Break Up and Smell the Coffee: How to Know to Stay or Go

Couple arguing at partyMost of us have probably either been friends with or been part of that couple. You know, the couple that pulls you into their dramatic and sometimes nasty drama, swears this time the breakup is for real, then reconciles and surfaces a few days or a week later, as if nothing had happened.

Some couples will do this for several cycles, perhaps going years or even most a lifetime before addressing what is really going on in their dynamic—if they ever address it at all. And I get it: the emotional swings of devastation in the breakup and excitement in the make-up can really fuel aliveness. But if you ultimately want a deeper sense of aliveness than the adrenalized break-up/make-up cycle, it’s time to take a deeper look.

  • Freedom and autonomy: Usually, when this break-up/make-up stuff is happening, one partner is pulling away, at least in part, to serve his or her need for freedom. This is a big sign that some codependence is afoot, and, in order to replenish a sense of autonomy and/or freedom, one person will have to choose either to sacrifice this part of himself/herself to maintain the connection, or sacrifice the connection to nourish these needs. As you either know or can imagine, this is extremely stressful—a high-stakes “win-lose” choice to make. In couples such as this, the triumph of “breaking free” can often lead to a veiled sense of reality and a belief that “this time things might be different if I return.” The intention here is important because, yes, it’s totally possible that the relationship can now be different, but only if both partners are willing to address their contributions to the systemic issues. Otherwise, when the excitement of being back together wears off, they’re right back where they started.
  • Power and integrity: Be aware of where your mind goes in hearing the word “power.” What do you think of? How does your body respond? What feelings surface? Typically, power is scary as it feels scarce in partnerships like this, and I’d like to offer something different: Power, by one definition, is the ability to impart change in your environment. I very deliberately do not qualify the change you may impart, because it is really your integrity that determines the quality of that change. How does this relate? Well, it’s an ugly trend in human nature that when power feels scarce or threatened, integrity of words, thoughts, and actions usually plummets. In a sustainable relationship, shared power with integrity is a vital ingredient for those who hope to thrive. In our development, most of us aren’t guided toward an awareness of our power (at least not with the definition I’ve proposed), yet power is something always being exchanged between people because our environments are in constant change. In deciding when it’s time to commit to or leave a relationship, addressing your dynamic on the issues of power and integrity can be a game changer.

So how do you know when to stay or when to go when involved in a break-up/make-up cycle? As I’ve attempted to illustrate in this article, it’s critical to answer that question on a systemic level—that is, what is going on between you both, as well as within each of you.

Examine your patterns with each other on an honest level. If you need help, pull in an objective and wise friend or find a relationship counselor. No matter how many times you break up and make up, the dynamic won’t change until you change it, so put your personal power to good use and get real about what’s going on so you can have the relationship you’re striving for.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Jesse Johnson, MA, LPC, therapist in Portland, Oregon

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • lana

    lana

    January 20th, 2015 at 10:34 AM

    When someone demeans you and makes you feel even less about yourself, then that is someone who you need to be willing to cut loose from.

    I know that can be hard, I have been in those relationships before where I thought that I would die without this person, not realizing that being with this person was actually what was causing me to die a little inside every moment that I let him make me feel so worthless.

  • Liz

    Liz

    January 20th, 2015 at 2:41 PM

    Never stay with anyone who takes away your power and your dignity.

    They will try to convince you that you are beneath them but ultimately for making you feel this way, they are the ones who are beneath you.

  • tami

    tami

    January 21st, 2015 at 3:40 AM

    Seriously I have always thought that if you even have to ask then you probably know what the answer should be. Might not be what you want or what you actually think is right but I just think that if you have questions then you have them for a reason and you have to pay attention to that instinct.

  • Todd M.

    Todd M.

    January 21st, 2015 at 2:25 PM

    So what is the solution when one of us thinks that it is time to end it but the other thinks that there is something there worth saving? I am so done with the relationship that I am in now… but my girlfriend keeps holding on, and I know that this isn’t what I want but we have been together for a long time so I know that it would be so much easier to end if this was something that I thought that both of us wanted. She wants to make it work but I think that we have been there for so long and it isn’t working that it is time to sever the tie.

  • Candace C.

    Candace C.

    January 21st, 2015 at 9:42 PM

    You can’t try to salvage a relationship you don’t want to keep.As you stated you’re “done”what she is looking for from you is validation of her own feelings.As harsh as it sounds that is not your problem nor your responsibility.Your responsibility is to be kind but firm and to be honest with her.How she takes what you have to say is up to her.

  • Andre

    Andre

    January 22nd, 2015 at 3:45 AM

    Well, if you really aren’t sure you can always take a little break from each other and see how the two of you feel after that. Sometimes absence makes the heart grow fonder, and sometimes it could open your eyes to some things that are so obvious but you have been missing them.

  • nate

    nate

    January 22nd, 2015 at 11:15 AM

    I have been in relationships before where it is all about the argue and then the make up. I think that she just liked the making up and getting back together part, the honeymoon stage I guess, way better than she actually liked me :/

  • nikitia

    nikitia

    January 23rd, 2015 at 2:56 PM

    I am so done with this guy of 2 and a half years, he thinks I must buy him gifts and take care of his needs. My needs need to be taken care of he is so selfish,I found out he’s Been doing nothing but lieing to me tells me everything is my fault how dare he, iam taken care of me now, strange how this guy acts like a selfish little boy,its sad but I. Will not tolerate this treatment from any person.

  • My heart 💙

    My heart 💙

    January 24th, 2015 at 4:36 PM

    28years later : I really thought things would be better , I am greatful for my children , and the family that I can depend on ( but not all ) reaching out is very diffaclt at times , but I keep praying and looking for the help ! The more the better 💔 I’ll get there alittle every day with my rock 😇 I’ll have more to say every day .

  • DESI

    DESI

    January 25th, 2015 at 5:55 AM

    I have been known to stay in relationships for way too long, but I guess that I am always trying to give someone the befit of the doubt. Unfortunately that usually ends up with me getting hurt.

  • Chandy

    Chandy

    January 25th, 2015 at 10:20 AM

    It’s easy to blame the other one, but I learned I was a half of the problem.
    When I needed my partners to change but they are not willing to, I lost them. I was afraid to lose them and being alone, so I was able to stick for a while and breakup/makeup cycle, but it became unbearably hard to continue.
    It was important to have integrity to myself and be responsible for myself. It was hard at the time of break up but I am so glad I did and my life is free and more comfortable with my own skin now.

  • Lyndall

    Lyndall

    January 26th, 2015 at 3:37 AM

    I never again want to stay with a person who takes away the very essence of what makes me me. I don’t want someone who forces me to stifle the things that supposedly he fell in love with me for just because that type of personality no longer supports his needs. Either you love me for who I am or you don’t, and believe me, if you can’t take the real me, then I will have to set you free. Plain and simple.

  • loretta

    loretta

    January 26th, 2015 at 10:49 AM

    The 2nd time around has worked for me and my husband. We married and then got a divorce, took some time away and when we remarried it has been for keeps. 35 years so far so I’m glad we gave it another shot

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