The Soho Sex Column: How do you know when to leave a relationship?
This week, our resident sexpert Olivia Petter explains what to do when you love the person you’re with, but you’re no longer happy
Friday 12 August 2022 By Olivia Petter Illustration by Jiaqi Wang
Have you seen Frozen 2? As a sophisticated reader of this column, I’d suspect that you are more than au fait with Disney’s ever-expanding catalogue of animated films. But just in case you’re not, allow me to explain this particular one – and why it’s relevant to your question.
Frozen 2 (not to be confused with Frozen proper) opens with Elsa, who has the power to manipulate ice and snow, struggling to adapt to her new life as the Queen of Arendelle. Despite the fact that she’s surrounded by friends and family, something is wrong. But she can’t quite put her finger on what.
Her feelings are captured by the film’s lead song, ‘Into The Unknown’, in which Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) comes to the realisation that in order to find happiness she needs to make a change. Quite what that change will bring isn’t clear; she has to take a risk and step into the unknown, so to speak.
Watching that film and listening to those lyrics – which admittedly may have had a more visceral effect given that I was hideously hungover at the time – I realised that I, too, needed to step into the unknown by ending my relationship.
For myriad reasons, this was a terrifying prospect. I had no idea where I would live, what would happen to my adorable – and very sassy – cat, or if I would regret it. In other words, I felt emotionally and logistically paralysed.
Breaking up with someone is a major life change many of us will go through at some point. And yet, I believe we are woefully unequipped for it. We talk so much about how to heal from heartbreak or get over someone who has broken up with us, but rarely do we examine the thorny subject of knowing when to end a relationship ourselves.
There are some instances when it might feel like an easy decision. Perhaps your partner has betrayed you, or you have simply fallen out of love with one another. There might even be a dramatic, teen drama-style argument that leaves one of you storming out of a flat, slamming the door and never seeing your ex again. None of these will take away the pain of a break-up, but it will invariably make it much simpler for you to know when to initiate it. Because without that Oscar®-worthy melodrama, your feelings can leave you trapped in a perpetual state of indecision.
I don’t know what has happened in your relationship that has left you feeling unhappy, but I do know that you shouldn’t ignore the lingering feelings you’re experiencing – because the more you try to silence that voice in your head, the louder it will become.
Here’s what I think you should do. Try to work out what is making you unhappy. Is it something specific about your partner? And if so, is it salvageable? You say that you still love him. Given everything we’ve been taught about break-ups, I can see why that might make you feel like you shouldn’t end it. But just because you love someone, that doesn’t mean you should be with them, especially if you’ve been unhappy for a while.
First and foremost, you need to be honest with yourself. Then you need to be honest with your partner. If you do decide to walk away, know that it will be OK. It’s not going to be easy, but sometimes you just have to trust the universe and step into the unknown.
The quick-fire round
How do I sensitively break up with someone?
Be honest, kind and compassionate. Explain your reasons calmly and clearly – you could even write them down beforehand. And don’t do it in the middle of an argument.
I’m seeing a sweet guy, but I’m not sure about him and I don’t know why
It sounds like you might have ‘the ick’. Give it another date or two and if you’re still feeling unsure, call it a day. Life is too short to date people you’re not into.
Got a question for Olivia? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org. All submissions will remain anonymous.
Olivia Petter is the relationships writer at The Independent and author of Millennial Love, which is out now in paperback with 4th Estate