I see many couples and individuals who are in struggling relationships and sometime they have difficulty ending it. The challenge of ending a dating relationship is more common and devastating than I would have ever guessed prior to beginning my career as a psychologist. I have become accustomed to working with people who have a goal of ending a relationship, but for whatever reason continue to be unable.
This is potentially why we have seen a recent trend in "ghosting". For those who may not be aware, ghosting is the practice of ending all contact with someone with no warning and then ignoring any further requests for clarification on why contact has been completely cut. This practice has likely become more common because it is easier to do this when people are dating online in larger communities. Everyone with whom I have talked about this practice, even people who serially ghost their dating partners, agree that it is a horrible practice. Still it persists. I believe the challenges people have around ending relationships is the primary reasons for this.
LEARN TO HURT YOUR PARTNER
Although it is challenging to watch suffering, it is an important skill in any relationship. It should be obvious that the goal of any relationship is to bring increased joy, pleasure, stability etc. Invariably, however, every relationship will require difficult communication. When there is something difficult to share, it is important to be able to give your partner the truth, even when it hurts.
If you can't give your partner hard truths, it will lead to hiding, lying, and breaks in trust. Often, when couples come in with broken trust, I am working to help one partner cope with watching their partner suffer as they hear the difficult truth.
Once a couple has had a breach in trust because of hiding the truth, the best way to help a couple regain trust is having the untrusted partner share challenging truth. Sometimes these truths are important, and sometimes it is just important to share something difficult to prove that they can. When they do share the difficult truth, their partner is often initially hurt, but then begins to believe that their partner is learning how to emotionally cope with the challenges inherent in being honest.
I DON'T WANT TO HURT YOU
Despite all logic, it seems that people continue in relationships long-term because they don't want to face the short-term pain associated with ending their relationship. Researchers very recently found that people are staying in relationships because they don't want to hurt their partner (Joel, S., Impett, E. A., Spielmann, S. S., & MacDonald, G., 2018). Although this finding may seem startling to some outside of the relationship counselling field, it is all too common.
An extreme example of this type of difficulty comes when one partner threatens some type of self-harm if the relationship is ended. Even in this type of extreme action, it is surprising how often it is successful in prolonging the relationship. From a distance this type of statement would suggest that there is a significant amount of unhealthy dynamics in the relationship and that the relationship should be seriously examined. However, in some cases, instead of making it more likely to end, it actually brings the relationship back from the brink so it can hobble forward.
From BEGINNING TO END, IT IS IMPORTANT TO COPE WITH YOUR PARTNER'S PAIN
Whether you are in your relationship and need to share something hard, have to repair a relationship after breaking trust, or if you have to break off a relationship, learning to cope with your partner's pain is key. Even though it will hurt for a while, it is better to manage the reality of your situation rather than leave it until later and destroy trust or stay in an unhealthy or unwanted relationship. Learning to cope with suffering can be hard for some, but taking small steps towards learning to assert yourself can help.
Dr. Syras Derksen
Joel, S., Impett, E. A., Spielmann, S. S., & MacDonald, G. (2018). How interdependent are stay/leave decisions? On staying in the relationship for the sake of the romantic partner. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 115(5), 805-824.