6 Steps To Decide If It's Time To Call It Quits

January is the peak time for divorces to be filed. As a coach, I am frequently asked to give my opinion on whether it's time to call it quits. This is an opinion I will not give, for several key reasons.

  • Only you know whether you have the hope and desire to continue fighting for your relationship.
  • Making a rule about "when" either tends to keep people trapped who need to be free, or gives manipulators a tool to justify their own bad behavior.
  • Only you know what's really going on in your relationship.

That said, it is reasonable to want to check your own strong feelings against some objective input. This is being responsible. An intimate relationship or marriage shouldn't be entered into lightly, nor exited without very serious consideration, especially if there are children involved.

Although I don't prescribe a litmus test, I do recommend following the steps below in making the decision to stay or go. Working through them will help the answer become clear.

Step 1 - Decide whether you want to keep fighting for the relationship.

Your true inner desires will eventually manifest in an outcome. If deep down inside you just want out, the end is inevitable. Beware of the lure of an affair though. If you're in the grip of an emotional or sexual affair, you won't see clearly to make this decision. It takes an average of 9 months for infatuation to die down enough so the rational brain begins working again. During that time, it will be impossible to give your partner a fair assessment. One of the truisms I like to play with is that the grass is only greener on the other side of the fence if your neighbor takes better care of his own lawn.

Conversely, if any part of you still has hope that hanging in there and fighting might salvage a long-term future, answer these questions for yourself. What goals would you set for turning things around? What really needs to change in order to make things work? Be as specific and measurable as possible in answering these.

Step 2 - Ask your family or close supports.

Those who love you the most, who want the best for you, already know if this relationship is good for you. For some people, this rules out family altogether, so approach whoever your real supports are. When you approach them, if they say "It's about time! I thought you'd never come to your senses!" you have your answer. But if they seem concerned that you're moving too fast, or giving up too soon, pay attention. Ask what their biggest concerns would be about calling it quits. Weigh their input carefully.

Step 3 - Assess your future realistically.

Take a hard look at what this will cost you, emotionally and financially. Divorce is expensive and decimates assets. Single parenting is much more difficult than sharing duties with a partner. Breaking up a household and its assets will cause you to lose productivity at work. Your stress level will be very high as you move through the grieving process. On the other hand, if you truly hate the relationship and you're only staying out of fear or guilt, the end is inevitable.

Step 4 - Assess yourself realistically.

To help you get started, consider these questions:

  • Why did you get into the relationship in the first place?
  • What part did you play in creating the relationship as it exists now?
  • What patterns of your own need changing before you could have a healthy relationship with someone else?
  • Could you stay, and work on changing those patterns in the existing relationship?
  • Are you willing to take equal responsibility for the relationship failure? Remember: others treat you the way you teach them they can treat you.

Be willing to take a hard, honest look at even the most difficult relationship and acknowledge the needs and motives that have been driving you. This is not the time for pretense. Have you been too afraid to leave? Did you get into it because the sex was great? Are you such a peacemaker that you didn't want to make waves, so you ended up at the end of your rope? 

Step 5 - Assess your partner realistically.

Make a list of their good and bad points. Be honest about the seriousness of any complicating issues such as addictions, gambling, pornography, anger. If you fear for your own or your children's safety, get out and get help now, but do so safely. In the positive column, be fair. Give your mate credit for the "expected" things like holding down a job, being a good parent, being helpful around the house, etc.

Now fold the list you just made in half and read through the positives column. Imagine your life without these things. How would that feel?

Step 6 - Go back and redo Step 1.

Do you have the same answer? If you're still unsure after working through these steps, it may be time to consider coaching or counseling. If your answer is not only the same, but even more emphatic, then it's time to take action. Whether that is to stay or to go, the stress of being uncertain will be relieved. With peace about your decision, and a clear view of the future, you will be in a good position to move toward relational health.