Some relationships are obvious clunkers: the drug addict, the physically violent, the partner who sneaks out of your birthday dinner a million times to text his "platonic" friend Marianne. These are the people your friends beg you to leave, but you stay because you're recreating or rectifying some twisted family dynamic you've never grown beyond. If that's the case, no self-help article is going to help you; yours is the realm of a qualified therapist. But putting aside the relationship that screams "get out while you still can"—often, the question of whether to stay or go isn't simple. "Good" people can still have bad relationships with each other, and it can be hard to recognize that a couple is doomed if your partner isn't an obvious loser.
Several years ago, I became involved with a man who, on the surface, seemed almost perfect. I'll call him James. He was sweet, easy-going, and the devoted father of two well-mannered children sharing custody with his ex-wife, with whom he appeared to have a cordial relationship. My only concern at the outset was that James hadn't been in a relationship since his divorce five years earlier, although he assured me that his marriage was truly over. Everything else about him was wonderful, so I decided not to let this warning sign deter me. Divorced men (and women, for that matter) are seldom completely baggage free.
From the beginning, our relationship was a bit like a local bus ride: lots of stops and starts. James was sweet, supportive and appropriately cautious about introducing me to his children, which he finally did after two months. He was also flaky, often changing or canceling plans at the last minute. Even our sex life resembled a backfiring car; I never knew if he'd follow through or abruptly break off without explanation. I didn't know what to make of James, and I regularly asked myself if it was time to get out. But there were never any big problems, just little ones that were easily explained away at the time.
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