Breaking Up Well

Letting relationships go

One of the things that people often struggle with in relationships is when to keep trying at a relationship that’s almost but not quite working, and when to let it go.

Letting go is hard. It hurts and it sucks and there is always that little voice in the back of your mind whispering that if you stop trying, the relationship has failed.

I can understand what it feels like to keep trying and trying to make things work with someone you really love, and not quite being able to make a go of it. Often, in poly circles, people talk about the relationships that work, but seem reluctant to discuss the relationships that end. I’d like to talk about one of my relationships that ended.

My ex-wife and I were together for 18 years. She identifies as monogamous, but our relationship was polyamorous, and for that entire 18 years, there was a lot of heartache on both sides. She never understood why I’m poly, and could never really make herself be welcoming and accepting of my other partners, however hard she tried.

In the end, all the work we put into the relationship could never be enough.

I understand why, when you love someone, you want to keep trying and trying if you see even the tiniest glimmer of hope, no matter how incompatible you might be. Here’s the thing I learned, though. At the end of the day, there are some folks who simply are not good relationship partners, and all the love and all the effort in the world can’t change that.

Sometimes, the kindest, most compassionate thing you can do is to say, “Look, we just aren’t good partners for one another. Let’s not try to be partners, and instead see if we can build a friendship that honors the connection that we share but that also lets each one of us pursue our own happiness.”

This is the hardest lesson I have ever learned in my life: it is possible for two genuinely good people who genuinely love each other to be so incompatible that nothing can overcome it; there is simply no way to build a relationship that makes both people happy. There is no shame in letting go of a relationship that does not make the people involved happy.

If a relationship is a constant source of pain and trauma, something is wrong. A good relationship lifts the people in it up and fills them with joy, not pain. When we become determined to hang onto a relationship at any cost, no matter how painful it becomes, it can get very easy to lose sight of that.

Last updated: Thu May 7, 2020