Note: This is the first of a two-part series. Click here for part two
Dear Neil: You usually write about how people can stay together and work out their differences. But what about when it may not be in your self-interest to stay, or when you have an extremely unresponsive, uncaring or hurtful partner? Could you talk about how to decide when it is time to cut and run?
Feeling the Heat in Delaware
Dear Feeling the Heat: The following are guidelines about how to decide which of your issues are relationship deal breakers—and when you’d be better off out of the relationship rather than in it:
- Your partner has a wall up around himself. He doesn’t let himself get too involved, too close or intimate, too dependent, too emotionally available, or too vulnerable to you. He’s cautious, held back, reserved. He may have a major fear of being hurt, so he has grown afraid of deep closeness or connection. He may feel pretty emotionally beaten up from his previous intimate life experiences, and has all but given up on the dream of loving or of being loved.
- She puts very little of herself into the relationship. She simply doesn’t try very hard, doesn’t give very much effort or time, and doesn’t give much of herself.
- There’s too much of him and not enough you (or “we”). Both of you are looking to meet his needs. There isn’t a reciprocal effort to look out for you.
- She has poor control over her anger, reactivity, rage, defensiveness, anxiety or fear. Those emotions rule her—and therefore control your relationship.
- Your partner focuses on what he doesn’t like, what annoys him, or angers him, or what he feels judgmental or critical about—and tends to minimize or ignore the good, nurturing, thoughtful, caring, loving things you offer.
- You fear setting her off. You walk on eggshells a large amount of the time, because her reactions are so severe or volatile that you find it next to impossible to express your concerns, wishes, annoyances, needs or requests.
- It feels that you care about or love him more than he loves you.
- She lacks empathy for your feelings, your needs, your expressed desires. She isn’t responsive to what you say you want. She wants to give, not what you say you need or desire from her, but what she feels like giving.
- You feel mistrusted a lot—and you have never violated trust. You’re in the position of having to prove your trustworthiness over and over again, to no avail.
- You’re waiting—and you’ve been waiting a long time—for him to not put work first, or to quit drinking, or to lose weight, or to communicate better, or to be kinder to the kids. You know that if these traits or behaviors don’t improve, you’ll never be happy with him.
- You put more effort than she does into the relationship. You’re trying harder than she is to make the relationship closer, warmer, more connected, more trusting, or to fix the problems in the relationship—to no avail.