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I’ve lost count of the number of times I wanted to break up with my husband when we were first dating.
I still remember when we were heading back home and he told me, “I don’t think this is working out.” An awkward silence filled the car as we both took a long, dejected exhale.
Looking back at all the conflicts we had during our first years together, I’m thankful we didn’t end the relationship. Because truthfully and openly, it would have been a shame.
We’ve come a long way ever since, and I even chuckle at all the reasons I thought were “deal-breakers.”
I think we talk a lot about why we need to end relationships and too little about why we shouldn’t.
Our partnerships are full of ups and downs, but not every “down” indicates a breakup. Some downs are stepping-stones and an opportunity to work on our wounds and traumas.
However, we shouldn’t mistake healthy conflicts for abuse. Whatever gets resolved is healthy; however, what sticks and multiplies is destructive.
So how to know when not to end a relationship?
Here are the top four bad reasons to end a good relationship that has the potential to grow:
1. Being different from each other.
When my husband and I started dating, it pissed me off that he wasn’t a bookworm. Besides Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, my husband has never read a book from cover to cover. He’s more of a visual person; he’s a cinephile.
Believe it or not, it was a (stupid) deal-breaker for me. I wanted us to sit on the same couch together, each holding a book, and probably drinking the same kind of tea. It took some time before I realized that my husband isn’t my clone—and I don’t expect him to be one.
Now I know that being different is not a problem. In fact, it’s fun, and we get to learn (a lot) from each other. What’s serious and should never be overlooked is having different values. That’s a red flag. But as long as we share the same values with minor differences in our personalities, we’re good to go.
Since I was a teenager, I thought that fighting in a relationship is not normal. Somehow, we’ve put love in a tiny box and constantly expect it to be perfect. Conflicts mean bad; peace means good. That’s not true.
I know a lot of couples who rarely fight but are unhappy together. So peace between two partners doesn’t necessarily indicate a happy relationship. That said, we need to stop thinking that we need to break up in the event of a conflict.
Straightforwardly, my husband and I have tremendously learned about (and from) each other through fights. Again, I’m not alluding to abuse; I’m simply talking about disagreements, miscommunication, or temporary hostile interaction.
3. Not meeting our expectations.
I have a lot to say about this topic in particular, but let me begin by saying…thank f*ck I didn’t leave my husband for not making me “breakfast in bed” on one of his busy Saturdays.
Folks, it took me more than 30 years to fully grasp that our partners don’t have and aren’t supposed to fulfill all our physical and emotional needs. (Unless we’re in a polyamorous relationship where many people may be meeting our many different needs, we have to hold our tongues when it comes to relationships with one person.)
Our partners are not superheroes. They’re not mind-readers. They’re not our personal genie. And we‘re not their personal genies either. There are times when we feel overwhelmed, tired, want to be alone, or simply not in the mood. And most times, we’re doing the best we can—until we know better.
How to solve this issue that’s oftentimes confusing and disappointing? Communicate. Please, communicate.
I know, I know. Before you close this tab with dismay and wonder what the hell I’m talking about or claim that cheating for you is a no-no, I want you to read this part with an open mind. I just finished reading The State of Affairs by Esther Perel—for the second time—and one of the many quotes that will always hit home is:
“Sometimes, when we seek the gaze of another, it isn’t our partner we are turning away from, but the person we have become. We are not looking for another lover so much as another version of ourselves.” ~
The truth is we’re always bound to losing ourselves in our partnerships. And as Perel says, it’s not so much about what’s missing in our relationships, rather about what’s missing (or we have lost) within us. I’ve been there.
I know what it feels like to be with someone who has lost a version of themselves and went outside to find it in an affair or a fling. It’s ugly. It’s heart-wrenching. And on many occasions, I did leave the relationship and never looked back. But there are times when an outside affair strengthened or renewed my relationships.
By all means, we shouldn’t have an affair just to “renew” our union, or stay with an incessant cheater just because Perel said it might benefit our relationship, but, if God forbid, something goes wrong and our partner strays, it doesn’t necessarily mean we should leave them (at least not prematurely).
There are many other bad reasons to end a relationship, but these are my top four. What are yours?