Sometimes all efforts to keep a relationship going fail, and the only possible means of achieving happiness is to split up. When is it necessary to take this step? While no one can really except you and your partner, there are certain indicators that let you know a major change of some kind must be made.
* If your partner has a problem with addiction, abuse or violence, it's important that you seek professional guidance before attempting to confront him or her. Self-help groups, support groups for spouses, and twelve-step programs (Al-Anon, ACA) can help you achieve significant results when they're used in conjunction with couple or family counseling.
* Give it your best shot. Breaking up should be viewed as a last resort, and knowing that you did everything possible to solve the problems of your relationship will help you to avoid being left with feelings of unresolved guilt.
* Don't assume that your spouse knows how you feel. When you discuss the situation, be direct and clear, unless there's a risk of physical harm. Don't say something vague like "I don't think you love me," or "I'm not happy," and just hope that your message gets across. Confronting the issue will not mean destroying the relationship; what is deadly to a relationship is hiding from problems or doing nothing to solve them even after you've acknowledged their existence.
* Don't allow long periods of time to pass with little or no communication or sex without trying to find out what's wrong. If you wait until you're so miserable that you simply don't care anymore, it may be too late to repair the damage. Sit your partner down, look him or her in the eyes, and say: "This isn't working. If we don't do something to fix it, it's going to end." If necessary, be prepared to leave to let your partner know how serious you consider the situation to be.
* Be willing to admit your role in the problem, and be open to change. The two of you can use your communication and changing the dynamics. If you get no response from your partner, or if you are both stuck, consider talking to a professional counselor. I believe that anyone who is considering terminating a long-term relationship should give professional help a chance.
After taking these steps, some couples may realize that what they really need to do is restructure and renew their commitment contract. Your feelings of frustration, confusion, boredom, restlessness, and resentment can become the basis for renegotiation. Renegotiating can help you to identify and resolve the specific issues of conflict so that you don't abandon the entire relationship, "throwing the baby out with the bathwater."
If you are convinced that your problems cannot be settled with further effort and time, let your partner know of your decision immediately, to be fair and to prevent false hopes from arising.
I strongly recommend that you end your long-term relationship with a formal ritual (other than the one imposed by splitting up your belongings). An ending ceremony allows both of you to feel closure and opens you up to acknowledging and expressing your emotions. There are many possible rituals you can have. Arrange a good-bye meeting alone or with others present or tear up a symbolic contract or memento of your relationship.
You will both need to recover from this loss. Even if you feel relieved about cutting your bond, you will experience a period of grief for the hopes and dreams you once had. Recognize that healing takes time, and that you'll probably go through several stages of sadness and depression before you feel ready to begin a new phase of your life. Accept that grief takes time and allow the healing power of time to do its work. See my article, "Surviving Loss and Thriving Again" at http://tinatessina.com/surviving_loss.html
Even if you decide to remain in each other's lives on some basis, you'll probably need a break from seeing each other. Plan to get together at a future date and talk about the nature of your new relationship: as distant ex-lovers, close friends, cooperating parents, or continuing members of an ongoing social network. Unless one of you moves away, its difficult not to have some connection. By focusing on a redefinition of your relationship rather than just on its termination, you can make your breakup less of a struggle.
Surprisingly, splitting up formally, with care and thought, often results in couples deciding to stay together. After you allow the old, toxic form of your relationship to die, you could be surprised to find a new healthier connection in its place.
About the Author:
Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D, aka "Dr. Romance" is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California, with over 30 years experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 13 books in 17 languages, including The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again (Wiley;) Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage (Adams Media) and The Commuter Marriage: Keep Your Relationship Close While You're Far Apart (Adams Media.) She publishes "Happiness Tips from Tina", an e-mail newsletter, and the "Dr. Romance Blog" Dr. Tessina guests frequently on radio, and such TV shows as "Oprah", "Larry King Live" and ABC news. Follow her on www.twitter.com/tinatessina.