In my early days of dating, I was notoriously bad at breaking up.
If I sensed myself unhappy in a relationship, I would agonize for months over whether or not to end it. Part of me would rather anxiously exist within a relationship than face the agony of breaking up with someone I cared about, and part of me was always unsure whether breaking up was the right answer. I always wondered if things could get better, if I needed a different perspective or if I was overreacting. Once, I kept dating someone for six months because I was so agonized over whether to end it or not.
Take it from me, kids; anxiously wondering every time you are with someone if you should break up with them or not is way worse than actually breaking up with someone.
But how do you know if you should actually break up with someone?
Sometimes, it’s clear a relationship should end. But what about when it’s not as clear?
Unfortunately, there is not always a black and white answer when it comes to the question of breaking up because every couple and person is different.
However, there have been certain times in my own dating experience where there was a strong indication that something wasn’t right. So to provide some clarity about the big question of breaking up, I’ll share with you three times I knew it was time to call it quits:
We had different core values that weren’t changing any time soon and it was making me miserable.
Core values are those things about us that are integral to how we desire to live out our lives – the things that we have manifested within ourselves because they align with the type of person we hope to be. A few examples of core values would be having a relationship with God or wanting to wait to have sex until marriage. When I was at my most miserable in a relationship, it was when both of these values weren’t matching up or being met by the other person.
When I couldn’t share my core values with someone, I couldn’t share my full self. This meant constantly feeling misunderstood, not being fully known and having to sacrifice what mattered to me for the sake of making the other person satisfied or comfortable, all of which created an emotional distance within the relationship and a deep, miserable feeling of not being true to myself.
Of course, core values can change for the better. But if you sense the person you’re with has a long way to go before their values shift, you may be waiting around for something that isn’t going to happen.
Relationships should create a safe world in which both people are able to flourish, fully living into who they are and supporting each other through a shared sense of purpose, or values.
If being around your significant other is draining because you constantly feel your core values are not understood or appreciated, it might be in your best interest to step away from the relationship for the sake of your emotional well-being.
Whenever I pictured being with this person for 20, 30 or 50 years, I saw myself being deeply unhappy.
I once wanted to break up with someone who was not awful to be with. In fact, I mostly enjoyed being with him. He was kind, smart, sincere and respectful. We shared the same core values and he made me feel special. And for several months, things were great. So great, in fact, I started to wonder what it would be like to spend my life with this person.
But then I started to notice something: we were having trouble relating to each other in the most basic, fundamental way. When I would make a joke, he wouldn’t laugh. When I would cry or get upset, he had little reaction. Once, when I was feeling unsure about his feelings for me, I asked him to explain what it meant to him that I was his girlfriend. He couldn’t seem to grasp the question, and answered blankly and without malice that I played little role in his life as he didn’t technically need a girlfriend to feel like a whole person.
So was this guy an obvious jerk I needed to ditch? No. He was simply unaware and unable to be invested in me the way I needed, i.e. meshing with my personality, responding to my emotional needs and viewing me as an important, integral part of his life.
We were still having fun together and I still had feelings for him, but I was beginning to think I couldn’t do this for the long haul. For the present, I could keep riding the high of “new love” and the excitement of everything that came with it. But what about years or decades in the future? When all that “newness” had worn off, would we even be left with a friendship? With him, it felt like interacting with a brick wall.
And I knew my misery would grow and fester trying to interact with (let alone love) someone like that for the rest of my life. Luckily, he beat me to punch and ended it a few months later. I was relieved, and I never looked back.
You have a gut feeling they aren’t fully invested in this.
For reference, let me share with you a different perspective: when I started dating my now-husband, I did so because I could tell he was fully invested from the get-go. He wasn’t invested in a creepy, overwhelming way, but rather in a steady way. He made it clear (respectfully, patiently) that he liked me and wanted to not only take me on dates, but be in a committed relationship with me. This made me feel valued and secure from the start, and helped me trust that we could move forward.
On the flip side, if someone is not invested in a relationship (or even beginning a relationship) it will become increasingly apparent. In my life, I could tell when someone wasn’t fully invested when they were reluctant to pursue me.
Sometimes I struggle with the term “pursue” in Christian lingo, because it can feel a little reminiscent of courting (where a Christian man “courts” or intentionally pursues a Christian woman in a deliberate way for the sole purpose of getting married). And to be honest, I hate the whole idea of courting because it puts enormous pressure on two people to get married (not to mention reinforcing the unhealthy idea that any type of physical affection is wrong).
But there’s something to this idea of being pursued that is significant when it comes to establishing trust and affirmation early on in a relationship.
Here’s what it looks like for someone to pursue you in a healthy way:
They make their intentions clear by communicating with you, making plans with you, and following up with you. They spend time with you on purpose and ask you good questions about yourself. They make it clear they want to know you. They don’t force their affection, physical or emotional, on you. You leave interactions feeling good, and feeling like yourself. Both people are able to feel secure and valued because there is little uncertainty about each other’s intentions.
Here’s what it looks like when someone is not making an effort to pursue you:
This person will only ask to spend time with you when it’s convenient for them, and will leave you uncertain whether they are taking you on a date or simply “hanging out”. Between spending time with you, they will communicate very little or in a way that leaves you confused about their interest or intentions.
When you do spend time together, they may converse with you in a way that feels forced, distracted or withdrawn. You leave interactions feeling bad, uncertain about what exactly your relationship is with this person. You may even get the feeling that they aren’t really looking to know you well or honor your desire for a relationship or clarity. More often than not you feel frustrated and upset.
And never, ever equate mere physical intimacy as someone’s desire to be in a relationship with you. If there’s physical intimacy but no deliberate relational intimacy, this is a red flag.
Whether this is happening before an official relationship begins or you see this in an already established relationship, take time to evaluate if this is a person you want to mentally and emotionally put yourself at the mercy of (because as long as they are unable or unwilling to offer you clarity about their investment, they hold all relational power). I can tell you right now it’s probably not worth it.
While sometimes it can be unclear whether or not to end a relationship, always remember to evaluate how this person makes you feel. Do you feel affirmed in your core values and worth? Do you find it easy and natural to interact with this person? Or do you feel drained, upset and as though you aren’t being true to yourself?
Breaking up is not always clear, but what is clear is that you deserve to feel well (cared for, respected, understood, valued) within a relationship.
Julia writes about relationships, faith and identity at hellosoulblog.com.