I was recently asked by one of my very lovely readers a simple question, with a not so simple answer:
What are the criteria for ending a relationship?
I really wish there was a simple answer to this question. Relationships are hard work to begin with, but sometimes the hardest part of a relationship is ending one. It’s easier to break up with someone when there is a big singular reason, but what if it’s the sort of thing that from the outside may look trivial. Let’s say you’re with someone, and on paper they’re great. They treat you decently, they’re perfectly fine to be around, but you just seem to have lost a physical attraction to them. From the outside, people might question that more than say, leaving a cheating partner. Even then, people might still question you if you leave a cheating spouse, especially if you’re a woman leaving a cheating man. But that’s a whole other topic.
The best breakup stories are the kinds with either one big gesture, or a final moment where one partner says “ENOUGH” and leaves. Nobody writes songs about breakups where people just grew apart and split because the relationship has run it’s course. Adele has sung about a guy who left her because she just seemed disinterested and Mary J. Blige never sings about dead bedrooms unless it involves cheating. Pop culture, especially Western culture, has a tendency to emphasize extremes, especially in relationships, and when you fall into the liminal spaces, there isn’t much guidance to be found from sad songs, sadly. I bring this up because, whether we like it or not, we tend to base our reactions to things on reactions we’ve observed before. No one knows who the first person to key the car of a cheating partner was, but if you saw a woman keying a car, you’d probably guess that she’d been cheated on, right? The fact that we don’t have a lot of examples of people leaving because they just felt sort of nebulously unhappy is probably why we, as a whole, suck at dealing with it. Or, it could be the fact that when we do see representations of this, it’s usually in a negative light. Nuance is tough to pull off.
Anyway, enough meditating on how pop culture influences how we look at relationships, how the hell do we come up with a criteria for ending a relationship? Through the power of assigning random value to the things we hold dear, that’s how!
First, you need to figure out what matters to you in a relationship, and assign a certain percentage of how important it is in a relationship. In a perfect relationship, you’d have 100% of what you needed. Is good sex worth 10%, 20%, 30% or whatever else in that relationship? What about marriage and kids? What about sharing the same religion or politics? Whatever matters to you, give it some value to start with, being sure that the total adds up to 100%. The next thing you want to do is figure out a threshold where if your needs are not being met, you need to end a relationship. Do you need 100% of your relationship needs to be met to satisfy you? 75%? 50%? Or maybe just being in a relationship is all you need and don’t care if you get exactly 0% of what you need in a relationship. Again, up to you to decide, but I’d guess that most people need about 50% or more of their needs met to want to stick around. Next, figure out how much of what you need is actually being met in your current relationship. Let’s say you’re in a relationship, fairly dissatisfied, and the source of your dissatisfaction comes from 3 areas: 1) You want kids, your partner doesn’t. 2) You don’t feel physically attracted to your partner. And, 3), you want to travel more and your partner doesn’t. Let’s say you rank each of those as worth about 15% of what you want in an ideal relationship. If all the other needs in your relationship are being met, you’d still be missing about 45% of what makes you satisfied in a relationship. The question I’d then ask you is: Is having 55% of your needs in a relationship met something you can live with?
That’s the criteria for ending a relationship.
Whatever the value you assign to what you need in a relationship should be the criteria as to whether or not you break up. A lack of sex might be something that ends some people’s relationships, but isn’t a problem in others. What you need and how much you need to be satisfied in a relationship may be different from others, and that’s okay. I don’t particularly value the idea of parenthood, and maybe you do. I can’t get only 55% of the things I want in a relationship and stick around in good conscience, but maybe you can. Some people want 100% of their needs met, or they’re done, and that’s okay too.
Good Luck Out There.