The Fear of Ending a Relationship – Free Ebook

Let us imagine that we know what we want – to
leave a relationship – but that we are suffering

from a problem which inhibits us from acting
on our wishes: we can’t bear to cause another

person pain, especially another person towards
whom we feel a sense of loyalty, who has been

kind to us, who looks up to us for their safety
and their future, who has expectations of

us and with whom we might have been planning
a trip to another continent in a few months.

Perhaps we have come near to telling them
on a dozen occasions, but always pulled back

at the last moment. We tell ourselves that
we’ll get around to it ‘after the holidays’,

‘once their birthday party is over’, ‘next
year’, ‘in the morning’, and yet the

deadlines roll by and we are still here.
Our discomfort has to do with the thought

of unleashing an appalling upset: they will
dissolve into tears, there will be sobbing,

which may last a very long time, there will
be wailing, uncontrollable cries and mountains

of wet tissues – all because of a truth
that currently lurks in the recesses of our

cranium. We will have been responsible for
dragging a formerly competent and independent

person into chaos; it’s more than we can
bear. It sounds peculiar, but it might be

better for us to spend the next few decades
unfulfilled than experience even five minutes

of unbounded upset. In another part of our
minds, there may also be a terror. More than

we realise day to day, we’re scared of our
partner. By telling them it’s over, we risk

a discharge of titanic anger. They may scream
at us, accuse us of leading them on, of being

a charlatan and a disgrace. There might be
violence and danger.

There is a certain symmetry to our fears.
We may tell them and by so doing, kill them.

Or we may tell them and they will turn around
and kill us; kill or be killed. No wonder

we put off the news. The reasonable adult
part of our minds knows that these fears of

killing and dying can’t be true – but
this may weigh very little in how we unconsciously

feel. Wielding sensible arguments can at points
be as effective as telling a person with vertigo

that the balcony won’t collapse or a person
with depression that there are perfectly good

grounds to be cheerful. A lot of the mind
is not amenable to hard-headed logic. In an

ancestral part of us, we simply operate with
a sense that going against the wishes of a

significant person will mean either endangering
their lives or our own.

To explain the origins of such terrors, childhood
is the place to turn, as it always is when

trying to account for disproportionate and
limitless fears. Perhaps we are the offspring

of a fragile parent whom we loved profoundly
and whom it would have broken our hearts to

disappoint. They might have been struggling
with their mental or physical health, they

might have been maltreated by another adult.
Maybe they were relying on us to hold them

back from despair or justify their whole lives.
We may have derived an early impression that

we had to conform to their idea of us if we
weren’t to cause them grave damage, that

our wishes and needs could easily have driven
them to the edge, that by being more ourselves,

we might have broken their spirit. We simply
loved them too much, and at the same time,

felt them to be too weak, to ask them to take
on our reality. We can be three years old

and, without knowing any of this consciously,
have taken such messages on board. And as

a result, we might then have learnt to play
very quietly, to reign in our boisterousness

or mischievousness, our aggression or our
intelligence, to be extremely cheerful and

helpful around the house, to be ‘no trouble
at all’ towards a beloved adult who already

seemed to have far too much on their plate.
Alternatively, we might have spent our most

vulnerable years around a person who responded
to any frustration caused by another person

with extreme anger. It can be hard to appreciate
just how terrifying an enraged adult can seem

to a sensitive two year old. Another adult
might know that this red-faced figure of course

wasn’t going to murder anyone, they’re
just letting rip for a while and will pick

up the pieces of a smashed vase soon enough,
but that’s not at all how it can seem through

a child’s eyes. How are they to know that
this person many times their size wouldn’t

just go one step further and, at the end of
their ranting, pick up a hammer and smash

their skull in? How can they be certain that
the momentarily genuinely out of control parent

who just broke the door wouldn’t for that
matter throw them out of the window too. Child

murder may be entirely alien to the furious
adult, but that’s not how it can strike

a sensitive offspring. One doesn’t have
to actually murder anyone to come across – to

an unformed mind – as someone who seriously
might. No wonder we might be a bit scared

of sharing some awkward news.
Our minds are freighted with fears that stem

from things that happened under precise circumstances
long ago but that continue to have a potent,

subterranean, scarcely recognised and immense
force in our lives today. By taking stock

of the past, the task is to acknowledge that
these fears are very real but only in a very

limited place: our own minds. They don’t
belong to adult reality. The catastrophe we

fear will happen has already happened: we
have already experienced someone who seemed

to risk killing themselves if the news grew
too bad – and someone who looked like they

were perhaps going to kill whomever displeased
them. But these issues are firmly located

in another era. We need to take on board an
always unlikely-sounding thought, we are now

adults, which means, there is a robustness
to ourselves and to our dealings with others.

Another adult is highly unlikely to collapse
on us and if they do, there are plenty of

measures we can take. We will know how to
help them cope with their grief, directly

and indirectly. It may seem as if it will
never end, but that is a child’s reasoning,

not an adult’s. In reality, it will be very
bad for a few hours, or days or weeks, but

then eventually, as happens, they will get
over it. They will recover their good humour,

they will wake up one morning and see the
world hasn’t ended and that they know how

to go on. Similarly, they won’t actually
try to pick up the nearest axe and chop us

into small pieces. They may be furious, they
may shout, there may be some ugly words – but

again, we are now tall and independent, we
can get away, in extremis, we have the number

of the police and a lawyer, we can let the
fury vent, and like a well-built bridge in

a hurricane, be utterly confident that we
can withstand anything that will come our

To further lend us courage, we should remember

a distinction between being kind and seeming
kind. It can look as if the kind thing to

do is never to anger or distress someone – and
therefore, never to give a person we have

loved unwelcome news. But that is to overlook
the more insidious ways in which we can ruin

someone’s life. To stay with a person because
we wish to avoid a few hours of unpleasantness

is no favour to them – if we then go on
to be bitter, mean, snide, unfaithful and

depressed around them for the next few decades.
We’re not helping someone by sparing them

a bad break up scene, if we then deliver a
life-long foot-dragging scene.

A surprising amount of the misery of the world
comes from people being overly keen to appear

kind, or rather, too cowardly to cause others
short term pain. The truly courageous way

to leave is to allow ourselves to be hated
for a while by someone who still loves us.

We shouldn’t imagine that they will never
find anyone else like us: they may believe

it now and might even sweetly tell us so.
But they won’t believe it when they finally

understand who we are. Real kindness means
getting out – even though the holiday has

been booked, the apartment paid for and the
wedding arranged. There’s nothing wrong

with and nothing dangerous about deciding
someone isn’t for us. There is something

very wrong with ruining large chunks of someone
else’s life while we squeamishly or fearfully

to get out of the way.

deciding whether to stay in or leave a relationship is one of the trickiest and most consequential decisions we can face. Our stay or leave card game can help us towards an answer. Click now to learn more.

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