Relationships: When to stay, when to walk away, and when to run!

"In my last relationship I realized that my partner was self-centered, self-serving, arrogant, ignorant, unfaithful, hypercritical, abusive, an under-achiever and an alcoholic. I was devastated when he broke up with me.”

How do you know when it’s time to end a relationship?

Never betray your own better judgment or your values. End a relationship before you compromise your self-respect or physical safety. There are four conditions when most psychologists and clergy agree that ending a relationship may be the right action. The four conditions are known as the “Four A’s”:
1.Abandonment (The partner left and is not coming back).
2.Addiction (Especially if children need protection).
3.Abuse (Especially physical abuse or if children need protection).
4.Adultery (Ending the relationship is an option, not a requirement).

Relationship problems unrelated to the “4 A’s” require deeper investigation. Ending committed relationships simply because one or both partners’ “fell out of love,” “got bored” or “grew apart” leaves each partner at risk of regrets or of repeating the same mistakes in future relationships.

Before you walk away, answer the following 8 questions:

*Yes No 1. Is this relationship harmful or dangerous to me or to my children?

Yes No. 2. If I had a son or daughter in a relationship exactly like mine, would I advise ending the relationship?

Yes No. 3. Have I treated my partner as they wish to be treated?

Yes No. 4. Have I maintained my sense of independence and encouraged my partner to do the same?

Yes No. 5. Have I continued to live true to my values and beliefs during this relationship?

Yes No. 6. Have I exhausted all options to communicate openly in this relationship?

Yes No. 7. Have I exhausted all options to negotiate conflict?

Yes No. 8. Could I respect myself for walking away from this commitment?

*Scoring: Answering “Yes” to question #1 indicates the need for immediate legal action and professional intervention.
“Yes” to questions #2 through #8 indicates that your values are aligned with ending the relationship.
“No” to questions #3 through #8 indicates a need to seek additional resources or professional help to improve problem solving and communication skills.

How do you know if your relationship is abusive?
People often shop for cars with more logic than choosing relationships. If a car ran efficiently and effectively for 50% of the time but the other 50% it broke down, rolled into a ditch or burst into flames, would you place your children in that car? What if it “only” burst into flames 20% of the time? Would you keep driving, seek a repair shop or look for a new ride?
Relationships built on a foundation of deception, disrespect or violence create emotional wounds and broken trust. This type of relationship is referred to as “Cycle of Violence” developed in the 1970s by Lenore Walker to explain patterns of behavior in abusive relationships. Each person in this relationship participates in the cycle. Each has a role. Here are typical examples:

“I know she loves me. It’s not her fault when she gets violent. I always say or do something to set her off.”

“He says he won’t cheat on me again. He only lied to protect me.”

“We only hit each other when we drink too much, so I wouldn’t call that violence.”

“He is so sorry afterwards. Each time he promises to change. He cries and begs me to stay. I’m afraid to make him mad by leaving.”

Continuing to tolerate the cycle reinforces the behavior. Upon further inspection, you may begin to understand that “lying, cheating, betrayal and abuse” are not compatible with “respect, trust, loyalty and love”. Rather than asking “Do you love your partner?” ask yourself the following questions:
1. Do I respect my partner? Do I feel respected?
2. Do I trust my partner? Do I feel trusted?
3. Do I have confidence in my partner? Do I feel confident?
4. Am I confident with myself as a relationship role model?
5. Would I want my son, daughter, sibling or best friend to be in a relationship exactly like mine?

Breaking the cycle of violence requires safety, resources and support. Ending relationships with difficult, disordered, or addicted people is an emotional challenge. You thought things would get better. You never intended to be in a relationship like this. You hoped for change. And waited. And waited. Now you realize it is time for you to choose a healthier response to your beloved’s addictive, abusive, impulsive, inappropriate, or intolerable behavior. Even though you use the tools to improve your communication skills, demonstrate assertiveness and enforce limits, practicing assertiveness does not guarantee that others will respond positively.

* Mentally ill and addicted people may refuse to engage in healthier relationship rules.
* Some will ignore or even sabotage your attempt to negotiate changes.
* Some will consider your self-improvement and assertiveness as “selfish.”
* Others will react with increased hostility and may even threaten violence.
* People who are abusing mood-altering substances are not capable of consistently participating in trustworthy relationships. Their substance use creates problems with thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Consider attending Alanon.
* Whether anger is limited to intimidation and verbal threats, or rage has escalated to physical acts of assault, aggressive personality types rarely respond positively to their beloved’s assertiveness or independence. Police protection, legal action and/or relocation may be necessary. Seek help immediately.
* Con artists and others who repetitively engage in deception or criminal activity are also emotionally challenging. As with angry people, deceptive people will not “improve” as loved ones set limits or attempt to negotiate healthier relationship rules. Because conning, dishonesty and deception are main coping mechanisms for these people, professional guidance, legal action, protection and even criminal prosecution may be necessary.

* People who suffer from severe mood disorders, psychotic disorders and personality disorders represent approximately 5.2% of the population in the United States. These disorders challenge abilities to maintain loving relationships. General signs and symptoms of psychiatric disorders may include: frequent mood swings, social isolation, angry outbursts, impulsivity, stormy relationships, difficulty maintaining employment, impaired judgement and decision making, increased risk of illegal activity and substance use disorders.
*In 2019, there were an estimated 13.1 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States with Serious Mental Illness (SMI). This number represented 5.2% of all U.S. adults. In 2019, there were an estimated 51.5 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States with Prevalence of Any Mental Illness (AMI). This number represented 20.6% of all U.S. adults. Serious mental illness (SMI) is defined as a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder resulting in serious functional impairment, which substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities. The burden of mental illnesses is particularly concentrated among those who experience disability due to SMI. Any mental illness (AMI) is defined as a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder.

Author's Bio: 

2021 Bio update: Pronouns: She, her, hers. Telka Arend-Ritter LMSW has been serving the mental health needs of the Greater Lansing Community since 1985. Telka's brief, solution-focused, cognitive processing, cognitive-behavioral treatment model was designed specifically for stress, depression, anxiety and problem relationships. In 2006 her 11-week program was approved as 22 credits in Social Work continuing education. Telka's approach blends neuroscience with practical and effective coping skills, mindfulness, CBT, CPT, DBT, and ACT.
In 2007, after working 23 years an outpatient mental health hospital, Telka established a successful private practice with her spouse, also a mental health professional. In 2021 Telka transitioned into telehealth services exclusively from a home office. They have one adult daughter and two French Bulldog grand-pups.