A year and a half before I ended things with my ex-fiance I got in the car and drove south about 12 hours to Kentucky. The trip came almost out of the blue. I was craving time in my car, an old fashioned road trip. It was the only place I could remember at the time where my head was clear, where I felt most like myself. I loved traveling to new places by car, you get to take your time. Turn down old dirt roads and follow signs to farmers markets, antique stores or yard sales.
You get to roll around a new town and sit alone at a coffee shop or bar and make friends out of strangers. Better yet, have deep conversations with strangers. If you’ve never done it I highly recommend it. There’s something about talking to someone you know you’ll probably never see again that allows you to open up in such a raw and vulnerable way. The way you want to with your significant other and best friends, but at times don’t for fear of being mis-heard or mis-understood.
So I hop in my car for a five day vacation by myself. My ex was OK with it, he knew I had an independent streak a mile long and I assured him everything was fine. But the whole time I was driving to Kentucky I felt like I was driving back toward myself, like I was living BIGGER in my shell again for the first time in a long time. And after four great days the drive home was the slowest drive ever. I felt like I was shrinking the closer I got to the Michigan boarder. I didn’t know what to do with myself once I got home. I felt even more out of sorts than before I left.
At the time I was ignoring it, I ignored all of it. I didn’t want to admit that this one one of many signs telling me things were off. That the relationship needed to end. But how do you know, when you’re in a long term relationship, that something has to give? This was my experience and from the work I’ve done with others a series of feelings or events that often precede realizing that a relationship is coming to it’s end, or needs a major over haul on the part of both partners.
1. You don’t feel like you can be your whole self. And by this I mean you walk into the house and put on a face, the “everything’s fine” face and you can’t even imagine having a real conversation about your feelings with your partner. You feel trapped in your own house. In fact you don’t even feel like you can talk about this in full with your friends. You may let them in here and there but you’re acting in almost every aspect of your life. Because in all honesty you may not know exactly “what” is wrong but you just know it’s wrong. It feels off, all of it feels off.
2. You feel the need to leave, and I mean now. On vacation, to go to the mall, to walk around the block. You can’t seem to be OK being in your current living situation but you don’t want to admit it, so you distract yourself with trips to the grocery store and excuses to go anywhere.
3. You start buying stuff like crazy. New clothes, new stuff for the house, new stuff for your office, gifts for friends even though their birthday is months away. You’re looking for dopamine anywhere you can. This is your ego and your brain trying to find happiness and contentment for you anywhere it can.
4. Sex is gone or blah or just not the same. Physical connection in a relationship is wildly important. And yes sex can go through phases, stress and so many factors can cause your sex life to loose its luster. But if you’re at the point where you can’t even talk about it, or you talk about it and the “solutions” you find aren’t working, something is wrong. It’s probably because of a much deeper seated emotional issue with one or both of you. Don’t force your way through it, don’t do it just “because you should.” Really look at what’s different, what’s changed. Ask yourself if your needs are being met, ask yourself if your physical attraction to your partner has changed. Whatever you hear as an answer, is OK. This is your truth, let it out.
5. You don’t prioritize time as a couple any more. Sure you may go to dinner after a day of running errands or you “go out” because it feels like the right thing to do. But are you connecting? When you make plans is it a chore? Or is there always something more pressing that needs one or both of your attention - friends, work, volunteer activities, house work etc. Avoidance is a huge sign that something is off and needs to be addressed or you could just be ready to be done.
6. (Bonus) You feel like you don’t know how to talk to them any more. This often happens after a lot of work has been done on a relationship, or you’ve started getting in so many fights or disagreements you feel like you don’t even know how to talk to the person any more. You may be coming at the conversation in as many different ways as you know how but the reaction is the same “Why are you trying to change me?” “Why are we having this conversation again?” “What can I change that I haven’t already?” When you get to a point in conversations with someone where you’re both acting and reacting from the same script, you need support. Couples therapy often comes in here and for those instances where both partners are showing up fully and ready to own their shit this can really work wonders to make a difference. Other times it’s just too much, you’re just done. And there does come a point when you realize that the type of conversations you used to have and are currently having aren’t even what you want now.
This is all growth, it’s fucking hard but it’s true. Growth is going to come in many, many forms over your life and for whatever reason, darling, you and I chose to go through a relationship like this. And that’s ok, there are lessons here, there were things that needed to be learned in this method. And it’s all going to be OK.
You can leave this relationship gracefully, with your heart intact and theirs respected. No you can’t just slip out the back door into darkness and drive four towns away to set up a new life, trust me I thought about it and could never quite figure out how to make it work. What you need, what you owe yourself and what you owe your partner is a clean break. You owe it to them and yourself to respect both of you and the love you had. Own what your needs are, own the fact that you’re moving on and rise to where your spirit is guiding you.
It is also OK if you’ve reached this point and you haven’t had tons of communication or work on the relationship. I know it sounds sacrilegious but it’s true. Women often, more often than not, work on situations and relationships with every ounce of their being and don’t call uncle until they’re absolutely done and burnt out. Until every last thing has been tried. This is how we’re wired, and that’s OK. There are situations where you want to try to work things out and there are times when you just know, without a shadow of a doubt that you are not in the right place for yourself. And that is number 7 with a bullet.
7. (Double Bonus) If you know, in your soul, that you are not happy in this relationship and that you won’t ever be, leave. It’s that simple, you deserve to be happy in every part of your life. If you have children you deserve to be modeling happiness and a well lived life to them. Staying with a partner because it’s “easier” than getting a divorce, moving out, splitting custody or having to tell all your family and friends that the “relationship failed” is not a valid reason.
A relationship can never fail. Relationships are two beings interacting with each other over a period of time, there is not scale to grade that interaction, there is no end goal that needs to be achieved. There are milestones, there are phases, there are definitions that we’ve given in our society but those cannot dictate what a relationship means to us or how it will pan out as a part of our lives.
You get one beautiful life, please darling, live it. Live it to its absolute fullest. Suck the marrow out if it, try and experiment and take one path only to divert to another. You do not know unless you try, you tried on this relationship and it’s not fulfilling you. Thank it for all it’s given you and move forward, move on to the next phase in your lovely, beautiful and unique life.