When you’re dating someone and start noticing things going wrong, do you quickly go to asking yourself “should I break up with him?”
You know that Principle # 1 of Dating Like a Grownup is to “Balance Your Head and Heart.” I think it is really smart to start with your head when trying to answer this question.
I see so many potential relationships go bad for so many trivial reasons. Read on to get some guidance that will help you avoid dumping a good man who could end up being your wonderful life partner.
You see… after you’ve been together for a little while, blended your lives a bit, and enjoyed some future talk. John Gray, the author of the Mars vs. Venus books, characterizes the second stage of dating this way:
“The second stage of dating is when we experience doubts about the person we see as a potential partner. When our fears of rejection begin to surface, they often manifest themselves in a tendency to focus on the inadequacies of a potential partner, and we then lose our sense of attraction. ”
I tend to speak in simpler terms. Here’s my translation:
“When you start realizing you have deep feelings and hopes for the person you’re dating, your fear of being hurt can trigger your need to run. So you start looking for what’s wrong with him. Since no one is perfect, you will always find something. Yippee! There’s an excuse to end it and avoid getting hurt! ”
Regardless of how you say it, the key point is that our fears make us do things that are completely contrary to realizing our dreams. And when it comes to love, it’s not just women who do this; men do it too.
I’m talking about this today because my friend Pamela is going through this with her beau. They’ve been very happily dating for a couple of months; spending full weekends together, going on short trips, and planning future travels.
Pamela and her man have had talks that lasted hours, found many important and unique areas of compatibility, and have developed a lovely intimacy. She thought she was falling in love with him.
But this weekend the Pamela and Ricardo story seemed to go a bit awry.
The way she tells it, Ricardo seemed bugged by just about everything she did, and she was none too happy with his pettiness and pigheadedness.
He started picking on insignificant things, like how the newspaper was stacked and who had ownership of the remote control. His picking on these things made her start wondering if maybe he wasn’t the one for her after all. Should she break up with him?
Pamela started to notice a lot about Ricardo that bugged her. She then followed his lead and made mention of those things she hadn’t been paying much attention to in the past: the disgusting moldy cheese in his refrigerator and his propensity to tell his stories with too much detail.
The weekend ended with him saying, “Well, I guess I’ll call you during the week… that is, if you want me to,” and her leaving without responding.
Yikes. Their weekends usually end with a nice kiss and detailed plans for the following weekend.
Ouch! Pamela was ready to call the whole thing off.
Why do so many good relationships lead to a breakup so quickly?
Here’s my take (and I think Mr. Gray would agree):
Ricardo was realizing they were building what may be a meaningful and committed relationship, which made him feel certain uncomfortable feelings: uncertainty, confusion, and maybe fear.
Pamela, going into the weekend feeling like he could be The One, felt hurt and scared when he criticized her and, feeling incredibly vulnerable to rejection, started looking for his flaws. Of course, she found some.
She then used what she found to protect herself with a counter-strike. She started second-guessing and doubting their potential future and went straight to wondering if it was best to break up with him right then.
Pamela and Ricardo were feeling all kinds of icky-ness at the chance of letting someone into their heart, and eventually finding it was a wrong decision. Add to that, these two highly educated, highly competent, independent 60-ish-year-olds have some major fear of letting someone into their physical space. Each had successfully lived alone for many years.
Put that all together and you get two people scared of being rejected, who are now in the phase of focusing on the inadequacies of their potential partner.
Their feelings are confusing. They want to love and companionship badly. But they also want to be right, maintain their autonomy, and avoid the pain they’ve experienced in the past. (I find that these feelings are especially true when you’re in this stage of mature dating.)
There are a lot of risks and unknowns in any human relationship. This ‘living the gray’ can be scary.
For Patricia and Ricardo there is a real possibility that one or both of them were (perhaps unconsciously) trying to sabotage the relationship in order to remain “safe.”
A lot of difficult feelings can come up as a relationship develops. The difficulties and the discomfort of those feelings can lead us to look for a way out. Finding someone’s flaws is pretty easy… especially when you’re looking for them; consciously or not. (I’m sure Larry has found one or two of mine by now. Or 100. And yet he sticks around!)
What to Do When You Start Asking “Should I Break Up With Him?”
Here is how I counseled Pamela, and how you might proceed in this type of situation.
- Be aware of this potential landmine even early on as you get to know your man. If you find yourself noticing that he leaves the water on too long, slurps his coffee too loud or does a myriad of other things that bug the crap out of you… stop and carefully explore your feelings.
- Check yourself: have you been actively looking for and focusing on things that are wrong? If so, what part might fear be playing? Acknowledge that you are at that stage of the relationship and begin to consciously refocus on what is right about him and the value of your budding relationship.
- Decide whether any of these (perceived) flaws are actual deal-breakers. Does his moldy cheese in the fridge really affect the potential quality of your relationship? If not, assign it the appropriate (low) priority and move forward with empathy and kindness – both to yourself and your partner. And, if it is something you feel can be changed with some grownup communication, get to doing that ASAP.
And hell yes, if you find a deal-breaker and good communication doesn’t solve it, then get to ending the relationship in a kind and honest way. (You know, like a grownup.)
You can follow my 3 steps OR you can recognize his flaws and skip the step of conscious, adult review. Then you’re free! And still single, perhaps ruminating over whether you made the right decision.
Obviously, my advice is to give the situation a thoughtful review. And in this consciousness, not only will it help you make good decisions for yourself, it will help you recognize when your partner is in this place. Then you will be able to lovingly and gently help him through his review.
Think about it: knowing how hard you had to work to find a man who could be so special in your life, are you willing to walk away because you might have to listen to an extra several minutes as he tells a story or throws out his cheese yourself?
And are you walking away without giving him the chance to change what he’s doing to bug you?
Don’t give in to the nagging “Should I break up with him” voice. This could very likely be your fear, plain and simple. This isn’t protecting you, girlfriend! It can very well be obliterating real chances for the love you’ve been looking for. Fight it!
Love is just around the corner if you just let it in.
What do you think? Does this sound like anything you’ve ever done? What’s your story?
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