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

Photo: Trinity Kubassek | Pexels 
Man putting arm on woman's shoulder and the woman looking upset

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 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.  

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. 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. Many fears go hand-in-hand with the potential for a long-term committed relationship. Rarely are we aware nor 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 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

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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, examine his 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.

Here are 4 reasons you think it's time to break up, but you're just scared:

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.



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2. You cannot 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.



RELATED: 6 Undeniable Red Flags That Your Relationship Is Devastatingly Toxic

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!

RELATED: 7 Subtle Signs It’s Time For You To Move On From Your Partner

Drs. Peter Sheras and Phyllis Koch-Sheras are clinical psychologists and founders of Couples Coaching Couples, a national non-profit organization committed to the creation and maintenance of profoundly fulfilling relationships.