My relationships with my family and friends are the most meaningful, important parts of my life.
In fact, I’d say having high quality, intimate, authentic, healthy, and emotionally mature relationships is my top life value. I proactively work at my relationships — on communicating openly, on listening actively, and on devoting quality time with the people I care about.
When conflicts happen in a relationship, I’m often the first person to reach out and attempt to heal the relationship problem. I’m quick to forgive, and I hope I’m quick to ask for forgiveness when I’ve messed up.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve made plenty of mistakes, acted immaturely, had knee-jerk, ego-driven reactions, and gotten angry enough to slam doors and stomp my feet. You wouldn’t have to dig around far to find people who would testify to my relationship mishaps. But in general, I have a pretty solid emotional intelligence score when it comes to nurturing happy, healthy connections, and I take pride in my relating skills.
A description I discovered of my personality type (INFJ) articulates precisely how I feel about relationships:
“In general, the INFJ is a deeply warm and caring person who is highly invested in the health of their close relationships, and puts forth a lot of effort to make them positive. They are valued by those close to them for these special qualities. They seek long-term, lifelong relationships, although they don’t always find them.”
That’s why for me, letting go of a relationship is particularly difficult. In fact, up until a few years ago, I couldn’t imagine myself making the decision to release a relationship altogether. My mantra has always been, “We can work it out.” And sometimes for me, “working it out” meant acquiescing, stuffing my true feelings, or tolerating things that deep inside I did’t want to tolerate.
Then one day I could no longer do that. Well, it wasn’t just one day — it happened over a few years. I got to the point in my self-awareness, or reached some internal shift, where I knew I had to let go of some relationships. The pain of dissonance, differences, and responding inauthentically outweighed my desire to keep “working it out.”
Letting go of a relationship is painful — even if it is draining you, holding you back, blinding you to your true self, or worse yet, toxic or abusive.We invest a lot in our friendships, our marriages, our business partners, and our family members. And most often it is one of these close relationships, a person or people with whom we’ve been intimately, deeply involved for many years, that cause us the most pain and turmoil.
At some point in one of your relationships, you will reach the point where the pain and difficulty outweigh the positives — where the consequences of letting go seem less daunting than the reality of staying put.
The decision threshold is different for every individual. And certainly the type of relationship can set the threshold. It is usually harder to let go of a marriage that involves children than it is, say, a business partnership or friendship. However, there are some universal themes of discord in any relationship that lead to the realization it’s time to say goodbye.
Here are some of these themes:
Verbal, emotional, or physical abuse
Whether it’s a spouse, a parent, or a friend, if someone is abusing you in some way — through physical actions, psychological games, or consistently cruel words — it’s time to let them go. In many cases of abuse, the abuser has whittled away at the self-esteem and confidence of the abused, making it much more difficult for the abused person to leave. Especially in a marital context, these situations are very complex and usually require the intervention and support of a trained counselor to help extricate the abused person. But unless they leave the relationship, the abused person will continue to be fearful, full of self-doubt, and constantly anxious and stressed. And as long as you remain in an abusive relationship, the abuser will continue his or her bad behavior.
Consistent dishonestly, disloyalty, or deceit
Most close relationships can survive the occasional incident of lying or dishonest behavior. Even some marriages can survive a one-time affair with counseling and healing. But consistent, repetitive instances of dishonesty or disloyalty suggest the person involved has an issue of character and integrity that cannot be overcome. If you’ve addressed this issue many times over the years, and the behavior continues, you will not be true to yourself and your own integrity to remain connected to this person. No matter how many positive qualities they may have, consistent deceit will chip away at your respect for them and for yourself.
Divergent core values
If you and your loved one have wildly differing core values on your most important life principles, you simply will not have a peaceful and mutually supportive relationship. Some less intimate relationships (like a friendship) can handle this, especially if each person is respectful of the other’s values and life decisions around those values. But for those relationships where the two people impact each other on a daily basis, finding a middle ground for making decisions, choosing a lifestyle, raising children, managing money, making business decisions, etc., can be impossible. It requires one or both people to compromise in areas where they simply can’t or shouldn’t compromise.
There are some relationships where you and the other person simply clash. You are like oil and water. There’s something about the other person that brings out the worst in you and vice versa. Often this happens with extended family members, siblings, or friendships that have never been quite right, but you’ve hung on because you feel bad about letting go. There’s a general air of toxicity about the relationship that hangs around despite your best efforts to “make it work.” For your own peace of mind, it’s best to step back from a toxic relationship and admit it simply wasn’t meant to be.
Consistent, harmful irresponsibility
If you’re in a business relationship, marriage, or partnership with someone who’s consistently irresponsible, it will eventually undermine your love and respect for this person. If their irresponsible actions relate to finances, life obligations, or raising children together, you will be directly impacted in detrimental ways. No matter how much you care for this person, eventually you can no longer tolerate their unwillingness or inability to step up to the plate and maturely handle their responsibilities. You simply can’t allow one person to undermine the other fundamental parts of your life.
Refusal to communicate, address problems, or invest
There are some people in relationships unwilling to communicate, address difficulties, or actively work on the relationship. They allow it to languish or worse, actively resist any attempt you might make to work on improving the relationship. They find it too painful or complicated to communicate openly, or they simply haven’t learned the skills of healthy communication. Or perhaps they aren’t invested enough in the connection to make an effort. Regardless of the reason, when there’s only one person making an effort, it’s not really a relationship.
If you see yourself and one of your relationships in any of these themes, it might be time to consider letting it go. Letting go is painful and sometimes very complicated, but in the end, you must ask yourself if the positives outweigh the negatives; if the connection is lifting you up or dragging you down; if you feel better with or without this person. Ultimately, the most important relationship you must save is the one you have with yourself.
How have you known it was time to let go of a relationship? What realizations or self-awareness did you embrace in order to make the difficult decision? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.