Should You Break Up? A Therapist’s Perspective on Relationship Decision-Making - Humantold

Should You Break Up? A Therapist’s Perspective on Relationship Decision-Making

Karen Veintimilla, LMHC May 22, 2024

Every situation is different during a breakup, and sometimes it is hard to determine whether it’s time for a partnership to end.

Relationships and breakups are two of the hardest things that one has to go through in life. As a therapist, there are times in my session when a client would ask me about their relationship and the age-old question, “Should I break up with so and so?” I always respond with, “It depends.” So how would you determine these dependents? Let’s find out.

Is there a criteria for breakups?

Every situation is different during a breakup. There has not been one reason why partnerships end, whether the reason is not a good fit, one fell out of love with another, careers, living situation, lack of understanding and compassion, difference in goals/future, and even solitude. However, there are many times that breakups are not out of an impulsive decision made immediately. Breakups are usually pondered over some time before the decision is made. Mind you, many times this decision is hard for the person initiating the breakup as well as the recipient of the breakup. 

How is this relationship serving the both of us?

When determining if/when to break up, one question that I would ask is, “How is this relationship serving you?” What does that mean? We are all social creatures, even the ones who identify as “introverts.” No one likes being alone and in solitude, so some stay in relationships longer because they do not want to/like to be alone. Relationships may serve a purpose whether it be for practical reasons (housing, finances, etc), nostalgia (being together for a long time or good memories), friendships (shared friends or family closeness), comfortability (being used to habits and routine), or fear (not wanting to be lonely). All these reasons are acceptable reasons to stay longer than one would like to. One should always reflect upon how is this relationship serving you, and your partner, and whether the reason is relevant to this day. Are you benefitting from this relationship whether psychologically, spiritually, emotionally, or physically? Do you feel safe emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, or physically? Do you want to stay? Can your needs be filled in another capacity? Is your partner (or yourself) uplifting each other and being better for each other? 

One should equally draw attention to safety. Safety is paramount in many choices. Some are in abusive relationships (mentally and physically) and are unable to leave. This one break up should be heavily weighed especially if one partner is being hurt. The choice should be made only if the partner has a safety plan or support. If one does not feel safe please utilize resources such as:

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-SAFE (800-799-7233; toll-free)
  • Counseling center
  • Court
  • Crisis center

As we are social creatures, the hope is that the relationship can serve two things for someone: care and self-improvement in some capacity. There are many times when a partner is in a relationship for comfort and routine. However, there is no change or improvement in the relationship for either partner if it brings up stagnancy. This is when both partners have not changed each other’s life for the better, you have the same routine and you seem more like roommates than partners. One does not have to make the other a “better person” but it is important to grow together in life. In this case, the relationship has not served either partner and being together may not help. 

Nostalgia and good memories

Some partners met and have been together for a long time. Hearing stories that a couple has been together since childhood personally warms my heart. There are times when couples have been together for a long time and do not want to leave the relationship because they are used to the other person, their habits, and routines (we are creatures of habit after all). As much as these stories warm my heart and the hearts of others, the reality is that people change regardless if the change is positive or negative. Humans are bound to change and have different desires or goals. Something to consider is, “Are you staying solely because you have been with this person for a long time?” If you are not staying because of the time you have been with this person, “Do you like the person that you or your partner has become?” Often during couples therapy, I question how the couple met because for me that tells me what potential the couple saw in each other and how the couple got together. Partners usually describe wonderful attributes of each other and then the sentence ends with “[this person] does not do that anymore.” When people date, they usually bring out their most wonderful attributes for the other person. As time passes, people may not have the time, energy, or desire to constantly showcase their most wonderful attributes. This is not to say that they do not inherently possess them or continue to possess them; I just mean that they grow to be people where these attributes may not have a place to shine due to life changes or stress. 

What if I do not find anyone else?

Most of the time, people have told me that they fear being alone and being in a relationship (even a dull one) is their way to stave off loneliness. For that, I still use the question of whether this relationship benefits either party. The anxiety and fear of “going back out there [dating]” may seem daunting, but what is the real fear? In this case, one can use a CBT technique where we engage in cognitive restructuring during catastrophizing in which we walk through a worse-case scenario. What would be the worst case if you broke up because you were not happy? Would you find nobody? Or would it be just difficult? This is coming from the understanding that dating nowadays is harder than before. The difference is that harder is not impossible. 

Problems in the relationship

Breakups can also be determined by the status of the relationship and looking at the problems within the relationship. Except for safety, the problems can be communication, lack of support, infidelity, and more. Some of these problems can be discussed with a couples therapist. A couples therapist can be a third person to identify problems and ways to help cope with the issues. So if there is a problem with communication, a therapist can help identify what about communication is the issue. It may benefit that there is a third party to help guide couples through the issues the best they can. 

The unknown future

As stated before, breaking up is a difficult decision for both parties. However once one goes through a breakup, the anxiety of the unknown is present. Some mourn over the relationship even if they initiate it and some ask, what now? Either way choosing to break up is a difficult choice and the fears of loneliness and uncertainty are more present. However, the resolve is that one is not making the decision impulsively. Looking at the forest past the trees, one is making a decision not only for their well being but in the temporary pain, they are also helping their partner see that they do not have to be in a relationship that can hurt more than help. 

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