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4 Reasons You THINK It's Time To Break Up (But You're Actually Just Scared)

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time to break up

Don't freak out.

Given all the joy that an enduring relationship can bestow, what would make you choose to give up on it too early?

And how would you know whether the relationship was truly over ... or if you were simply quitting too soon? 

Talking to my friend Ralph recently about the potential break-up of his relationship of eight years, many of the reasons were apparent. Rather than looking at himself and his own behaviors, he focused on what was wrong with his partner, Laura. He thought that it and she “shouldn’t” be so difficult and that he shouldn’t have to be the one to reach out again.  

In an ideal world, a perfect relationship between two well-meaning individuals would meet all the needs of each partner, with very few disagreements. Everything would be as you think it should be.

But can you achieve  let alone sustain  such an idealized state?

So far, our experience as couples therapists and spouses for 40 years has shown that not many can!  

So it really takes some careful self-examination and discussion with your partner to know if it's time to break up, or if you're giving up on your relationship too early. 

Nearly half of all marriages end in divorce, and many of those could be saved and have been saved by taking some time to figure out if you're breaking up too soon. 

In order to engage in this kind of inquiry, you must first look at the fears that may be quietly nudging you to give up on your relationship.

There are many fears that go hand-in-hand with the potential for a long-term committed relationship.

Rarely are we aware or do we pay much attention to these fears; left unexamined, however, these fears have the potential to derail your commitment.

By paying attention to those fears, you may be able to stop and reexamine what’s really going on and consider what is possible.

Some of the red flags are deciding things like:

  • whether to date exclusively 
  • whether to be physically intimate
  • whether to travel together
  • whether you should move in together
  • making a large purchase together
  • sharing a pet
  • becoming engaged
  • whether or not you want to have children

In a stressful situation, these fears can drive you away from each other rather than drawing you closer together.

After a big argument, Ralph was afraid that Laura would not be open to talking with him about their issues and so was ready to give up. After coaching him, he was willing to confront that fear and be open to reaching out.

He needed to get beyond that fear and examine his own commitment to the relationship and take action in the face of that fear. He called her, and she agreed to talk. They have had several discussions since then.

It may not work out, but at least he will know that he didn’t give up on it prematurely. Fear of commitment, after all, is not a good reason to break up.

Here are 4 ways you can examine whether it's actually time to break-up or you are giving up too soon on your relationship.

Consider the following fears, questions, and myths that you may have internalized about committed relationships:

1. You buy into the myth that a "real" relationship should be easy.

You might think, "A relationship shouldn’t have to take so much work. It should be supportive and romantic almost all the time."

We have already seen how destructive an idealized view can be to staying open to what is possible in a real-life relationship.

 

2. You have an inability to compromise.

You might think, "I am afraid I am sacrificing too much and won’t get my own needs met. What if I have to give up something really important to me, like my nights out with my friends?"

You may be afraid that because compromise isn’t working, you can’t make the relationship work.  But in compromising, somebody usually feels like they are losing something.

There is another way that gives you a win-win situation, however: Keep working on it to get beyond compromise to get to cooperate as a team where your couple wins. Then you can have a truly strong relationship.

 

3. You harbor a BIG fear of rejection.

You might think, "I am afraid I will get hurt if I stick with the relationship. What if I get abandoned? I would be devastated! I’d better have an exit plan in place."

These fears are largely overblown. Everyone has some fear of rejection. Your fear of “abandonment”  and rejection likely outweighs the reality of actually being left. Think about it this way: if your partner does break up with you, you may be very sad for a while, but you will survive!

Be careful of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy by refusing to get close. This naturally creates distance because you do not appear to be interested.

 

4. Fear of losing your identity.

(What you might think:) "If I am completely committed to my relationship, I am afraid I may lose my sense of self? If I am trying to please my partner, I am afraid I will lose myself and not be happy."

It is important to take of yourself, of course, but to do so in the context of the vision for your relationship and how you support each other. Notice if generosity and flexibility are present in your relationship.

If not, that is a warning sign that you, as a couple, need to cultivate those qualities.

When you examine these fears, if you find you and/or your partner have been blocked by these, invite each other to keep working on them together. Look at creating some new possibilities for your relationship as a couple.

Take it a step at a time. You may even want to get some professional help from a couples therapist.

If, after giving it 100%, you find that you and your partner are not a match, it may be time to call it quits and move on. There are more fish in the sea!

And as psychologist Fritz Pearls said many years ago in the Gestalt Prayer:

“I am I, and you are you. I am not in this world to meet your expectations, and you are not in this world to meet mine. If by chance we meet, that is wonderful; if not, it can’t be helped.”

Just make sure, before you end a relationship, to be honest with yourself and each other about facing your fears first and doing everything you can to deal with them within yourself and together.

Both of you will need to make that commitment. It takes work to have a fulfilling relationship, but it’s worth it!

When you examine these fears, if you find you and/or your partner have been blocked by these, invite each other to keep working on them together. Look at creating some new possibilities for your relationship as a couple.

Take it a step at a time. You may even want to get some professional help from a couples therapist.

If, after giving it 100%, you find that you and your partner are not a match, it may be time to call it quits and move on. There are more fish in the sea!

And as psychologist Fritz Pearls said many years ago in the Gestalt Prayer:

“I am I, and you are you. I am not in this world to meet your expectations, and you are not in this world to meet mine. If by chance we meet, that is wonderful; if not, it can’t be helped.”

Just make sure, before you end a relationship, to be honest with yourself and each other about facing your fears first and doing everything you can to deal with them within yourself and together.

Both of you will need to make that commitment. It takes work to have a fulfilling relationship, but it’s worth it!

 

Phyllis Koch-Sheras, Ph.D., and Peter Sheras, Ph.D., are psychologists who have been treating, presenting, and writing about couples for nearly 40 years. f you want to learn how to handle adversity together, visit Phyllis and Peter at CouplePower.com. Check out their book, Lifelong Love: 4 Steps To Creating and Maintaining An Extraordinary Relationship.

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