While Painful, Breaking Up Can Sometimes Be The Healthiest Option For A Couple
There are a lot of situations that push couples through my door–infidelity, conflict, and co-parenting struggles are just a few. Most of the time, though, couples are asking me, either explicitly or implicitly, to help them stay together. They want to work through issues, learn to see each other in new ways, and repair what’s broken between them. This is challenging work, and couples put a lot of trust in me to lead them toward their goals. However, I also have a responsibility to tell the truth. Sometimes that means having a conversation about breaking up.
A big part of my job when working with couples is to help them assess the viability of their relationship. At times, it becomes clear to me (and hopefully to the couple as well) that their relationship isn’t sustainable. While painful and hard, breaking up can sometimes be the healthiest and best option for a couple.
As A Couples Therapist, I See How Irreconcilable Differences Really Do Exist, Often Around Values
Recognizing that a relationship isn’t viable can happen for various reasons, but one that frequently comes up in couples counseling is significant differences in values. When core beliefs and priorities aren’t aligned, sometimes there just isn’t an answer or compromise–irreconcilable differences really do exist. Some decisions, like where to live or how much time to spend with in-laws, can be negotiated. But I encourage a couple to stick to their guns on things that are fundamental to their goals in life.
This includes values like how to prioritize having kids versus a career, or how much space the relationship should occupy in each person’s life. While these issues can be potentially bandaged up so that they’re not deal-breakers in the short-term, they will almost certainly be recurring pain points that can prevent both partners from feeling secure and fulfilled in the long run.
The only way forward in these situations is often for one person to make a significant sacrifice. Sacrifice is a necessary part of successful relationships, but it’s problematic when unbalanced, unreciprocated, or compromises a person’s happiness. If a relationship relies on one partner significantly compromising what they want or need, there’s a good chance it won’t be sustainable.
Safety, Including Emotional Safety, Is Another Reason Couples Need To Break Up
Safety is another reason I sometimes advocate for a relationship to end. Physical safety is never on the table for negotiation in my office, nor should it be in the relationship. However, emotional safety is also fundamental.
By emotional safety, I mean the ability to feel secure, valued, honored, and respected in a relationship. Each partner’s experiences should feel validated. An emotionally safe relationship allows both partners to be vulnerable with each other, creating closeness and intimacy. Without emotionally safety, there can’t be vulnerability and therefore, intimacy suffers. If both partners are unwilling or unable to be emotionally safe in the relationship, I may push them to end things.
It’s Better To Break Up When Realizing Things Aren’t Sustainable Than To Wait It Out
And when it becomes clear a relationship isn’t sustainable? It’s best for the couple to end it when that becomes apparent. The longer a relationship lasts, the harder it can be for couples to make the decision to break up. The stakes can get much higher as time goes on, whether getting engaged or married, having children together, or increasing financial commitments.
Though I’m not an athlete, I’ll use a sports metaphor: it’s akin to the decision to pull a player from the field when they sprain their ankle, allowing them to heal and play in future games, rather than wrapping the ankle and leaving them in the game only to risk further injury and missing the rest of the season. Similarly, while it can be absolutely excruciating in the short-term (relatively speaking), breaking up avoids ongoing and deepening investment in something that will inevitably come to an end.