When is a Relationship Over?
Navigating normal relationship concerns is a big enough challenge, let alone navigating separation and attempts at reconciliation. We have to consider that what has persisted and what we know may be wrong, complicating the matter, altogether.
In my newly released white paper, Individual and Relational Coaching Manual for Elimination and Remediation of Dysfunction in Romantic Relationships, I outline a 3-phase approach to bringing a relationship to full health. The full document may be accessed here (white paper): http://www.relationshipteacher.com/freematerial/
My overarching goal, in general, was to create a framework that is logically consistent. That is, each aspect of my relationship coaching has to be scientifically valid and the underlying logic must be continuous throughout every aspect. The 3-phase approach is meant to ensure that if reconciliation occurs, a valuable relationship remains. Too often individuals attempt to put the relationship back together, tearing the other person down or giving up who they are. Put simply, my goal as a relationship expert is not to put two individuals back together at all costs. I operate in reality – the world. Every person is their own individual and is responsible for their own direction in life.
A very typical operative environment that relationships often find themselves in is one of mutual destruction (conditional love). In this environment each party is guilty of negative behavior, although the guilt is often offloaded on the counter-party. In this ‘condition’ the core issues that serve as a wedge in the relational connection are not even able to be put on the table, let alone resolved. Instead, surface issues are the only visible elements. In other words, individuals argue to argue, not to problem solve.
Put simply, the 3-phase approach is meant to put valid relationships back together in full health. Otherwise, invalid relationships are allowed to disconnect. Although it is unfortunate for any relationship to fall apart, we take the approach that leads participants to be able to accept this reality and move on. If I am coaching only one of the romantic partners, then this person is giving unconditional love, whether or not it is reciprocated. The phases include progressively more stern complaints. Should the third phase require employment, it entails announcing that certain unresolved complaints will lead the complainer to separation. Again, that is the phases in a nutshell, but it is much better explained in the white paper.
So, to the title, how do we know when a relationship is over? It might seem like a difficult question to answer, but it really isn’t. The only difficulty is in data gathering and making the actual attempts to reconcile differences, and that takes time. We know that a relationship cannot thrive if one individual has to sacrifice their feelings for the other person. To avoid placing every existing relationship into this category, let me explain.
Imagine that you have realized that regardless of the negativity you receive from your partner, you have made mistakes as well. Coming to this conclusion, you do your best to be the best possible person that you can be. You take the time and effort (with applied energy and commitment) to not only learn better ways to operate, but also form new and healthy habits. My 3-phase approach is so powerful because individuals are literally giving their partner no objective reason to give any negativity. When negativity is encountered, you take it with a grain of salt and try not to personalize it. This lets us extend a hand to the counter-party and try to get to those core issues that I mentioned earlier. We are letting the counter-party know that the environment is safe. It is not “nicing” the other person into complying with relational normalcy.
Now that you have increased your Emotional Intelligence competencies to a B or A level, things no longer hurt so much like they did in the past. This enables you to rise above playing the victim card. Ultimately, you become very emotionally durable. Continue to imagine that you are being nice, even in the face of emotional poison. You escalate to phase 2 and tell your partner that their insults need to stop. You tell them that you love them very much and you keep trying to address their concerns. Perhaps the counter-party apologizes and promises to change. Perhaps they don’t apologize, but do give you their ear. Either way, we are looking for measurable improvements. Prior to the actual improvement, we should see the efforts being made for this person to change. You have no idea how often I hear that an individual’s romantic partner promised to change, enabling them to move back in (or stay), and 1-3 months later things were back to normal.
As you can see, the 3-phase approach includes very sane standards for the relationship. We are ultimately going to hold the partner to these standards, but not out of pride. We are giving the counterparty plenty of time and space to simply reciprocate the positivity that you are gifting. Should your extended hand be continuously slapped away, and we progress to phase 3, we then have to progressively (but quickly) announce that the relationship is at threat of ending. Before an individual makes that statement, I always prepare them to realize that their partner might simply agree. For example:
You: “I am not participating in a relationship in which I must be insulted, day in and day out.”
Them: “Okay. Goodbye.”
As you are well aware of, countless individuals move way too early to threatening the relationship, similar to the above example. As a result, they are not prepared for that response, or any remotely negative one. Similarly, too many individuals threaten the relationship, out of attempts to manipulate the counter-party. As you might imagine, in this imaginary example that I have been explaining, it is likely that the counter-party was threatening the relationship the entire time. As such, phase 3 can often be a very short phase, as short as 1 minute. Phase 3 begins when you employ the non-manipulative threat (above). With a response along the lines of the counter-party accepting, phase 3 has concluded and we have a terminated relationship. That said, there are often further attempts at reconciliation that often are successful. It is for that reason that we use the 3-phase approach. A threat to end the relationship isn’t made unless you have your shoes tied and bags ready to be packed, analogously. Reconciliation post-termination is a topic for another day, although you can see how this approach flows consistently into that, as well.
The wonderful aspect to this approach is that it vastly speeds up the process. If we have a relationship that is unsalvageable, it is quickly identified, leading the individual through the 3 phases rapidly. If an individual never attempts unconditional love (the main underlying principle), then we are left with a long and drawn out process that, statistically, will lead to a lower success rate and lower relational health post-reconciliation. To answer the title succinctly, we know it is over if the relationship is one-sided. It is critical to prove that conclusion with data gathering and analysis, during the 3-phase approach employment.
If this article has helped you or sparked your curiosity, please contact me with comments or questions.