When Is It Time To Break Up?

I have a question about relationship deadlines. Since God’s plan with someone and a person’s free will to act or not act will make for a volatile situation, when married, what are appropriate deadlines to wait for your spouse to provide you with your needs? What are markers one should base their calculation to allow for unmet needs and low resources on behalf of one’s spouse? Spouses are people and go through bad times so I am lenient in allowing the butterfly unfolding. I also know women tend to be glorified these days for waiting forever and sacrificing for a future hope their husbands will show up thus I wonder if the ‘be patient’ command can be taken too far. The Bible does not mention such topic so I wonder what your thoughts are on it. Does God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit tell one clearly when it is time to move on or do They leave it up to us?

The first step in making a wise decision is to take the time to really think about how you got where you are, why you’re unhappy, and what you want to change about your situation. The more seriously you reflect on these issues, the more likely it will be that you uncover some important insights about yourself that will make the wise path clear. Let’s now go over what some of the key issues are when your relationship with an intimate partner feels stalled and unsatisfying.

Why You Chose Him

When you’re frustrated with your current partner, your focus tends to be on the present and on all of the ways he’s failing to be who you want him to be. While it’s always more attractive to tell yourself that he is the one ruining things, the truth is that you chose to be in this relationship. So why did you pick this guy instead of someone else? Interestingly, you won’t find the real answer to this question by reviewing the circumstances of how you two met. Remembering all of the conscious thoughts you had as you “fell in love” won’t reveal the information you need either, because your conscious isn’t the part of you that controls who you are attracted to. To really understand how you got where you are, you need to look at your partner from a very different perspective…

Your subconscious is the part of you that has the most influence over who you are romantically attracted to. Your subconscious can turn on and off internal feelings of romantic attraction as easily as you can flip a light switch, and it wields this impressive power very strategically. When your goal is to uncover the truth about why your mind steered you towards the man you’re with today, you need to ask yourself, “What is it that my subconscious needs today? What are its most pressing concerns? What are its biggest fears and stresses?”

To your subconscious, relationship partners are like vendors who are selling different kinds of goods. Seeking out a new relationship is very much like going on a shopping trip, only instead of looking for clothes or food, your mind is on the hunt for someone who can help meet your psychological needs. It’s very useful to realize that your subconscious puts its own needs first when shopping for a new relationship, and this is especially true when it comes to intimate relationships. Intimate relationships are the most intense form of human connection, they require the most effort to maintain, and they come with the biggest risks. But they also come with some unique benefits which even highly stressed minds can find extremely tantalizing.

You have multiple elements to your being, and they each have their own set of needs. In a relationship that is physically abusive, for example, the needs of your body are not being met. Instead, your body is being assaulted, which makes it extremely unhappy. But in real life, people not only seek out partners who will abuse them, they also tend to be quite hesitant to leave those partners. If they finally do break up with their abusers, they are very likely to seek out new partners who will eventually treat them just as bad. So why is this? Why are humans so prone to repeating negative patterns in their relationships? And why do they so often stay in relationships in which some part of their being (usually their body or soul) is acutely miserable? The answer is that your subconscious controls your relationships, and since your subconscious considers its own needs to be more important than the needs of your elements, it will push you to remain in a relationship where your other elements are suffering if it feels that that relationship has the potential to help it resolve one of its pressing concerns.

Once you understand that your subconscious is the driving force behind who you attract towards, you can appreciate why it is so critical to listen to what your mind has to say on the subject of unresolved problems. Your subconscious is the most loyal ally you’ll ever encounter, and it is always trying to help you, even when it steers you into relationships that end up making you feel quite miserable. Understanding why your subconscious values your current partner is critical, because until you understand why your mind pushed you towards the guy you’re with today, there is a very good chance that you’ll keep seeking out versions of him in all of your future relationships.

So how do you understand the logic your subconscious is using when it is being so secretive about its agendas? Most people are not able to explain the real reasons behind why they are with who they are with. This is because subconscious minds are intentionally covert about their agendas, hiding their true strategies from both the soul and the conscious. Why all of the secrecy? Well, why don’t you try to explain calculus to a five-year-old? Because you know the subject matter is over his head. In the same way, your subconscious considers your conscious to be too limited to understand the scope of all of the problems your subconscious is grappling with, while your soul is annoyingly contentious. To save itself the hassle of arguing with a critical soul that always thinks it knows best, your subconscious often chooses to keep its personal goals confidential. To throw your other elements off track, your subconscious will even lie about why its pushing you towards a certain guy. Perhaps you tell yourself that you got into a serious relationship because you want a family of your own, and this guy seemed like a decent character and a good provider. Or perhaps you simply interpreted those overwhelmingly strong internal signals to mean he was your soulmate. But underneath the vague terms and focus on your man’s surface qualities and current circumstances, your subconscious is performing some very complex calculations on how likely this guy is to help it resolve some of the items on its current list of “unresolved problems.”

To your subconscious, your current partner has qualities that indicate he is a very good candidate to help your mind resolve some of its most pressing issues. But what exactly are those issues? To get the real answer to this question, you need to look to your past, because that is what your subconscious focuses on when it draws up its “unresolved problems” list.

If I were to ask you to describe your worst experiences in life, which memories from your past surface in your mind? What if I were to ask you about your most frustrating relationships? As you ponder these questions, pay attention to the intensity of emotion that is linked to the memories your subconscious pulls up. Stronger emotions indicate greater stress. More importantly, strong emotions indicate unresolved stress.

Once your subconscious has a chance to properly process an upsetting experience from your past, you will be able to describe that experience with a decent amount of detail and not become emotionally upset. But when your subconscious is still feeling very upset by a past experience, you will not be able to talk about it without feeling emotionally upset. The more threatened your subconscious still feels today about a memory from your past, the harder time you will have discussing or even thinking about that memory in any kind of detail. These same principles apply to people from your past who have caused you a lot of distress. The mere mention of those people will trigger an immediate, negative change in your current mood, and you will find yourself focusing on certain qualities about them that really vex you, or on very specific interactions they had with you in the past which you are still upset about.

In doing a deep analysis of your current relationship troubles, it’s very useful to ponder the questions I just discussed and come up with a list of the people, situations, and experiences from your past which are still triggering a lot of negative emotion in you today. Once you have your list, realize that your subconscious is carrying around the immense burden of all of that unresolved stress 24/7. That puts a major strain on your mind’s ability to function, which makes it highly motivated to look for anything or anyone who might help it resolve some of its stress. It is guaranteed that when your subconscious performed its complex analysis of the man you’re with today, it found strong indications that he could be a very useful tool in helping your mind solve some of its pending problems. That is why it initially pushed you towards him, and that is why you’re still with him today.

Now the problem that often arises in these situations is that things don’t pan out the way the subconscious is hoping. A common reason for this is that minds tend to use a strategy that’s a bit flawed when hunting down useful relationship partners. That strategy focuses on trying to find a partner who shares the same negative qualities as some problematic person from your past, or has the potential to create the same negative circumstances that upset you before. A common example here is the woman who grew up with an alcoholic father. Because her father-daughter relationship was such a mess, the woman goes into adulthood still feeling a strong need to resolve the tension that has always existed between and her father. Parents are extremely powerful figures to the mind, and since minds instinctively try to solve problems by recreating them, adults will often seek out romantic partners who subconsciously remind them of their own parents. This has nothing to do with secretly longing for a sexual relationship with one’s parent–that theory is utterly ridiculous and was cooked up by folks who were sex obsessed. Another common misconception is that we always use our parents as a blueprint for our romantic partners. In real life, things are more complex than that.

Let’s suppose you have a very strained relationship with your father. Since the father-daughter relationship is so important to your mind, it’s causing you a lot of psychological stress that you and Dad don’t get along as well as you want. So how is your mind going to respond to this? Instead of pushing you to marry a man who seems like a clone of your father, your mind will isolate certain qualities about your father that it finds upsetting and steer you towards a man who has those same qualities. If there are just one or two qualities that your mind is focused on, there is a lot of room left for your husband to seem very different than your father was. He might have a very different personality, a very different physical appearance, and a whole set of mannerisms that are new to you. In this scenario, you’d feel accurate in saying the man was nothing like your dad in the early stages of the relationship. But as time passes, those certain key qualities that your mind is on the hunt for will begin to emerge in your husband. As those negative traits start to get expressed, you will feel very distressed. You’ll likely think to yourself, “I was attracted to this man because he was nothing like my jerk of a father, yet here he is acting in ways that make me feel just as bad as Dad does.” While your soul might view this as bad luck, luck had nothing to do with it. Your mind intentionally sought out a man with those specific qualities that bother you so much. Why? Because it is trying to fix the fact that those qualities stress you out.

Suppose you are trying to cook a complex recipe. Several steps into it, you realize you must have made a mistake because things don’t look as they should. What do you do? You throw out what you’ve made so far and start again. If getting the end product is very important to you, you won’t just give up. Instead, you’ll keep trying again and again, and your first step will always be making sure you have all of the necessary ingredients to make what you want to make.

When trying to resolve stress over your past, your subconscious often uses a similar approach. First, it hunts down the ingredients that it feels are the most essential for recreating the original problem, then it tries to work with those ingredients in a way that turns out a different, better result. Sometimes the original problem is a specific experience, such as being physically assaulted. Other times it is a relationship dynamic, such as having a mother who would never affirm you. Since your subconscious’ top priority is to protect you, it focuses a lot on the issue of harm, and that causes its recreation efforts to be focused on negative themes. If your subconscious is trying to use your most intimate relationship as a setting for this kind of problem solving, realizing this is very important because your subconscious’ agendas directly impact how well you will handle a break up, as well as how likely you are to try to recreate the same frustrating dynamics with a new partner.

Now it’s clear from your wording that consciously you want to believe your guy has the potential to change in certain ways. Yet the “butterfly” you’re hoping to see is very much about you and what you want based on your own life experiences. So what are the specific qualities that you’re hoping your man will develop? Making a list of those traits would be another informative exercise, as it would help you get a clearer understanding of what your true motivations are. Once you have your list, look it over and consider if there are any frustrating people from your past who you also really wished had those qualities. This is another way to try to suss out if your subconscious has pushed you into this relationship in an attempt to resolve its problems with someone else.

Ignore the issue of gender when doing this exercise, because minds often disregard gender as an important quality in these situations. For example, many heterosexual women who only feel sexually attracted towards males are still trying to work out problems with their own mothers by seeking out men who share some of Mom’s most aggravating qualities. The issues that cause us the most psychological distress have nothing to do with gender or sex. These are side details that minds sometimes get obsessed with, but they are never the root issue that the mind is trying to resolve.

Recognize the Good

There is no such thing as a relationship partner who will give you everything you want. God has intentionally designed human relationships to only be partially satisfying, and there are many reasons why this is a good thing which I won’t get into here. Suffice to say that some degree of tension in relationships is needed to motivate both partners to keep maturing. If your man was to completely revolve around you and make pleasing you his top priority, you would both end up regressing in your personal development. It’s far better for both of you when some differences exist, because differences cause dissatisfaction, and being dissatisfied motivates us to think about how reasonable our demands are.

While no human is perfect, they all have a mix of positive and negative qualities. What are the positives in your man? What benefits does he bring to the relationship? Don’t discount the small stuff, because small stuff has a surprisingly big impact on our daily happiness. Make a list of all of your man’s positive qualities and contributions in every area that affects you: finances, socializing, emotional connection, physical touch, problem solving, etc.. Put effort into this list, and realize that right now you’re biased towards the negative so you’re likely to minimize the value of some of your man’s positive contributions. Once you have your list, think about what your life would be like to have those things suddenly taken away, because that’s what would happen if this relationship ended.

While breakups are sometimes quite necessary, they shouldn’t be rushed into without careful thought. Intimate relationships are built on trust, which is a form of commitment. Breaking up with an intimate partner can sometimes do lasting damage to trust that will kill any chance of resurrecting the relationship in the future. Break ups shouldn’t be done half-heartedly, or in hopes of prodding your man into making changes. You should only break up when you’re ready to permanently close this chapter and move on with your life. Before making such a drastic move, it’s always wise to think about the positives you’ll be losing, as well as consider how likely it is that you’ll be able to find a similar package in the future. Some positive qualities are rare occurrences in humans, since they only occur in people who have put quite a bit of effort into maturing certain aspects of themselves. Such qualities are highly valuable and worth paying a higher cost to keep.

Your Own Contributions

When trying to decide if it’s time to end a relationship, analyzing what kind of partner you are is just as important as scrutinizing your partner. None of us are perfect partners, and it’s guaranteed that you’ve hauled your own pile of negative baggage into your current relationship which your partner is now having to endure. So how bad is your baggage? How much are you working this guy’s nerves in the day to day?

Conflict resolution is a very common area that women tend to tank in when relating to men. While women often pride themselves on being superior communicators because they are naturally wired to be far more verbal and analytical than men, they don’t own up to how much they are insisting that their men morph into females in the communication department.

There are significant core differences in how males and females process information and communicate their feelings. These differences are built in by God and they are ones that cannot be eliminated no matter how much people try. This means it is completely unreasonable for you to expect your man to ever start thinking entirely like a woman thinks. It’s also unreasonable for you to interpret many of his natural male behaviors as “proof” that he either doesn’t care about you or is trying to hurt you.

The first step in settling into a good rhythm with a man is to expect there to be massive differences in the way he thinks and communicates. Many things that are incredibly obvious to women are truly mysterious and undetectable to men. Naturally this leads to both sides leaping to very wrong assumptions about each other in the early stages of the relationship. But as you learn more about how your man views life, you can get better at adjusting your own style of communication to be more male-friendly. The same is true for him. Effort is needed on both sides to overcome the natural communication barriers that emerge whenever the two genders mix. Meanwhile, there is great value in realizing that those differences exist, because part of treating your man well means leaving room for him to be male. If you can’t identify areas in which you are intentionally leaving room for your man to do his guy thing without getting a bunch of flack from you, then you’re probably trying to get him to conform to your way of doing things too much. The common stereotype of the “nagging wife” did not form without reason. Many men do feel endlessly harangued by wives who want them to do everything their way, and of course this leads to men acting hostile and distant. Since you are clearly unhappy with the way your man is treating you today, it’s important to consider the possibility that some of his negative behaviors might be an attempt to retaliate against you. In other words, are you really the victim in every area? Or are there some areas in which you are the one creating the problems?

Understanding Functionality

You can’t be confident in declaring a relationship to be a mess until you understand what a functional relationship looks like. Every human relationship has unwritten rules that must be followed for the relationship to be healthy. The more educated you are on essential relationship principles, such as how to keep power balanced correctly between partners, the better you’ll be at identifying why a relationships feels “off” and whether or not it can be fixed. Explaining these kinds of principles is too involved for a post, so I’d recommend that you read my book What’s Wrong With My Relationships? if you want to dig into this topic in depth.

Due to their own internal baggage and personal choices, some people are simply not comfortable with functional relationship dynamics. When this is the case, such people will intentionally work to keep their relationships dysfunctional, despite any efforts their partners make to improve things. Here’s where we come to a vital question: what kind of relationship do you really want? Simply saying “a relationship that makes me feel good” doesn’t answer this question, because plenty of people feel much happier in abusive relationships than healthy ones. If it turns out that you are someone who is intentionally seeking out dysfunctional relationships, the only way to get yourself ready for a functional dynamic is to work on resolving some of your own baggage. For that, you should consider counseling.

Why does functionality matter? If two people who actually want an abusive dynamic pair up and abuse each other, won’t that work for them? No, it won’t. God has designed humans to be harmed by abuse, even when they intentionally seek it out. What this means is that to truly thrive in life, you have to work on your own issues. You can’t just seek out a partner to “fix” your internal issues for you, nor can you magically escape being harmed by abuse just because you chose it. If you want to experience a healthy relationship dynamic, you need to be able to stand living in a healthy environment without trying to tear it down. Healthy relationship dynamics can be very healing and they can also inspire immense personal growth in both partners. So they are definitely worth pursuing, but it’s helpful to be honest about the fact that for many of us, it’s uncomfortable to be healthy.

Mature Love

Mature love is focuses on the longterm well-being of its target. If you realize that you’re an abusive relationship partner for whatever reason, having mature love for your partner would mean that you end the relationship to protect him from your toxic influence. If instead you come to the conclusion that you want a healthy dynamic but your partner is only interested in dysfunction, mature self-love would motivate you to end the relationship for your own well-being. The point is that the longterm welfare of both partners should be considered.

Since God places an equal value on humans, it is not appropriate to treat one spouse’s needs as if they are the only needs that matter. In real life, problems arise that throw off the balance of power for a while, such as when one spouse becomes seriously ill and has to do the majority of the taking in the relationship. But while seasons of imbalance are inevitable, they need to be recognized and corrected as soon as possible. There are always ways to try to correct imbalances of power so that one partner doesn’t end up burned out and frustrated by his or her needs going unmet. If you’re currently in a situation where you feel forced to do all of the giving, only you can decide how long you are willing to put up with that level of imbalance. One thing is certain: you will not be able to remain in that position forever, nor should that be a goal. Among humans, relationships are supposed to be a give and take affair. They are primarily a tool that we use to exchange resources and get needs met. When a partner is refusing to use relationships the way they are designed to be used, cutting ties is usually the wise choice.

Using Good Discernment With The Bible

Whenever you are looking to a written text for aid in making life decisions, you should always consider the context if you want to apply that text wisely. Considering context includes identifying who is speaking, and who they are speaking to. In the biblical records, you will find many different authors offering their thoughts and viewpoints on various topics. You will even find God being quoted. But what you won’t find is any passage in which you were a member of the audience that was originally being addressed, and this means you need to be extra cautious before deciding that something said to other people should be treated like a direct command to you.

If you walk in on a drill sergeant leading military cadets in some exercise, are you going to start obeying the commands that the drill sergeant is barking out? No. You’re not going to start running laps or loading a gun or hoisting some heavy pack onto your back. Instead, you’ll recognize that the man isn’t talking to you, he’s talking to his troops. While you will probably learn some things about the drill sergeant’s character and priorities by observing the way he trains his cadets, you won’t experience the man talking directly to you until he chooses to do so. In the same way, you can learn a lot of valuable insights about God’s Character and priorities for humans by reading through the things He says to other people in the Bible. But when it comes to seeking God’s advice to you regarding your personal life, you need to set the book down and go direct. Ask God to help you learn any lessons that He wants to teach you through your current struggles, and ask Him to help you understand and obey any instructions that He gives you.

At the end of the day, pleasing your Creator is far more important than chasing down the ideal human companion or morphing into the best version of yourself. Happily, God makes succeeding with Him very easy to do no matter what kind of mess we’re currently in. When we sincerely want to please Him with our choices, He will help us do so. He will also bring problems into our lives that will give us valuable opportunities to mature as we work through them. God has no intention of giving any of us a problem free life, but He will often surprise us with the good that He brings out of negative circumstances (see It’s Personal: Why God Brings Problems Into Your Life).

This post was written in response to a request.

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