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When is it “Okay” for a Relationship to End?

A rope before it breaks

Exploring Safety, Accountability, and the Willingness to Change.

In the title, you can see that I am convinced that some relationships should end. The question for me is not "Should some relationships end?" but rather "When." In my 14 years of journeying with couples, it has always been my intention to, first and foremost, work towards a place of reconnection, rekindling, and re-falling in love—a place where we remember why we fell in love in the first place. However, I have realised that it is sometimes impossible and that not all relationships are meant to be saved; they have run their course. If they continue, two people may lose themselves, become physically or emotionally harmed, and head towards destruction. Sometimes, we need to walk away or let go.

But in saying this, I am deeply sensitive to how hard it is to walk away and let go because of the love we still hold. One of the most striking dynamics of relationships is that we learn to love past personality flaws, shortcomings, and hurt, so even though it hurts, we love. We often don't let go or walk away because we don't love anymore; quite the contrary, we stayed so long in pain precisely because we loved.

However, love alone is not enough. Even if love exists, dynamics can destroy and demolish.

So, the question becomes, when is the right time to end a relationship?

We 'check out' if there is continued pain without Safety, Accountability, and Commitment to Change. Without these, the pain will persist, which might be the moment to consider departure.

However, it's important to remember that hurt and pain are inherent in any relationship's journey. The path often involves cycles of connection and disconnection, and these challenges can contribute to growth and more profound connections when managed and resolved effectively.

The pivotal challenge in determining when a relationship should end is understanding that continued, unrelenting pain that causes an unsafe environment that is non-accountable and not willing to change, is at the heart of the problem.

Safety, Accountability, and Commitment to Change

My definition of an abusive or toxic relationship is one characterised by non-accountable pain that leads to emotional or physical danger without the notion of change. And therefore, my understanding of a healthy relationship is one where these critical elements, safety, accountability, and commitment to change, form the bedrock of the relationship.

1. Safety:

The foundation of any healthy relationship is safety, a commitment both partners share to uphold emotional and physical well-being at all times. This commitment remains unwavering even in the face of conflict and disconnection. In essence, safety means that both individuals prioritise each other's emotional and physical security above all else.

Threats to safety encompass a range of behaviours that can endanger emotional or physical well-being. These include emotional or physical abuse, infidelity, addiction, suicide or murder threats, and exit threats, among others. While we won't delve into the intricacies of each issue, you need to understand that safety should never be compromised, regardless of the depth of pain or turmoil within the relationship.

In a healthy relationship, both partners commit to keeping each other safe, even during conflict and disconnection. This commitment extends beyond moments of love and joy and remains steadfast when facing challenges. It means actively avoiding actions or behaviours that could threaten either partner's emotional or physical well-being.

Maintaining safety is not just a matter of avoiding harm; it's a fundamental component of fostering trust, respect, and security in a relationship. When both individuals know that their emotional and physical safety is guaranteed, they can communicate openly and honestly, knowing that their vulnerabilities will be respected and protected.

Safety is the cornerstone of a healthy relationship. It involves a shared commitment to emotional and physical well-being, even amid conflict or disconnection. It is a vow to protect each other from harm, ensuring that no matter the depth of pain or challenges faced, the relationship remains a secure and nurturing space for both partners to grow and thrive.

2. Accountability:

Accountability is vital in maintaining trust, respect, and emotional well-being in a healthy and thriving relationship. It is the willingness and ability of both partners to take responsibility for their actions, words, and behaviours within the relationship. Accountability goes beyond mere acknowledgment of mistakes; it involves actively rectifying them and fostering personal growth.

One fundamental aspect of accountability is acknowledging when you've hurt your partner. It means self-awareness and humility to recognise that your actions or words may have caused emotional distress or harm to your significant other. In healthy relationships, both partners understand that making mistakes is natural, but what sets them apart is their readiness to address these mistakes openly and honestly.

Accountability also extends to recognising your flaws and shortcomings. This reflective process involves deeply exploring your behaviours, triggers, and patterns within the relationship. It is a commitment to self-improvement and personal growth, as these efforts contribute to your own well-being and the health of the partnership.

When both partners embrace accountability, they create a safe and nurturing environment where trust and respect flourish. In contrast, the absence of accountability can lead to toxicity, which can threaten the very foundation of a relationship.

3. Willingness to Change:

In a healthy and thriving relationship, the willingness to change is a fundamental attribute that underpins personal growth and ensures the vitality of the partnership itself. It represents an openness and eagerness to evolve, adapt, and improve over time, both as individuals and as a couple.

Change is an inherent part of life and extends to our personal development and relationships. People naturally evolve in their beliefs, values, interests, and priorities as they journey through life. Similarly, relationships experience shifts and transitions as they progress. Recognising and accepting this natural evolution is crucial for relationship health.

When one partner resists change or refuses to address problematic behaviours or patterns, it can lead to stagnation within the relationship. This resistance may manifest in various ways, such as an unwillingness to compromise, a reluctance to explore new experiences, or a failure to adapt to evolving circumstances. Stagnation can give rise to conflict, dissatisfaction, and emotional distance.

A willingness to change and grow together is essential for a relationship's long-term success. It transforms the journey into a shared endeavour, fostering self-discovery and mutual development while strengthening the emotional connection. Additionally, this willingness to change becomes an instrumental tool in resolving conflicts constructively, as both partners adapt and accommodate each other's needs. Furthermore, it cultivates adaptability, enabling couples to navigate unexpected challenges with resilience. Lastly, encouraging personal growth within the relationship contributes to individual fulfilment, empowering partners to pursue their aspirations and goals while actively contributing to the relationship's development.

When safety is compromised, accountability is neglected, and the willingness to change is resisted, the relationship may have run its course.

Ultimately, the right time to end a relationship is often marked by the absence of these fundamental elements. When safety is compromised, accountability is neglected, and the willingness to change is resisted, the relationship may have run its course.

Yet, it's equally crucial to acknowledge that the journey of a relationship involves navigating cycles of connection and disconnection, where pain and challenges are a part of the terrain.

In the end, recognising when it's time to let go is a profoundly personal decision that should always prioritise both partners' emotional and physical well-being.

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