Is It Over?

Two stylized hands clasping, forming a heart. Copyright-free symbol designed by Ravi Poovaiah, Professor, IDC, IIT Bombay.As I’m approaching the end of the Agreements Workbook Series (aka “KISSable Agreements), one topic that often comes up is how to tell when a relationship is well and truly over, or at least in need of some serious changes. In a “standard monogamous paradigm” relationship, it would be easy to know: one or the other of you has cheated, someone has filed divorce papers, or one or both of you is dead. But here in the Uncharted waters, we relationship explorers often don’t find it so easy to tell. Our definition of “cheating” is usually different, for one thing (it doesn’t just mean having sex with someone else, obviously!), and we don’t necessarily think every relationship is destined for eternity. It’s often said that relationships are “for a reason, a season, or a lifetime,” and that means death isn’t the only “acceptable” reason for a relationship to end, or change form.  So how do you tell?

To answer this question, I wrote a handout with some helpful tips, titled “Is It Over? or, When Might It Be Time to End or Change a Relationship?”  You can download that handout via this webform, if you like.  (Some of the formatting of this one is a bit tricky to do here, which is why I’ve made it a pdf.) Please remember to give me a valid email address, because I’ll need it to send you the pdf! You’ll also get added to my newsletter list (if you’re not on it already), but if you don’t want to stay on it after you’ve confirmed your address and gotten your pdf, you can always unsubscribe with the link at the bottom of every email.

By the way, one of the comments I’ve gotten from some folks who’ve read the handout, is that they found it reassuring, since it helped them to see that the issues facing them were not of the sort that portended the imminent demise of the relationship!  And even if it is time for the relationship to end or change, you don’t have to view that as a failure.  Instead, you can choose to view it as a graduation.

Questions or comments?  As always, feel free to comment below, contact me here, or on my FB Page, Love Outside The Box!

~♥ Dawn

love_is_ok_rainbow_heart_tshirtPS: My Love Outside the Box t-shirts, mugs, and heart-shaped ornaments would make great Valentine’s Day gifts! There’s still time to personalize them and get them to your sweeties before the big day!  And through February 8th, Zazzle is running a 50% off special on Premium Shipping (use code SHIPPINGLOVE.) Sweet!

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Is It Over?

…or, when might it be time to end or change a relationship?

Respect.  Honesty.  Communication. Mutual consideration for each other’s wants and needs. These are the cornerstones of a functional, happy, healthy relationship. When these break down, no amount of writing and re-writing Agreements will help; no amount of “working on your jealousy issues” will result in comfort.  But when is it time to quit?  Here are some things that might be good to consider in making this decision.

First, consider your models of success

In our society, we tend to measure the success of a relationship based on assumptions of monogamy and permanence.  Especially if you’re in any alternative relationship structure, that might not be appropriate.

Common Societal Measures

  • Staying together no matter what
  • If they’re jealous, they must love you
  • They never want anyone else
  • “You complete me”
  • “Till Death do us part”

Some Possible New Measures of Success

  • Both people being fulfilled and happy
  • Compersion—I enjoy seeing my partner happy
  • You both enjoy your time together
  • Learning about yourself and partner(s)
  • Commitment to working things through

Even if your relationship is not a success by societal standards, it might be a success for YOU.  Make sure you’re not unconsciously following a set of standards that don’t fit you.

Yellow flags

If any or all of these are present, it might be time to consider ending or restructuring the relationship.

  • Not operating in “good faith”
    Repeated broken agreements with no apparent intention to change; lying; cheating; making excuses; justifying bad behavior; always blaming someone else.
  • Lack of effort or interest in you or the relationship
    Are they trying new things, new ways of looking a it, or even just continuing to try at all? If not, or if you seem to always be the one doing the work, it might be a sign that something more basic needs to change.
  • Complete and/or repeated failure to make or keep agreements
    Remember, once or twice is normal, but “forgetting” more than that is probably a bad sign.  Failure to keep Agreements after repeated attempts at re-writing is a very bad sign.
  • Contempt – “The sulfuric acid of love”
    According to John Gottman, one of the foremost researchers on marriage and long-term relationships, the single biggest predictor of failure in a relationship is contempt by one person for the other.  If they are belittling you, making mean fun of you, not taking your needs or wishes into consideration, non-consensually humiliating you, or otherwise demonstrating a lack of respect, you should definitely consider ending or changing the relationship.
  • Mental illness or addiction, especially untreated
    We don’t advise abandoning your mate or partner at the first sign of trouble.  However, sometimes illness or addiction prevent them from being able to change in ways that are vital to your health, theirs, and the health of the relationship.  If you suspect that this is the case, get outside assistance, possibly in the form of individual, couple, or group therapy.  Expert advice and perspective can be invaluable in helping you to figure out if this is a phase, something that can be treated or worked with, or if it is intractable and ultimately toxic to you.

Red Flags

  • Abuse: Physical, mental, or emotional
    Non-consensual physical, mental, or emotional torture is Not OK.  Get out, and get help immediately.  (If you’re not sure if you consented, that is itself at least a Yellow Flag. Get help figuring things out from a knowledgeable professional.)

Keep in mind that ending a relationship is not necessarily a “failure”

“Leslie and I are no longer married. Soul mates, to me, don’t define themselves by legal marriage. There’s a learning connection that exists between those two souls. Leslie and I had that for the longest time, and then a couple of years ago, she had this startling realization. She said, ‘Richard, we have different goals!’ I was yearning for my little adventures and looking forward to writing more books. Leslie has worked all her life long, and she wanted peace, she wanted to slow the pace, not complicate it, not speed it up. Not money, not family, no other men or other women, separated us. We wanted different futures. She was right for her. I was right for me. Finally it came time for us to make a choice. We could save the marriage and smother each other: ‘You can’t be who you want to be.’ Or we could separate and save the love and respect that we had for each other. We decided the marriage was the less important. And now we’re living separate lives.

“I believe that Leslie and I were led to find each other, led through the years we lived together, and led to part. There’s so much to learn! When a marriage comes to an end, we’re free to call it a failure. We’re also free to call it a graduation. We didn’t say, ‘I guess we weren’t led to each other, I guess we’re not soul mates after all.’ Our graduation was part of the experience we chose before we were born, to learn how to let each other go.”

Richard Bach (in his now defunct personal website, originally penned on

(Jonathan Livingston Seagull is “a story for people who follow their hearts and make their own rules.”  Sound like anyone you know??)

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[© 2013 Dawn M. Davidson]

[Next Entry: Agreements — Good Faith Efforts (2 of 3 on Caveats and Assumptions)

[Previous Entry: When Agreements Fail: Competency (1 of 3 on Caveats and Assumptions)]

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3 thoughts on “Is It Over?

  1. Pingback: Dawn Davidson's Five Reasons Agreements Fail - Loving More Nonprofit

  2. Pingback: Agreements: Good Faith Efforts — Uncharted Love

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