When Is The Right Time To Split Up?

Written By: The Lowdown - Sep• 30•12

FrontcoversmallThe other day I read an article in the glossy magazine Psychologies with the title of this column. I was intrigued by it as I thought that you don’t need a psychologist to realise that your love affair is over. After all, that is either when you pack your bags or are being thrown out of the house by your now ex-partner.  Yet, the article occupied two pages of the magazine. Before telling you about the article let me present you two cases on the subject matter.


The first time I came across a reason for ending an affair was in a Woody Allen movie. The movies main character (Allen himself) explained that he ended an affair with a beautiful woman because she persistently sank the little boats he was playing with in the bath tub! Allen was by that time around 35 years old; so his reason for ending the relationship is fully understandable! This story is symbolic for many relationships on the brink of break up. After all, in a long relationship mutual irritations tend to mount to unbearable heights.


Talking about irritations, I knew a couple the husband of which had the habit of picking his nose in public. After many complaints his wife he tried to limit the nose picking but had difficulty containing it. So, when he was reading the newspaper, sure enough, he picked his nose behind it so that his wife wouldn’t see. However, clever as she was, she knew! Anyway, even if she had not known, the picker’s nose often started to bleed and he had to rush to the bathroom to get a tissue to stop the bleeding. I don’t know whether the couple is still together; it might well be that the husband died of an unstoppable loss of blood, or that his wife ran away with the chemist where she bought the tissues.


Now, let me share a few insights which the article in Psychologies provided. The article is in fact dealing more with the question why, for heaven’s sake, troubled couples stay together instead of splitting up! The specific question dealt with was: ‘What drives some of us to remain in a relationship, initially romantic but gradually more and more joyless?’  The answer is that mothers and mothers–in-law have something to do with it. One woman told the magazine’s reporter that she stayed with her husband until her mother-in-law died, after which she had the heart to quit and immediately ran to her first sweetheart! Psychologies delved even deeper, in the sense that they interviewed women recently separated who admitted that they entered into a relationship gone wrong to please their mothers. Can you imagine!  However, when I went through other articles in the same magazine I discovered that all of them were about the relationship between mothers and daughters, so I guess that the one about love affairs gone wrong was a bit biased against mothers, including mothers-in-law. By the way, the article didn’t spend a word on the true victims of separation: the children.


The article also provided some advice. One was trial separations! That is to say take a break and leave your partner for some time. And then reflect on the following therapeutic questions about your relationship: what’s wrong with it, is it as bad, or am I at fault? Well, I can tell you from my own experience that this doesn’t work as 10 minutes after reuniting with your partner surely the old nagging is back in full force! However, I know of one trial separation that worked, but not in the way the therapists had in mind! It concerns a couple who had lived for many unhappy years together. I thought that the husband was an ill-tempered character. Imagine my surprise when I met him again after a long time. He seemed to have undergone a character transplantation, as he radiated happiness all over the place. When I asked him what had happened he told me that when temporarily separated he had met his childhood girlfriend, they had fallen in love again on the spot, after which he had packed his bags and left his wife.


All of us know couples who, to put it mildly, don’t get along well; they fight all the time, criticise each other and yet they stick together. How come? One explanation is that the partners involved draw some sort of neurotic benefit from it, says the article. Well, the couple involved may benefit but their visitors certainly not. I dread to visit one of my friends, stuck in such a relationship, as it is no fun to be in the middle of the endless mudslinging between them.


One would almost forget that there are also many couples who manage to live happily together forever. You recognise them when you see them. In my home country, Holland, they often wear the same type of (ugly) sports uniforms, ride the same brand of bicycles, wear the same type of glasses, even the same set of dentures. In short, they look alike! Yet, there is no doubt that they are happy and very probably have a fulfilling sex life, although I have difficulty to imagine that they would ever commit the intimate act of love making! As my wife rightly retorted, when I shared my difficulty with her, that that was none of my business!


The Psychologies article is not very helpful in assisting couples in trouble to repair their relationship. But there is hope, as I am completing a handbook entitled The Professional Marriage, which contains the dos and don’ts in a relationship. The book covers a broad spectrum of subjects, ranging from sex to doing the dishes. Once it is finished I will ask the The Lowdown’s editor to publish excerpts of the book for your enjoyment. I’ll keep you posted!



By Peter de Haan 

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