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How To Know When It's Time to Step Away from A Relationship

If your love life has been a string of people who lie, deceive, and betray you, it’s time to pay more attention to the behaviors that are giving you warning signs about the emotional danger of staying in the relationship. Unless you heed the signs, you’ll be on the road to more anguish and heartache.

In the case of Susan and Ralph, who met at a party and began a whirlwind romance, Susan was all in with the relationship after a few weeks. But Ralph slowly began to pull back — sometimes not returning her calls for a day or two and becoming less available when Susan attempted to make plans. Ralph always offered an excuse, and Susan, unwilling to read the signs, took him at his word.

When Ralph told her that he was going away on a business trip for a week and wouldn’t be able to call while he was away — something about roaming charges and being in constant meetings — Susan had a moment of doubt. But Ralph promised to make it up to her when he returned.

When he got back, Ralph wanted to see her right away. Susan was thrilled and made herself completely available. But again, the phone calls and time together began to taper off. One night, he told Susan he had to work late, and she showed up uninvited to surprise him with a picnic dinner. She thought she noticed him look irritated for a second when he opened the door. “No,” she told herself. “I imagined that. Of course he’s glad to see me.”

As the weeks went by, Ralph gave more excuses, changes in plans, and disappointments. Big chunks of time passed without getting together because Ralph told her he was bogged down with work or had to help a family member — things that were difficult to refute. Ralph was often missing in action, promising future time together and leaving Susan to accept much less under the illusion that it would pay off in the long run.

It’s high time Susan examined her relationship. She needs to apply some rules of the road that will indicate whether she’s moving in the right direction.

1. Pay attention to hazard lights. With Susan, hazard lights are blinking everywhere, but she isn’t slowing down. Denial doesn’t let her see the signs that Ralph is unwilling to invest in a committed relationship. She allows herself to explain away all the hazard lights — Ralph is 38 years old, never married, successful in business, travels a lot, and tailoring his relationship with her to his convenience.

2. Avoid obstacles. Even when Ralph throws out clear obstacles to getting together — working late, caring for a family member, being out of phone range — Susan continues to plow ahead. While Ralph extends little effort toward being with her and places a lot of questionable impediments, she’s determined to believe that this relationship is going somewhere.

3. Look in the rearview mirror. Susan has let herself imagine she’s safe because she can’t see what’s in the other lane. But not seeing anything doesn’t mean she won’t be blindsided. Just as you need to check your car mirrors a second time to ensure you aren’t missing something, Susan needs to take another look at what’s happening. Some things are closer than they appear!

Rather than moving along in her present course, Susan must recognize that she’s in a “go nowhere” relationship with Ralph headed toward a dead end. She needs to “do the emotional math” to see the whole picture —taking in all the facts, adding them up, and weighing the options she has. Susan needs to ask herself why she’s spending time waiting for something that’s probably never going to happen. Looking at the whole picture, she can realize that Ralph isn’t willing to meet her needs, and it’s time for her to stop getting lost in his.


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