37. When to Let Someone Go

Good morning and welcome to your thirty-seventh meditation. Relationships are hard. They require work. Whether it is with a friend, a spouse, a lover, or a family member, we cannot simply establish a relationship and expect it to remain static, in its pristine initial incarnation. Rather, a relationship is a process, subject to all the constant change that life imposes on us as individuals. Changes in environment, in fortune, in career, in responsibility, in our social landscape, in our opinions, and in our needs. In order for our relationships to continue to grow and flourish, they must change in concert with the changes in our lives as individuals. This can be achieved when there is mutual respect, support, attentiveness, as well as an alignment, or compatibility, of what each party wants and needs from the relationship. It’s a delicate balance that is, in many cases, not sustainable. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. There could hardly be anything more natural than two otherwise dedicated and loving individuals whose needs diverge at some point along the line of their relationship. The trick is to know and fully acknowledge when this is the case, and to be ready and willing to move on, however difficult the rupture may be in the moment. 

Of course, that’s much easier said than done. There are all sorts of countervailing forces that keep us from making such a tough decision with anything approaching efficiency and confidence. A common rationalization against moving on from a relationship is the amount of time that you’ve already put into it. How do you just get up and abandon a project that you’ve spent months or years working on? But, by way of analogy, can you imagine if medical practitioners adopted that same attitude? Bloodletting was ostensibly the most common medical practise performed by surgeons for over 2,000 years, and yet has been almost completely abandoned today due to the fact that the treatment is now known to have been harmful to the large majority of patients historically. Likewise, duration of a relationship is not a good reason to remain tethered to someone who may in fact be deleterious to your health. Sometimes we ill-advisedly remain in relationships because we are worried about hurting the other person. Sometimes because of the looming prospect of loneliness on the other side of a separation. 

What these various justifications for trying to maintain a broken relationship all have in common is that they are motivated by fear. Better to approach making decisions about whether it is best to keep working on a relationship or to let someone go from a positive angle. Ask yourself, “what do I want from this relationship? What do I need? Does this relationship offer those things to me? Can they be achieved if I communicate them effectively? Do the benefits of sticking with this person outweigh the costs?”. A final question that nicely encapsulates all of the ones above in a somewhat more general way is, “do we elevate each other?”. Do you feel like you and the other party are buttressing each other in a mutual effort that makes you both better, whatever that looks like to you? If the answer is yes, great! But if the answer is no, then perhaps it is time to move on. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

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