How do you know when it’s time to leave a relationship? These tips for deciding what to do are inspired by The Parable of the Coconut and by a reader’s comment.
In I Love You, but I’m Not IN Love with You: Seven Steps to Saving Your Relationship, Andrew G. Marshall helps readers learn how to argue productively and address the core of the issue, find a balance between being fulfilled as an individual and being one half of a couple, discover if “I love you but I’m not in love with you” is simply a symptom of a workable problem, and create new bonds instead of searching for the old ones.
In What to Expect When You End a Relationship, a reader described how her husband’s financial and emotional problems affected their relationship. After a formal separation and issues with the police – and after heavy drinking and sleeping with another woman – he begged her to let him go home. He said he loves her, and wants to be with her and their kids. How do you decide when it’s time to leave a relationship when you have kids?
There are no easy answers, and the only person who can decide when it’s time to leave a relationship is you. But there are a few things you can do to make the decision easier. Note that these tips for deciding when to break up are for relatively healthy couples. They don’t apply to abusive relationships, or situations in which it seems obvious that breaking up is the best decision.
Before you jump into the main course, have a sip of coconut juice…
The Parable of the Coconut
Once upon a time – after winning a particularly difficult battle – a warrior princess was thirstier than she’d ever been before. She was in a jungle with lots of vines, ferns, and rainforest trees, but she couldn’t find a water source.
After hours of bushwhacking, the warrior princess found a coconut tree. The coconuts were as big as pails, and several had fallen to the ground and cracked open. There was a murky pond nearby, so the warrior princess took a coconut shell and scooped the water.
The coconut shell was brimming with water – but, alas, it was muddy and murky! Undrinkable, even for a thirsty warrior princess who wasn’t particularly fussy. Should she make a fire and boil off the dirt? Shake it? Make a straw and try to get the worst of the dirt out?
The warrior princess sat back on her haunches and took a deep breath. Instead of continuing to chase the solution she decided to relax a few minutes, and let the water stand.
She stilled herself, and tuned into the sounds of the jungle. She could hear howler monkeys, gray parrots, and flying foxes going about their business. She closed her eyes and tuned in to her heart and spirit.
The warrior princess remembered Jesus’ words: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”
When she opened her eyes, she saw that the muck in the coconut had started to separate. It just needed time and space to become crystal clear, and the warrior princess had more than enough to quench her thirst.
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When Is It Time to Leave a Relationship?
There is no definitive answer, because deciding when to leave a relationship depends on many factors: the reasons you’re considering leaving, how long you’ve been together, how many kids you have, and other circumstances that are unique to you.
These tips for deciding when it’s time to leave a relationship are based on The Parable of the Coconut. If you need more “action-oriented” tips, read When to End a Relationship.
Take time to let the muddy waters settle
If you’re thinking about leaving your relationship because of a crisis or argument, take a few days to process your emotions. Maybe you’ve been hurt or betrayed by your partner. Maybe you lied, cheated, or betrayed your boyfriend or husband. Maybe you’re just bored and crave the excitement of falling in love. Give yourself time to think about why you’re wondering if it is time to leave a relationship.
“If your marriage is subject to naturally occurring waves, or ups and downs, and you have been in a trough for a bit too long, it’s very possible that you should simply ride it out,” writes Sonja Lyubomirsky in The Myths of Happiness. “If you let the marriage settle, you might find that the muck will separate out all by itself.”
Connect with your self
I tend to leave relationships early, probably because I grew up in foster homes and was constantly being moved around. I didn’t learn how to be part of a family. I can’t settle into a job (except for blogging, which I’ve been doing since 2008!), and I’m constantly looking for new things to do. Knowing this about myself is extremely important. My marriage is the only thing I’ve stuck to – we’ve been married for almost 10 years. It’s incredible, and I never entertain thoughts of leaving because I know myself and I know my husband. How well do you know yourself – are you a “leaver”?
Deciding when to leave a relationship requires knowing who you are and what you need out of your life.
Admit what you’re scared of
How long you should let the muddy waters of your relationship settle depends on you. At some point, it becomes unhealthy and destructive to stay in a relationship. Sometimes people don’t admit when it’s time to leave a relationship because they’re scared of the unknown. They don’t want to go through the emotional, financial, social, professional, and personal problems that breaking up brings. What are you scared of? What don’t you want to have to do, face, or admit to yourself?
If you’ve already decided that it’s time to leave your relationship, read How to Let Go of Someone You Love.
I welcome your thoughts on how to decide when it’s time to leave a relationship or The Parable of the Coconut – but I can’t offer advice or counseling. I encourage you to take time to connect with yourself (and maybe even with God!), and find the answer that is already there.
Sometimes you have to leave something to make room for something better.
Your thoughts are welcome below! I don't give advice, but you can get free relationship help from marriage coach Mort Fertel.