You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Historically, therapists and clergy have extolled the virtues of working through relationship difficulties. While it’s optimistic and great to think you can work through most issues with a loved one, a demanding boss, an addict, or adult child, it’s not always true.
Staying in untenable relationships can bring an immense amount of grief, resentment, and even self-hatred.
Just like a broken clock being right twice a day, anyone can be nice some of the time. Those random acts of kindness keep you on an intermittent reinforcement schedule, as you sustain days, weeks, or months of unhappiness waiting for the next good period. This wreaks havoc on your emotions, immune system and relationship with yourself.
When you stay in a relationship where you feel disrespected, mistreated, unheard, and taken for granted, it erodes your self respect. Day by day and bit by bit, it eats away at your identity, confidence and self- compassion until you feel beaten down, exhausted, and too tired to make the effort to get up.
Leaving a marriage, friendship or job takes guts. Many people equate leaving with quitting, but nothing could be further from the truth. No one wants to be a quitter, and it’s natural to think things will get better. After all, the culture is hell bent on making people believe anything is possible if you’re just positive and persevering enough. It’s crucial to remember, you only leave when someone or something doesn’t serve you. People don’t leave satisfying jobs and relationships. But inertia exerts a potent force as it often keeps one in unsatisfying situations for a long time before they reach a tipping point and take a leap into something new and unknown.
It isn’t just inertia. It’s the natural human tendency to persevere once you have invested a significant amount to energy in something whether it’s a religion, a relationship or job, the mind doesn’t want to give up. It’s not just society’s influence, either, it’s the idea that because you invested so much time, energy, emotion and money, staying connected to that person, job, idea or institution has to be the right choice. This is why it’s easy to have such deeply entrenched religious and political ideas. After spending years believing something, questioning it can feel as if you are negating all those efforts. No one wants to think they wasted their time. But you can choose to view change as a personal evolutionary process and embrace it as growth. Remember: no mistakes, only lessons.
There is great power in surrendering, letting go and allowing. Because we live in a culture that extols the virtues of personal agency, forward motion, and achievement, letting go has gotten a bad rap. Yet, it is only when we relinquish something that we make space for something new. Unfortunately, the process is often grueling and unpleasant, like almost all transformation and transitions, but it’s worth it.
Quitting does have negative connotations and it’s important to recognize that those are fed by society’s thinking of the collective good and not of you as an individual. For you, personally, leaving anything that isn’t serving you is the healthiest choice you could make.
Almost no one wants to create chaos in their life. People want marriages to work, jobs to sustain them emotionally, intellectually and financially, and relationships (especially those with family) to feel safe and vibrant. Sadly, life is not a Disney movie and there are many disappointments along the way. Since you can’t avoid them, the best thing is to navigate them with intelligence, kindness, and a hefty dose of self- compassion.
In spite of your best intentions, you will hurt people and people will hurt you. Whether that’s with malice aforethought, or not, doesn’t matter much at the end of the day. It’s simply part of the human condition. The best thing you can do is stay open to learning more and more about yourself and others so you make future choices with greater awareness.
Staying in any unhealthy situation doesn’t serve you. Releasing, surrendering and letting go into something new often entails pain, loss and grief. That’s the price of personal evolution. That’s the price of waking up. And that’s the price of taking the very best care of yourself you possibly can.
Obviously, it takes guts. Bravely going where you haven’t been before, with perils along the way, is far more likely to give you a fulfilled life than playing it safe.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang