Regularly, a client I am meeting for the first time is walking around with the following scenario in their head – they have mentally checked-out of their relationship, and want to know whether to go ahead and separate.
You might be in this very position. Your unhappiness has seen you think about ending your relationship, but you are still living your old life, wavering about pulling the trigger on a separation – in short, you are ‘single’, but your partner just does not know it yet. And there you are, sitting across from a family lawyer like me, asking Can I end my relationship for no reason other than I know I will never be happy in it?
This is a non-legal question, and most lawyers are not trained to deal with it. I certainly don’t remember being trained to advise on such issues at Law School.
The short answer is that I can’t help with that question. No lawyer can. There is no getting away from it – the answer is so important that it must be reached personally.
But family lawyers like me can still help you in getting to an answer to that lingering question.
It comes down to, firstly, understanding how your situation has arisen, and secondly, what options exist to address it.
How did I get here?
The emotion often accompanying this conversation is disbelief – “I can’t believe I am here” is usually the confession. Deeper questioning usually reveals that, in fact, the situation has been a long time coming.
At some point, you became unhappy in your relationship. That might have been 3 months ago, it might have been 3 years ago. Whenever it happened, the situation is the same – your positive emotion, love, dwindled, and turned into negative emotion. You were probably shocked that you felt this way at first, and if like most people, became angry about it. After a period however, you likely hit ‘rock bottom’ – though you may have internalised it, there was a point where you accepted that your relationship would not continue, and you decided you might leave it.
The challenge in most cases is that this process is often largely unspoken – the regression from love into unhappiness has been a silent free fall. Your partner has gone about life, oblivious to your internal struggle going on right beside them. They, quite simply, have no idea of that which they are about to face.
What do I do now?
In terms of what to do if you are in this position, often there is a lot at stake. There might be children of the relationship, whose lives will be affected by relationship breakdown. Even where there are no children, the investment in the relationship may be so great that it is not easy to let go. Each of these things is very understandable, and so, the decision is an important one.
For this reason, I always make 4 recommendations:-
- Give yourself time to think it through.
- Get help with that process – from a professional.
- Give yourself more time to get the decision right.
- Repeat as necessary.
Why is it vital to get help from a professional counsellor, and not just a friend or relative? Our loved ones are great sounding boards, but they are often limited in what they can say. Professionals have a way of helping tease out different points of view – they are trained to press us on difficult subjects, and reality test our thinking. And they are a neutral player – that objectivity is what you need to look at the issue from all angles.
And why is it important to give yourself time? Any relationship has a ‘history’, and you owe it to yourself, and your partner, to give the future very careful thought.
Usually, you will leave this process with a clear feel as to whether there is scope to salvage your relationship, and if so, how you might do that – frank discussions with your spouse, relationship therapy, a mini-break, whatever.
Once you truly understand why you feel the way you do, and once you understand the options you have to address that situation, you can make a decision about your future, whatever you have determined that should be.
So, is it okay to end a relationship because you are unhappy?
Sometimes the answer will be ‘yes’, and sometimes it will be ‘no’.
But I can’t supply that answer, because it’s not up to me. You are the one who must live with the outcome, and therefore be at peace with it. It is therefore a question for you, and you alone.
The answer to that question can only be reached by completing the steps to which I have referred above.
What I can say is the following – after giving yourself thinking time, and getting some professional help, it’s okay to make the right decision for you.
And I also know this to be true. If you decide to stay together and work on your relationship, you will have the support and encouragement of your family lawyer. Equally, if you decide to separate, you will not be judged, and will get all the legal help you need from your family lawyer.