The decision of whether to break up with a partner is rarely an easy one to make and often involves heavy consideration. There are plenty of things to factor in—including, of course, how you feel about your partner—but according to relationship experts, there’s one important factor you shouldn’t forget to consider before you decide to break up with someone.
When a relationship gets tough, look within.
Relationships are a two-way street, and for as many critiques you have about your partner, it’s also important to exercise self-awareness: that is, looking at the ways you are contributing to problems in the relationship. Beyond that, many of the problems we do end up bringing to the table in relationships stem from inner healing we’ve yet to do.
As couples’ counselor Margaret Paul, Ph.D., previously explained to mbg, “Many people who leave are no happier than they were in the relationship. If you have been making your partner responsible for your feelings and you are blaming your partner for your unhappiness, then it likely isn’t time to leave. You have your own inner work to do.”
To that end, certified sex therapist and couples’ counselor Jessa Zimmerman also previously noted there’s the potential to learn a lot by trying to understand the issues in the relationship instead of just immediately jumping to end things when the going gets rough. “We’re going to carry any unresolved issues or work into our next relationship [anyway],” she says, which is why she recommends avoiding the tendency to make rash or sudden decisions in a difficult moment.
In short, before you decide to commit to a full-fledged breakup, take some time to reflect on who you are as an individual and how you’re showing up for your partner in your relationship. Recognize where you’re neglecting your own needs and inappropriately placing the burden of satisfying them onto your partner.
As Paul puts it, “If you ignore your feelings, judge yourself, turn to various addictions to numb your feelings, or make your partner responsible for your feelings of worth and safety, then you are rejecting and abandoning yourself, and you have inner work to do to learn to love yourself. People tend to treat us the way we treat ourselves, so focus on how you are treating yourself rather than how your partner is treating you.”
How to move forward thoughtfully.
Of course, we’d be remiss not to mention that if there’s any abuse present or if you’ve been truly unhappy with your partner for some time, or if your gut is simply telling you to leave, don’t feel obligated to stay, whether you plan to focus on healing yourself or not.
If you do decide to embark on a healing journey of some sort while remaining in the relationship, it can be really helpful to work with a therapist, not only to get clarity on your own healing but potentially how you can improve your relationship. If your current partner is on board, the two of you may even want to consider couples’ therapy together.
As you start to uncover and heal some of the deeper issues that are manifesting in your relationship, you’ll be able to assess your relationship from a place of confidence and clarity. You may find the two of you were able to make it work after all—or perhaps, you realize wholeheartedly that they’re no longer right for you.
“When you have looked at your part of the problem and done your work to change (and feel good about that) and you’re still unhappy—that may be time to end the relationship,” Zimmerman says.
And if you still have questions on whether breaking up is the right choice, check out our guide on how to know it’s time to let go of someone. For advice on how to heal, take a look at Paul’s previous piece on mbg about how to truly love yourself.
Who among us doesn’t have at least a little healing to do? If you’re in a rough patch in your relationship and thinking about breaking up, take some time to really focus on yourself and your own healing before you make a major decision—you may just find it’s you that you needed to work on the whole time.