsibility for your feelings with your addictions to substances or to processes such as anger or compliance, you have much healing to do. Leaving the relationship only delays this healing, because the issues get triggered within the relationship – not when you are alone.
Unless you want to leave and be alone the rest of your life, you gain no learning and growth by ending the relationship without doing your own inner work. However, it might be helpful to take a break from the relationship to begin to break the old patterns and deepen your Inner Bonding practice. Sometime, time alone can do wonders!
If, after practicing Inner Bonding and learning to love yourself rather than continue to abandon yourself, you still don’t want to be with your partner, then it’s likely time to call it quits.