After more than a decade together, and seven years in a legal union, T.I. and Tiny decided not to move forward with their divorce—for now. As outsiders, we don’t know if we should be cheering for the couple, sending referrals for good therapists or a bit of both. Unfortunately—abuse aside—as hard as it can be, it’s not anyone’s place to decide when it’s time for another couple to call it quits.
It’s challenging but friends, family and even admirers (anyone can have fans thanks to Instagram) must maintain a purposeful distance (read: mind your business and reserve judgement at times) when supporting loved ones in a marriage or committed relationship. There are times when you just won’t get it. That “it” may be the reason the couple still pushes on, why your loved one has chosen to forgive the thing(s) you simply—in theory—would never tolerate and what she or he sees in her or his significant other. Here’s the the thing: It’s not for you to understand. Relationships can go through hard times—not just weeks but months and even years of trying to figure it out. During these periods there can be ups and downs, but it’s up to the participants in the relationship to decide whether there is enough there to warrant the hardships.
There was a time when men and women were shunned for divorcing, and that obviously kept people in unhealthy and abusive situations. But nowadays the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction and seemingly gotten so stuck that people have forgotten, or perhaps were never taught (via modeling or personal experience), that relationships are hard work.
People do bad things. They can be selfish. People do amazing things. They can be selfless. Sometime you will be on both sides of that statement. Just like the fear of starting over shouldn’t keep you in an unhealthy relationship, the fantasy of replacing your flawed mate with a perfect person shouldn’t prevent you from doing the “being” work of love—or forgetting that you may be the more flawed mate (no judgement). What is the being? It’s the showing up. The opening up. The conscience, willful effort. The apologizing. The acceptance. The shutting up—at times. The compromising. The surrender. And, perhaps most important, the open-hearted forgiving.
So, is there ever a clear sign that you should throw in the proverbial towel and call it quits? Yes. And here are few examples of when sticking it out can be more hurtful than helpful:
One partner is emotionally, verbally or physically abusive. When a person has dealt with any level of hardship, difficulty or trauma—typically due to emotional or physical abuse—and lashes out (whether it’s with hands or fists) at others when he or she is upset, it’s time to step away. Trying to love someone so much that she or he will change isn’t worth the trauma it will cause you. There are two issues here. First, a person has to want to move past her or his hurt and do the work of healing. It cannot be forced. Second, it’s your job to be a partner, not a caretaker. You cannot give enough love-coated therapy to create the change needed to be in a healthy relationship. #GetOut
One partner is unwilling to make any changes to his or her behavior. Couples only move in sync in movies. In real life, there will always be someone a little ahead of the other when it comes to evolving. Each relationship has to find its own rhythm. Don’t be surprised if your partner drags his or her feet on some things and you do the same on others. However, everyone must be willing to put in some work. If one partner only sees fault in the other and is absolutely unwilling to adjust anything he or she is doing—even if it’s just in the spirit of compromise—he or she isn’t invested in the give and take of a relationship. Over time the small “no’s” will become—or start to feel like—bigger and one person will have turned into the perfect doormat for a loved one they wanted as a partner.
One partner is uncomfortable with the compromises he/she must make to maintain the relationship. Shame should be everybody’s favorite emotion. It’s basically the mind’s personal alarm system, and when it’s going off it’s telling you a harmful intrusion (think a request, admission or discovery) has been made. Anyone who loves you does not expect you to do things that cause embarrassment. You should be able to repeat almost anything you’ve done for your husband or wife with pride. If your inner alarm system has been triggered it’s time to move on. Your body, heart and mind are protecting you from yourself.
One partner’s behavior jeopardizes the physical, financial or emotional security of the other. Real people have vices. They make great articles, reality shows and gossip. They are much harder to live with. If your mate has an addiction such as drugs, gambling or sex, is prone to physical outbursts or has any habit or lifestyle choice that, through logical deduction, can bring harm to you or other loved ones, you have to decide you’re down and ready to deal with the consequences, or it’s time to leave.
S. Tia Brown is the lifestyle director at EBONY magazine and a licensed therapist. She also believes in love and the promise that it gives. Follow her @tiabrowntalks.