When and How to Terminate a Relationship

Nov 05, 2007
When and How to Terminate a Relationship

You've been going with someone for a long time and you're wondering how long you need to continue going with them before you can have enough information to make a real decision, a tough decision, maybe a decision not to continue the relationship at all.

  • When is long enough long enough?

  • How do you know when you've given your relationship all the chances it deserves?

I want to tell you that terminating a relationship-a romantic relationship-successfully requires enormous skill. Unfortunately both people usually do not agree on how or when this should be done. This is a big part of the problem-that they don't agree.


There are several considerations that relate to successful termination. One of the most important ones has to do with feeling confident that you have waited long enough, that you have given the relationship every chance to demonstrate its long-term quality, that you won't look back and wish like everything that you had waited just a little longer.


I have developed five ideas about this over the course of my years of seeing people in psychotherapy. Five ideas that may help you know when long enough is indeed long enough to hold on to a dating relationship.


Idea Number One

When you or your dating partner or both of you have been unhappy in your relationship for six months or longer, and you have tried your hardest to work on the specific problems you have identified and there has simply been no progress and you are still very unhappy with each other, I would say you should be pretty certain that you have waited long enough.


It all depends on a lot of variables of course, like:

  • How outstanding you think this relationship could be?

  • How dependent are you on this other person?

  • How important it is for you to keep trying to make this relationship everything you need it to be?

If one or both of you have been unhappy with each other for six months or longer, and you've tried your hardest to work on the problems you have and you're still really unhappy with each other because you've seen little or no progress, then I want to tell you that maybe you need to say, "Well, that's long enough. I've given it my best shot. I've tried my hardest."


People around the country say to me all the time, "Neil, be very careful about telling us to terminate a relationship because we don't have all kinds of candidates in the wings. It isn't like I can say, 'That's long enough for this one. I'll go on to the next one.' There may not be a next one."


I understand that the pool of candidates is too small for a lot of people around the United States today. As a matter of fact, that's exactly what we're going to try to change in the next few years with eharmony, the online relationship service that started as a part of my desire to see my children marry well.


One of the founding principles of eharmony is that the older a person becomes, the less single people they have in their lives. We want to beat this dating pool problem.


Right now I want you to understand one other thing: A bad marriage is a thousand times worse than no marriage at all.


I don't want you getting yourself in a bad marriage, and if time is of the essence, I don't want you to take too much time making the decision. Six months in which you've really tried to do the job of correcting or remediating a relationship may well be enough. That's enough, I think, for you to be able to look back and say, "I gave it my very best effort."


Now, what about this one other thing? What about your looking back and wishing like everything that you would've waited just a little longer? There's always the possibility that you will do that, too.


There's also the possibility that this other person will "shape up" and become the perfect person after you leave. But I have to tell you something: If you've tried for six months and that person hasn't tried to "shape up" and become the perfect person, the odds are very, very high that they won't in the next six months, or the six months after that, or any six-month period for the rest of their lives, because six months is a long time for people to demonstrate their consistency in not doing what is necessary in order to make the relationship work.

More next time!

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