When to Quit a Relationship

Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t ask me,“Should I break up with him?”.

Today’s new video could end up saving you months or even years of pain by providing you with the questions you should be asking when making this big decision.

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Matthew:

I was training the other day. And the person I was training with said to me, “Matthew, why is it that people tend to hold onto relationships longer than they should? And why, so often do those people when they leave a relationship, immediately jump into another one.” There’s this uncanny ability to find someone within mere weeks of your breakup and then jump straight into another relationship. How do you see this?

I’ve heard it called before a long time ago, “Monkey Branching”, where you don’t want to let go of… Well, I suppose that’s the idea of not letting go of the existing branch until you have another one lined up. So I suppose “Monkey Branching” might be a little more referential of the idea of literally teeing someone else up before you leave. But there’s a similar concept going on there. What do you think is happening?

Stephen:

With the people who just jump into one relationship from another?

Matthew:

Let’s start with why do you think someone won’t let go of a relationship?

Stephen:

I think the won’t letting go one is more common in a way, because I think we as human beings struggle to let go of things when we should. There’s a famous, psychological bias called the sunk cost fallacy or the, what is it, loss aversion effect. Right? It’s endowment effect, they call it where the things we have are hard to let go of, even when they’re bad for us.

That could be a job you should quit. It can be a relationship. It can be possessions. We instinctively feel the pain of the thing we have if we lose it, “Oh no, maybe that thing was essential to my survival. Maybe that was a terrible decision and I can’t get it back.” And when you’re in a relationship, I think a comedian made this joke once. No one leaves a relationship at the moment the relationship actually goes terrible. Everyone waits another six months at least until they finally pack it in. And-

Matthew:

Well, let’s just pause on that for a moment because I suppose the counter argument to that would be, if I left the moment things were bad, then I’m the kind of person that doesn’t try to get through difficult times in a relationship. If every relationship is going to go through difficult times, and I leave as soon as it’s bad, then I’m a runner. I’m a quitter. So then it brings up the question, how long should it be bad for before you leave?

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Matthew:

Hey, here I am. Matthew interrupting my own video. It’s better than an advertisement for Dove. Instead, I’ve got something that could actually change your life, not just make you smell better. It’s a Virtual Retreat. It’s a three-day immersive coaching program that I take people through personally, live, wherever you are in the world. You can do it from the comfort of your own home, but it’s a program that I’ve been running for over 15 years now. And it’s one that can radically transform your relationship with your emotions, your confidence, your self love, and your direction in life. To find out more, just go to MHVirtualRetreat.com. And now back to me.

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Stephen:

Well, that’s it right? I think it’s more that people don’t leave when they realize there’s no repair for this relationship, when people have even accepted or they think, I don’t think this thing is going to change, or this has gone on too long. We still drag it out a bit longer.

Matthew:

What’s too long though?

Stephen:

Well, because we might think there’s no way to actually be happy in this relationship or there’s no way to get my needs met. And we still dither on making the painful choice. Sometimes that’s just because we know that’s going to go horribly. The conversation is going to be horrible. Sometimes it’s because we secretly are just scared that we’re making a bad decision, or we’re frightened of how we will now figure out our lives and identity without this person because there’s a whole rebuilding that goes on. And it’s like preparing for a big dive or something. I’ve got to strap my oxygen tank on. I’ve got to be ready. I’ve got to be prepped and trained because once I go down there, I’m not going to come back up for a while, so I’ve got to be ready.

Matthew:

Or you might be telling yourself they’re going to change or the situation is going to change. And I think a big question on a lot of people’s minds is, “Am I being crazy for thinking this is going to change? And at what point do I give up on the idea that this is going to change?”

When is the right time to decide this is not going to change? Or when is the right time to decide to throw in the towel on a relationship that you’re trying to fix?

Stephen:

It’s hard. It’s a hard decision. I have to say more often I see people though, who struggle because they can’t leave rather than people leaving too early. More common is people staying too long than leaving too early.

Matthew:

But if you think about it, when people stay too long, a part of that is because of the justification they’re doing in their mind where they’re continuing to convince themselves that this might change. They’re looking at it as if it’s still a question mark.

And I’m fascinated by that because whether it’s with partners or with family members or friends, there are always going to be things that we really don’t like or wish were different, or that create arguments, that create friction. And we have to almost start from the place of saying our relationship with a person is the relationship we have today, not the relationship we have in the future.

And there’s a series of questions we have to ask ourselves, which is, “Is it bearable as it is today?” If the answer is no, something has to change immediately. If it’s livable and bearable, but it’s not meeting my needs in the way that I would need it to long-term, then the question becomes, “Is this about to change? Is this something that can change and is going to change any time soon?”

And that’s the part where most people are not honest with themselves. Right? I had a really interesting situation where someone said to me. . .They were talking about how their ex, they felt like their ex was right for them, but they’d just broken up the week before. And I was saying to this person, “I see no reason why he’s going to change. What indication has he given you that he’s going to change?”

And my friend said, “Well, I just, we argue about this stuff.” I said, “But has he actually acknowledged these things that you have a problem with? Has he acknowledged them and showed a genuine commitment to changing them?” And she said, “Well, no, he, but he’s so many of the things that I want and so on.”

I said, “Okay, so firstly, there’s not even evidence from his side that he wants to change, or is willing to, or is making a plan to change, is committed to change.” And change is really, really hard. Right?

There’s that Jacob M. Braude quote, “Consider how hard it is to change yourself and you realize how foolish it is to think you can change other people.”

It’s hard to change ourselves, so expecting that somebody else is going to change, especially when they’re not even motivated to, especially when they’re not even committed to that change is fallacy.

And then I said, “Look, this person’s not showing any signs they want to change. And even right now in the breakup, he’s not rushing back to you saying, ‘Oh my God, I want to change this. I want to change that. And let’s try this again.'”

And by the way, in that case, you’d still have reason to be suspicious because you haven’t seen the change yet. It’s not proven. This might just be a panic because he thinks he’s losing you. And he’s now saying all the right things to get you back. Now, you might give him another chance, but it doesn’t mean that he’s actually going to change. It just means you’re giving him another chance, that you feel like, okay, there’s a certain level of certainty in his voice. There’s a certain level of commitment in the plan that he’s given me about how he’s going to change or how he’s going to address these things in the relationship. There’s enough there for me to say, I’ll give this a shot. And then I’m going to watch carefully to see if that’s backed up by real action and real change.

But he’s not doing that. And it was so funny because she said to me, “So Matthew, like in situations in your past where there’s someone you really wanted to be with, but you broke up. If they came running back to you and saying like, ‘I really want this.’ You wouldn’t be back with them?”

And what his here’s what it’s really telling. I said to her, “But he’s not even doing that. You’re literally giving me a hypothetical right now as a way to con yourself into going back to this person but for the hypothetical, you’ve had to say this person is rushing back to you, wanting you back. He’s not even doing that. And you’re coming up with this hypothetical.”

So it’s indicative of how people con themselves, how people create a reality in their mind that’s not actually happening and happening in real life as a way to justify giving someone more time and energy.

Stephen:

Right? Yeah. I spoke to someone recently who was doing a similar thing and talking about a guy who clearly had no intentions of changing at all. And she was saying like, “Well what should I say to him then to get us back together?”

And we talked it through, and it was clear she was doing all the work here. And this guy had shown no intention that he even thought these behaviors were a problem. But it was her saying, “Well, I said these were problems. So what do I do now to keep him?”

Matthew:

I want people to consider, especially anyone who’s been through therapy or intensive coaching, or has been on our Retreat program. I want anyone to consider when you’ve been through a process like that, just how much it took on your part to actually change.

Even though you’d commit to a process, even though you’d paid money down for a process, that it still required you to really show up and give your all to that process in order for it to work.

So then you imagine the mountain that you have to climb for someone who you’re with to not be showing that firstly, they even have a deep awareness of what’s going wrong, of what’s bothering you, a true understanding. And then not saying, “I’m sorry, and I want to change. And here’s what I’m going to do to change.” And then following that plan.

If you’re in the stage of just arguing with someone about something that’s wrong and none of those things have happened yet, all your work is ahead of you.

In fact, all the work is ahead of you if someone says that they would like to change and are willing to do what it takes. Still, the work is ahead of you. If someone isn’t even doing that, it’s science fiction, the idea that they’re going to change. That is a made up story so that you can continue to hold onto something that is terrifying to lose for whatever reason, whether you’re afraid of being alone, whether you’ve convinced yourself you’ll never find anybody else, or more specifically you’ve convinced yourself you’ll never find anybody else with these qualities, or you feel like you can’t handle the pain of losing this person.

Stephen:

And that’s one thing we do, right? We think the qualities are amazing, and that’s the real truth is people think there’s enough good things in this person. And then they try and sell themselves on the toxic behavior or the behavior that they know they hate. They try and keep reselling themselves. Well maybe that’s all right. Maybe I’m being too much, or maybe it’s okay. Because they think they’re smart, they have this, I’m attracted to them, I have a good relationship with their friends. And it adds up and it’s like, “Ah, this is too painful to walk away with. Maybe I can just live with this really bad thing that doesn’t meet my needs.”

Matthew:

See I’m… I have come to believe that our emotions get very heavily involved in the people close to us, whether it’s the person we’re dating or in love with, whether it’s our siblings, our parents, our best friend, even our boss, and even sometimes the people we employ.

There are things that we may deeply want to change. And may even get to the point of saying, “I need to change this, or I can’t have a relationship with this person.” But there gets to be a point in life where we’ve communicated calmly and in a neutral way, what it is we would like to change about the dynamic, where we have given many opportunities for that change to happen and space for that change to happen. And where we have it confirmed over and over and over again that this change just appears to be too big of a shift for this person.

Either the shift never happens at all, or it it’s never sustainable. It’s a five minute shift, and then they always end up snapping back into their default position and behavior.

And when that happens, we have hard decisions to make. We can either say, “I have to remove this person from my life or from the level of proximity to me at the very least that is making me this unhappy. Maybe they can’t be in my inner circle. Maybe they can stay in my outer circle, and I can choose to have them as someone who’s in my life, but who I don’t rely on, or who I don’t have such an intimate connection with, but they can’t stay where they are now.”

Or you can say, “I am going to make peace with this part of this person because I am continuing to complain about something that I have known about for quite some time, and it’s not changing. And I’m still here, which means the point of the problem has shifted over from them to me.”

That’s always a truth of any relationship. There’s a point at which the source of the problem actually jumps. It transfers from that person to us because that person is who they’ve been.

Stephen:

Yeah, that’s right.

Matthew:

That should no longer surprise us. They are who they’ve been. We’re now the person who’s continuing to complain about old information. And we have to then look at ourselves and say, what’s going on with me that I either can’t leave this person, and can’t seem to shift my or can’t stay with this person and shift my expectation of them.”

Because if we stay with someone who won’t change and we’re unwilling to shift our expectation, then we become the reason we’re complaining, which isn’t excusing their behavior. In fact, they could be a terrible person, but why is it we haven’t adjusted our expectation of this person? What’s going on with us, that we’re unwilling to revise our image of this person and of this relationship that we have with them? Why have we not lowered our expectation? Why do we still have speculative expectations that are entirely speculative?

Because we’ve never had those expectations met in the past, not sustainably. So we still speculate on the expectation of what they can be.

Stephen:

Yeah. Yeah.

Matthew:

And that’s when we have to look at our ourselves and say, “Look, I’ve only got three options in life. It’s either that they change to be more of what I need, or I leave, or I stay and I revise my expectations of this relationship in this person.”

People stay unhappy because they don’t leave. They don’t revise their expectations, and that person doesn’t change. So now they find themselves lodged in a state of unhappy paralysis.

That’s not designed to be a prescriptive rant to anybody, but more a way to look at every, all of us should be analyzing our relationships and going, “Where am I unhappy because I’ve expected a change and continue to expect to change that’s not forthcoming, but I’m not willing to leave or distance myself, and I’m not willing to revise my expectations of this relationship?” That’s a recipe for going mad.

Stephen:

Yeah.

Matthew:

So anyone listening right now who feels like they’re going mad in a relationship, my guess is this will provide some light, some understanding of that situation. And email us by the way, if this is you. Maybe we can read a couple of stories about this next time.

And if you’ve had an epiphany listening to this, email us at podcast@Matthewhewhussey.com and tell us what the epiphany moment was for you in listening to this.

By the way we have… Well, there’s a couple of things to mention. Firstly, there’s a Virtual Retreat, our final Virtual Retreat of the year coming up, and you can go and learn about that at MHVirtualRetreat.com. That’s MHVirtualRetreat.com. We are filling up fast on this Virtual Retreat, Stephen. We had yesterday, we did a webinar and we had 500 people apply for an appointment to talk about the Virtual Retreat.

Stephen:

Wow.

Matthew:

500 in a day apply just to speak on the phone about the Virtual Retreat. Our team has been well and truly log jammed with appointments.

Stephen:

We don’t have 500 people to take all those calls, so they’ll be on the phones all day.

Matthew:

We’re a close knit family unit. We have our cousin, Billy who speaks to people. We have Emma. We have Charlotte, all beautiful, kind people, but go to MHVirtualRetreat.com. And by the time this podcast comes out, they should have put a few more days between those 500 people, and this podcast right now. So you have a shot at going and getting an appointment.

Start your Retreat journey by reserving your one-on-one call with one of our Retreat Specialists. These consultations are free, but availability is limited. Get started now by clicking below.

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Reader Interactions

9 Replies to “When to Quit a Relationship”

  1. You guys are talking about having unreal expectations, but for me, it is the opposite.

    I know he can not fulfill my needs, he will not change the behaviors that bother me (we talked about it) and I actually don’t want to be with him anymore.

    He has said that he wants to be with me, that I am his love, and his future. But I do not want to have a future with him.

    Why am I still in this relationship?

    I feel somewhat guilty for crushing his future. I know how to behave to please him, when to shut up and what he likes. Maybe it is his unconditional commitment to me that I am holding on to?!

    When I am being myself, we fight. We had moments where it looked like that was it, but he never left. He always comes back.

  2. Realizing that throughout a long marriage I had been the one who was lowering my expectations became clear when I decided to leave and did it. He didn’t really apologize for treating me badly, he was simply angry because I had always accepted his poor behavior. He actually said that he had been unavailable for planned dates before and I’d never gotten upset about it. What???? What an eye-opener!!!

  3. This is one of the best podcasts ever. I totally had an epiphany. If I have trouble making changes to my lifestyle why should I expect that my partner will change. I now have the strength to leave a man who cannot meet my needs and look for someone who shares my life goals. Thank you for pointing this out.

  4. That was me, but I don’t think I ultimately made the decision to leave. He left me twice. It just took time for me to heal and feel solid, again. It took a couple of years, but I’m okay now. It’s been about 3 or 4 years, since it ended, and I haven’t been able to date since then.

  5. What happens if he’s finally decided to change (and is showing some evidence of this), but it feels too late. If he’s doing everything I asked for 2 years ago, so it now feels awful to end it but it still doesn’t feel right.

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