We like to imagine that everything is perfect in our relationship, whether it be familial, friendship, or romantic, but there may come a point when you realise the relationship isn’t working. However, trying to leave can be incredibly difficult to do, not to mention the added dread that anxiety can bring to such situations. I found an article by Robert Taibbi titled How to End a Relationship Without Regrets which covered the topic well, but left me with questions on how this applies to anxiety. Bob is the author of 10 books, including books based on couples and family therapy and agreed to be interviewed on what you should do before ending a relationship, from making the decision, to having the conversation, and how anxiety may make these steps harder.
What is the overall advice you would give to someone as they try to end a relationship?
You want to be clear and sensitive. Clear that the relationship is over, sensitive to the other’s feelings. It is also a time to decide you what need to feel that there is enough closure – that you have a chance to say what you need to say or hear what you need to hear – and able to do what you need to do to leave without major regrets.
How do you know if ending the relationship is a good idea? How do you know it’s a bad or unhealthy relationship?
Every longer-term relationship has its ups and downs. What you are most looking for is a few things: Do I feel safe enough to be able to speak up about both the intimate and angry parts of me? Can the other person listen without making me feel dismissed or that my feelings are wrong? Can we work together to solve problems, however big or small, that works for both of us? Finally, what is your primary feeling most of the time – happy, anxious, supported, something else? On a good day would you be willing to live this way forever? On a bad day, could you continue to accept it?
How would you advise someone with anxiety on how to make or commit to the decision? How do you convince someone it’s ok if they must leave?
Anxiety tends to make you feel like everything is important, as well as make you worry about the future. There is rational and irrational anxiety. Rational anxiety is about a problem – you’re worried that your partner is workaholic or has a scary temper or is irresponsible with money. If a real problem, do something to solve the problem, take action. If it is irrational anxiety – that the relationship is doomed fail because your parents divorced, that terrible things are likely to happen – this is about your anxious mind taking over. Here you don’t want to mentally get lost in the weeds of these worries, but instead use them as a sign of stress and take steps to reduce it.
I’m not sure you can convince some that it’s okay – they need to come to their own decision. A more productive conversation is about the problem under the problem, i.e., what is keeping them ambivalent or afraid to act? Helping them sort this out can be helpful.
How would you stop someone with anxiety from feeling guilty about making the decision? How do you get them to accept that they aren’t at fault?
Knowing that you are hurting someone else will usually create some guilt. But guilt usually tied to breaking some rule. It may be a “should”, a rule learned from parents, for example, that you should stay in relationships or not hurt others. It may guilt about violating their own set of values. It may be guilt that they didn’t try hard enough or weren’t clearer earlier. I always say to folks that you always are doing the best you can at the time and hindsight punishing of yourself isn’t helpful. If there is something that they can do to relieve some of their guilt – without changing their minds – apologizing to the person, for example, for past hurts, do it. You can only do the best you can do.
What advice do you have for the conversation about ending a relationship? How do you make it cause as little damage or sadness as possible to the other party?
Have a conversation – no texts, voice-mails, etc. Help the other person understand how your feelings and why your feelings have changed. Talk about you, not them; talk about soft emotions like worry, hurt, sadness, rather than anger. Talk about what you appreciated about the other and the relationship. The goal is to talk completely, say what you need to get off your chests, say to help the person understand you, talk about lessons learned so they know what to take away from the relationship.
How does this translate to someone that suffers with anxiety, and is there specific advice you could offer them?
The anxiety will probably make the conversation more difficult, but the aims are still the same. Here I would suggest that they think about and write out what it is they want to say most so they don’t feel the pressure to make it up on the spot. I’ve also suggested being thoughts down in a letter or email because it gives you space to sort out what you want to say and gives the reader a chance to re-read and process it. That said, it’s important to then follow up with a real-time conversation.
Clearly it is hard to end relationships, especially ones you have dedicated time to, and someone you may still care deeply for. However, it can be in the best interest of yourself or the other party to leave. Staying in an unhealthy or unhappy relationship just because you feel a sense of commitment, is never a good thing. Making the decision to leave can be an incredibly hard thing to do, but trust that you know yourself well enough to do the right thing. If you have anxiety, then it is something that will inevitably make it harder to leave, especially having the conversation, but planning and careful consideration is a technique that can be applied to most situations involving uncomfortable conversations. As Robert says, you can’t really convince someone it’s ok, but you can encourage them to trust their decisions. I trust your decisions.
Link to original article: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fixing-families/201705/how-end-relationship-without-regrets
Link to Bob’s website: http://www.bobtaibbi.com/
Link to image 1: http://www.neillneill.com/how-to-end-a-relationship
Link to image 2: http://sourcesofinsight.com/tony-robbins-makes-decisions/
Link to image 4: http://combiboilersleeds.com/keywords/talk-1.html
Link to image 5: http://articles.bplans.com/common-business-plan-mistakes/