Breaking up after dating seriously

You finally meet someone really special and your heart opens up, your guard comes down and you feel connected to the person you’re dating. And then a red flag appears. But because you’re feeling connected and good about this relationship you may not want to let go. Perhaps you keep dating to see if things will change.

Often there is a nagging voice in the back of your mind reminding you that you have some serious concerns – aka the red flags – about this person. Because you’re a good person you give the other person the benefit of the doubt, wait it out and hope and pray that they aren’t what you think they are.

When I’m working with my clients, it is at this point that I remind them that breaking off a relationship is much easier than breaking off an engagement. I know this is easier said than done, but it’s a necessary reality check. I hold my clients accountable to what they previously defined as a deal breaker. I work with them to confirm that the red flag they see is really red and not yellow.

If you’re working through this on your own, ask yourself: Could I be happy living with someone who has/does _____? Will this person help me achieve my greatest potential, or does this red flag prevent them from being the partner that I need?

Don’t ask: Is there someone out there who is better? Rather ask: Is this the right match for me or do I need to sweetly and kindly get out of this relationship now?

The longer a relationship lasts, the harder it is to pull away. Try to make a decision in good time, and once you’ve made the decision don’t delay. (A word of caution: If the flag is yellow and not red, then you do want to give more time to see its true colors.) Once you are clearly seeing a red flag, get the support you need and make the right decision now. A delay in breaking up can lead to a questionable engagement.

I can’t break up, I’m engaged

Being in the dating-for-marriage business, I can tell you from a professional point of view that more engagements are broken off than you think. Perhaps you know someone who has been, or you yourself have been, in the following situations:

“I can’t break up! I’m engaged and I’m not like that; I’m someone who follows through with things.”

“We already had our engagement party; I’m so embarrassed to break up. And what will I do with all the presents, and the ring? Whatever, it will be fine. I guess I’ll just get married.”

“Maybe s/he will change. I know there is a red flag, but I’ve come this far, so we’ll just have to work this out.”

“My family will be so upset. They really like my fiancée. I can’t do that to them. They’ve never liked anyone I’ve brought home before.”

Whatever the red flag reason is for wanting to call off an engagement, it's your reason and it's RED! Red is a danger sign: you are in danger of doing the wrong thing. (Having cold feet, however, is not a red flag. Pre-wedding anxiety can happen to anyone, regardless of who you're engaged to. This is one reason it’s important to have a mentor or good friend in your life to help you sort real worries from temporary anxieties.)

Whether you've paid for the hall, bought the dress/suit, or given a deposit to the caterer, a red flag is a red flag. Just as ending a relationship is easier than breaking an engagement, a broken engagement is much better than a divorce. No matter how bad you feel about breaking off an engagement, you'll feel much worse breaking a marriage. In situations with a serious red flag, I'd choose a broken engagement over a divorce. This kind of thinking is with your head rather than your heart. It’s not easy, simple or fun. As we all know, sometimes it’s hard to do the right thing.

I married someone with a red flag

Although this is an article about dating, we need to touch on the topic of marrying someone with a red flag. Should there be abuse, addiction or adultery you need to deal with a qualified professional. Your safety is a top priority. If your red flag is some other concerning issue, you would be wise to get help with it ASAP. The sooner you get help, the better your chances of bringing your code red to a yellow (when possible).

If you knew about the red flag in dating and consciously chose to get married anyway, what matters now is being committed to working out your red flag. You have a greater obligation to work through this issue, and not abandon the relationship. (Remember I am NOT talking about a situation where your safety is a concern.)

What if the red flag appeared after you were married? Working through it with your whole heart and soul, along with professional guidance, will help you reach the best possible outcome.

According to John Gottman, expert in marital stability, the key to a successful relationship is in how you resolve conflict. Having ups and downs in a relationship is normal. What couples in unhealthy relationships lack is both a deep understanding and the strategies that help to resolve conflict. On the other hand, couples in healthy relationships have made an investment in learning conflict resolution strategies and apply their knowledge daily.

May you find the right partner and maintain a loving, long, and healthy relationship to last a lifetime.