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3 Questions To Ask Before Ending Your Relationship

Katherine Woodward Thomas, M.A., MFT
New York Times bestselling author By Katherine Woodward Thomas, M.A., MFT

Studies show that only 38% of those married in America describe themselves as happily so. Apparently, we don’t call it quits all that easily.

Rather, most of us tend to tough-out the hard times and roll up our shirtsleeves to try to make a go of it, clinging to our hopes for what the relationship could be. Yet, after doing all we can to try to make it work, many of us will eventually choose to terminate the union.

If you’re considering breaking up with your spouse or long-term lover, how can you know if you’re making a hasty or premature decision? What if your relationship still holds hope for happiness or deserves to be given at least one final, give-it-all-you’ve-got good try?

Take Claudia and Andrew. The couple had been married twelve years when Claudia came to see me to ask how to best tell her husband she wanted a divorce. She was positive he had ADHD. She described how she was over-functioning in their relationship — managing his chaotic schedule, taking care of all their bills, and making sure he was performing well at work. She was overwhelmed, burned out, and exhausted to the point of just wanting out of the marriage.

Yet somewhere in our conversation, Claudia revealed to me that Andrew had never actually gotten tested for ADHD, and therefore had never been treated for his inability to focus. Given the high stakes involved, she decided to give it one last try before taking the drastic step of pulling apart their family of five.

If you, like Claudia, are considering throwing in the towel, the initiation of a separation should be the LAST of many steps taken to find peace with your partner.

Before taking action to change your relational home, ask yourself these three powerful questions:

1. Have I consulted with a professional counselor to help me make a wise decision?

Although Claudia was certain she wanted to leave her husband, she was open-minded enough to explore the possibility of working on the relationship with a therapist before initiating a breakup. A professional counselor can help you see the bigger picture and develop a game plan to best address the problems you’re facing in your partnership.

2. Have I shared my feelings with my partner without blaming or shaming?

This way, he or she has had a chance to address and rectify the problem.

Back to my example of Claudia and Andrew: Rather than dumping her feelings onto him, blaming Andrew for all their problems, and self-righteously announcing her departure, Claudia went home after our session and candidly revealed to him how close she’d come to leaving that day. This allowed him to see how dire their situation was. She shared her feelings of overwhelm and despair without accusing him of being insensitive or uncaring as she’d done in the past because she was telling the truth about her feelings without making him wrong, and he was able to hear what she was saying and respond to her concerns.

A lot of us skip this step, only letting our partner know how serious things are by announcing all the reasons that the relationship is over. Instead of sharing our true feelings, we quietly seethe, or constantly complain, thinking we’re communicating. Then suddenly, it's over.

Yet studies show that 90 percent of communication is nonverbal, meaning that your nasty tone of voice or hostile facial expression have a much greater impact than the actual words you’re saying. Nagging and complaining should not be confused with an authentic, serious dialogue.

3. If my partner is taking concrete actions to improve the situation, am I doing my best to match those efforts with my own?

After their heart-to-heart, Andrew scheduled an appointment to get tested for ADHD. Testing positive, he began treatment, and he and Claudia began couple's counseling with a therapist who was an expert in the family dynamics of ADHD. Through these actions, Andrew demonstrated his investment in their relationship, and Claudia responded in kind.

If, like Andrew, your partner responds to your heartfelt sharing with positive actions to try to make things better, do your best to match his or her commitment with your own. Instead of pulling away, allow yourself to be supported and loved by your partner and his or her efforts to meet your needs. Then see if something new emerges between you.

If, after engaging in all of the above, you’re still suffering with the same irreconcilable problems you had before you began, you may wish to initiate a Conscious Uncoupling process. Though many use the process in the aftermath of a breakup to ensure a healthy end to the relationship, Conscious Uncoupling can also help clear away the ambivalence and confusion for those who feel caught between and rock and a hard place and unable to decide which way to go.

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