For many, leaving a relationship is emotionally overwhelming and physically daunting because of real obstacles — lack of money, worry about the impact on kids, difficulty finding housing, realistic worries about the other’s reaction.
Here there is a need for detailed planning — bringing family support, community resources, getting legal advice and protection.
But for others, like Bimbo, the obstacles are more emotional and psychological.
Here are the four common roadblocks to decisive action:
Fear of being alone
You’ve undoubtedly met people who are never alone more than a few days, weeks.
They quickly move from relationship to relationship, have one in the wings before ending the current one, or too easily drift back the last.
What they fear is being alone — that they can’t cope, that the loneliness will overwhelm them, that they will have nothing to distract them from themselves.
All this is understandable, but being able to tolerate aloneness is an adult skill set that at some point everyone needs to master to be more resilient.
What helps is countering that all-or-nothing thinking by building in supports in advance.
This is not mean persuading your sister to move in with you, or moving in with her, but setting up dinner with her a couple of nights a week, mapping out plans with friends for those long weekends, or thinking about interests and passions that you’ve always wanted to pursue but never had the time for before, and then taking concrete steps to start them.
This is will not make the loneliness go away, but by being proactive, you can feel more in control and less a victim of your anxiety.
Over time, your tolerance and comfortableness for aloneness will naturally increase.
Intermittent reinforcement & magical thinking
For the past few weeks Bimbo and Timi have been arguing on a regular basis, they haven’t been affectionate.
But then they went away last weekend for a wedding and they had…a great time. Dan was funny and complimentary instead of critical, they didn’t argue at all, and had sex for the first time in weeks.
Bimbo left the weekend feeling that yeah, maybe they can turn this around, that she needs to give it more time.
She may and can.
Psychologically she is more likely getting hooked by intermittent reinforcement.
Just when the steady arguments and criticism are about to push her out of the relationship — Gbam — there’s a positive break and she gets reeled back in.
Her mind is trying to connect the dots, she is emotionally off-balance, and this easily leads to magical thinking — that things can turn around, that she just needs to decode what she did and what worked about the weekend and everything will be fine.
It’s likely that things won’t be fine.
Once they are both back in the environs and routines, the old triggers and problems will rear up.
Bimbo needs to step back and look at the big picture, the big patterns, the past months and years, and not get seduced by this one weekend.
Fear of never finding another relationship
While fear of being alone is about getting through every day, this fear is about looking ahead to the future:
that if you leave, you can only imagine yourself two years ahead sitting in an empty room with a naked lightbulb over your head.
But the reality check is that this is not likely.
If you look at remarriage rates, for example, a high percentage of folks remarry within a few years of a divorce,
and the rates for more casual relationships or living-together relationships are undoubtedly higher.
But statistics aside, what might fuel this fear for someone like Bimbo is her own distorted self-image.
After being a relationship with Timi where she doesn’t feel cared for, is often feeling criticized, it’s easy for her walk away seeing herself as someone who is not easy to live with, someone who is not lovable, and so believes that no one else would want her or treat her any better.
She needs to mentally push against this assumption and thinking by both action and recognition:
Action in getting out there and meeting people in spite of her assumptions in order to find out that she thinks will happen doesn’t,
and recognition of her emotional mind going down old rabbit-holes of negative thoughts
and deliberately stopping and countering them.
Fear of regret
Finally, if Bimbo leaves Timi she may worry that she will look back on the relationship sometime in the future and kick herself for not giving it more time, for not trying harder, for giving up.
She probably will.
This is not about Timi and the relationship but the way we naturally think about our past.
If two years hence Bimbo is happy with her life, she will look back and think that leaving Timi was the best decision she ever made.
If on the other hand she is struggling, or simply having a bad day in her current relationship or her life, she will look back and think that being with Timi wasn’t that bad after all, certainly better than how she feels today, and feel regret.
This is how our minds work; our past is always being recreated as we look at it through the lens of the present.
The best Bimbo can do is decide what she needs to do now, before she leaves, to feel that she did give the relationship her best shot.
She also needs to acknowledge to herself that she will likely have these waves of regret in the future, that this is part of the natural process, and not a sign that she made the wrong decision.
Making big decisions like leaving a relationship understandably stirs anxiety, and it’s these anxieties that are the real problem fueling the indecision, the sitting on the fence.
The antidote is unraveling these fears, looking at them in the light of reality, and then proactively planning ways to counter them.
Don’t stay in a bad relationship for bad reasons.