How Do You Know When to End a Relationship?

end a relationship

Relationships have costs. We may not always like to look at them in that way, but maintaining a relationship often means spending valuable time, money, and energy. If we find ourselves in relationships without a net gain, then we may question whether or not we should keep these relationships in our lives.

One fact you have to accept: some relationships throughout your life may be worth ending.

People can abuse people in a number of ways: physically, mentally, financially, spiritually, etc. Maintaining long-term relationships with people who take part in these abuses will suck the life out of you in the long-term. Unfortunately, that’s a huge cost that some people seem willing to bare; but I personally don’t think we can live truly satisfying lives with these burdens constantly looming over our shoulders.

For one reason or another, some people stay stuck in relationships that end up being a net loss. Despite the costs, we may stay in these relationships for multiple reasons.

  • You don’t think you can find anything better.
  • You think things will eventually improve.
  • You are compelled to stick with the status quo.
  • You’re ignoring the long-term costs of the relationships.

Take for example my friend Todd. Every time I speak to him he has something to complain about regarding his girlfriend. “She never leaves me alone/She always wants me to buy her new stuff/She hates my friends.” Every time it’s a never-ending spew of complaints. It makes you wonder if the relationship is really worth it. Seriously, if you rarely enjoy yourself around her, and there are all these problems in the relationship, then do the benefits really outweigh the costs? And if they don’t – are you willing to cut your losses short?

As painful as it is to be in these kinds of relationships, it only hurts more when we prolong them. But because most people are very loss averse, they stay invested in these relationships hoping that they will turn around.

This is one example of the the sunk cost fallacy (as applied to relationships). Sometimes people over-invest in a losing relationship, hoping that they will eventually win back their losses. Instead however these over-investments only lead to more costs and more pain.

In a worst case scenario, this can turn into a vicious cycle where losses continue to pile up until we are physically, mentally, financially, or spiritually bankrupt.

This is what will happen if Todd stays together with his girlfriend. She is mentally burdensome (never leaving him alone), she is financially burdensome (always asking for her boyfriend to pay for expensive things), and even burdensome on Todd’s other relationships (she hates his friends and wants him to find new ones). If Todd really values his free time and friends, he should dump her.

But it’s not necessarily my decision to tell you (or Todd) what to value in a relationship. Maybe all Todd cares about is the sex, and he’s willing to be his girlfriend’s pet in order to achieve that value (because it means so much to him). That’s ultimately his choice.

The big point I want to make is that relationships can have costs, and sometimes those costs outweigh the benefits. If you find this is true for some of your relationships, you may want to consider putting it to a respectful end (especially if it is something that is likely to persist into the future). Don’t wait until you are bankrupt: know when your values are being violated and start doing something about it.

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