As they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
But what if it is broke and you don’t want to fix it?
I’m not talking about your appliances or your bubblegum solution for that broken heel on your pumps. I am talking, of course, about that relationship you’re stuck in. Did I say stuck? I mean trapped. I mean bored. I mean, it's just not doing it for you. You want to leave. He wants to fix it up. Or worse he thinks it's just fine the way it is. You're just not that into him and that's okay.
I have come to the theory that the main reason people act badly in a relationship is due to the fact that at least one of them doesn't want to be there. For example: infidelity. It’s not just a question that that person who cheated wanted necessarily to cheat for the sake of cheating, but perhaps they simply could not find a way to end a relationship which was perhaps not terrible but just not satisfying. As far as passively (or actively) choosing a bad behavior to instigate a break-up, cheating is one of the best.
I don't say that to excuse people who cheat. My ultimate point is that most of us simply do not know how to deal with conflict. We seem to one of the following:
a) try to resolve the wrong conflicts or
b) avoid resolving conflict all together or
c) refuse to recognize that there is a conflict.
The problem in most relationships seems to be that we try to make things work out when really the reason things aren't working out is that they shouldn't be. The proverbial square peg in a round hole problem. No one’s fault. Just not a good fit.
We often feel we should have a bigger reason to break up with someone than simply it's just not working. We say things like 'It's not as though he's cheating on me' or 'He's a nice enough guy,' but really, are these bland compliments a strong basis for a relationship? Of course not. So we get stuck in these relationships which aren’t terrible, but aren't really satisfying either. And we don't know how to end them.
Either one or the other or both parties will develop passive aggressive behaviors, will cheat, will fight over insignificant issues, or do myriad things which are truly small annoyances that somehow they escalate into blow-ups and breakups.
It doesn't have to be this way.
In short, women and men both need to learn how to identify and deal with conflict.
If you find a relationship is not satisfying to you, the best thing to do is to be honest. Unfortunately, movies and books have turned useful phrases into banalities, so expressions like “It's just not working for me” or “We aren’t a good fit” are already invalidated as trite. We seem to think we need a more dramatic reason.
In fact, 'It's just not working for me' is a perfectly valid reason for ending a relationship. What we need to do is to find the strength of character to just say that. Of course we all want to be nice about it. There should be no blame involved, after all. But dragging it out for months on end while you try to find a nice way to say 'It's just not working for me' is not that nice a way of going about it.
Be Assertive (Scratch That! Peremptory!)
Being assertive, in general, is a good idea for anything. The problem with the word “assertive” is that it is often confused with “bitchy” or “aggressive”. If you find you are not confident being associated with the word assertive, try peremptory. It's a nice word, and rarely used. Peremptory is an excellent word because it implies putting the end to a debate. Believe me, in this situation this is what you want.
Of course peremptory also implies, if you squint a bit, autocratic or bossy, therefore bitchy. But aren't we all just a little tired of being smacked down for being strong women? Stick with peremptory. Make it your new Word of the Day.
So let’s get all accurate and unwaffling about it: We are not compatible. Now that sounds cold, and a certain level perhaps it is. You could be polite and say I don’t believe we are compatible but then you are opening yourself up to a dialogue on why, how and when to make it fit, etc. You don’t believe you are compatible? Watch him become a missionary before your very eyes as he does everything he can to make you believe.
A simple, clear, irrefutable statement is best.
I hate to reduce this problem to a project management trope, but please indulge me for a moment. In my past life (and even occasionally in my future life no doubt) I have been a business writer and have had to write tedious brochures fleshing out the SMART feedback acronym. Sometimes with fake little anecdotes, sometimes not.
Feedback. This is something we all hate. We hate to give feedback, we hate to get feedback. But if we are honest with ourselves, feedback delivered properly is vital. Feedback, though, is given when you wish a relationship to continue but change its form. NOT what you want in this situation.
Here is what the acronym means:
S - Specific
M - Measurable
A - Attainable
R - Realistic
T – Timely
You: I find that I'm not satisfied in this relationship because you like to hang out in the house all the time and we haven't had sex since the first few months we started dating, whereas I like to go out and have sex more than once a month.
Him: I didn’t realize you wanted to go out because you spend so much time on Pinterest. I can’t possibly keep up with you and your sex needs since your read Fifty Shades of Grey. I’m not 18 anymore.
You: Wait til the movie comes out.
You: I found that in the past month alone we have spent 80% of our evenings sorting laundry, vacuuming, cleaning behind the fridge, tweezing your back hair, and watching you play Call of Duty.
Him: I wouldn’t have to clean behind the fridge if you kept to your end of the housecleaning bargain. As far as back hair goes, you’re the one who’s on Team Edward. Men have hair. Deal with it. I don’t play Xbox that much. Only when you’re pinning.
You: I’m only online when you’re playing Call of Duty.
You: I believe our relationship would improve if you could find it within yourself to get out once and a while. You spend too much time at home. A few nights out a week would do you the world of good.
Him: Our relationship would improve if you weren’t always so freaking extroverted and wanting to go out every weekend. Why don’t we have a game night in for a change and save some money? You know I can’t dance.
You: You could if you tried.
You: I find it annoying and strange that you continually iron and fold and straighten things. I can ignore your OCD thing if you get it out of your system when I’m not present. Oh, and since I clearly don’t iron your shirts right, don’t ask me to do them anymore.
Him: You want me to be presentable but don’t want to know what it takes to be the well-put-together man.
You: Control freak.
You: This should be done immediately or I will go.
Him: Go where? Who else would have the energy for you?
You: A tree sloth, for one.
Yeah, feedback is for when you either want to continue a relationship or just feel like a fight to make it easier to break-up. You can’t be specific etc (obviously I have chosen ridiculous comments to heighten the point) because there will always be an answer for it. Trust me, this bickering can and will drag on forever if you let it.
The real problem is that a dialogue on intrinsic personality differences is pointless. They are who they are and what those two are is incompatible. Nothing wrong with going out and having a good time. Nothing wrong with staying in. The point is they are not a good match. The sad fact is that I’ve heard real bickering which actually isn’t too far off this farce I just wrote.
So let’s go back to honest and peremptory, the heck with feedback. You shouldn’t try to change him, nor he, you. Let go sooner than later to minimize the damage.
Honest And Peremptory
You: This relationship isn’t working for me. We aren’t compatible.
Him: Sure we are. What are you talking about? Didn’t we have a blast last night at Jake’s BBQ?
You: I’m talking about our entire relationship, not a good time at a BBQ. We aren’t a good fit. I am ending it now before we come to resent each other.
Him: Let’s give it another chance. We are supposed to go to Al’s cottage next weekend.
You: No. I am ending it now. Just because we didn’t have horrible times doesn’t mean we have a good relationship. It’s not right for me. I would rather end it now than have us go on trying to make it work when clearly it shouldn’t. We just aren’t right for each other. The time we spend trying to make this work is time lost trying to find the right person for each other.
If you are living together, have prepared in your mind whether you go, he goes, or you both go. If you aren’t living together, make sure you take your stuff back to your place immediately or have his stuff all ready to go, depending on where you have this discussion.
Don’t Have One For Old Time’s Sake
Really? One last kick at the sex can before you go? Don’t go there. Don’t even think it. Buy a vibrator before you break up, if you don’t already have one. If you’re old enough to be on this site, really, you should have one by now!
Good vibrators prevent bad boyfriend decisions. Avoid sending mixed signals even if that dull as dishwater boyfriend was awesome in bed.
Faint Hope Clause
Usually you know fairly early on in the relationship if it's not working. The best thing to do is to end it when you realize that it is simply not a good fit for you. Don’t hold out for what I call the Faint Hope Clause. It is NOT going to get better and an “ok” relationship is not good enough.
Everyone deserves better than an adequate relationship, even if they don’t know it.
You’ve been told. Now go get a battery charger before you make another bad decision.