Spring Break Up
by Barbara Quick
A friend of mine who lives in a snowy region of the Southwest quips that springtime sees a whole spate of breakups in his town. People are far too sensible there, he says, to toss their significant other out of bed while the weather is still cold.
If only it were as easy as watching the weather to know when love has come to an end.
How can you tell when a good relationship just isn't good enough? How do you weigh the pain involved with calling it quits against the uncertain possibility of finding happiness with someone else?
"Anybody in a relationship, even if it's a good one," says Berkeley psychotherapist Debbi Green, "has fantasies about what's out there."
Choir director and pianist Gina L., who asked that we not use her last name, raised two children with her husband of 19 years before admitting to herself that she simply didn't feel attracted to him any longer.
At 46, she still felt very sexual and alive, and wanted a relationship in which that part of her could feel nurtured again. After a year's separation, Gina and her husband decided to divorce. And while she admits that she hasn't come anywhere near to finding true love yet, Gina has "not regretted the decision even for one single minute."
So what took her so long? Why does it take some people a decade or more to realize they're no longer being satisfied?
"People have different thresholds of pain," says Green. "There's also a huge range of tolerance for fear. Even when we're in a difficult relationship, it's still familiar. When we end a relationship, we enter the unknown. And that really scares people."
In the end, marriages are much like the stock market. Couples put so much hope and work into them, but there's no real guarantee that what they're investing in is going to last. And when that stock starts to slide, it's hard to know when to hang on to it and when to cut your losses and sell.
Green says that it's always a matter of tradeoffs. There's no mathematic equation that will let you know whether it's best to hang in there and work on your relationship or best to call it quits. "It's very individual. And it's important to be reflective, especially if the same issues keep coming up for you in relationship after relationship."
How can you tell whether the longing or restlessness you feel has more to do with your own psychological baggage than a bad romantic choice?