Many people date with the ultimate goal of finding a life partner. Then, if they realize their current relationship isn't going to meet that goal, they'll end it so they can find one that might. Others stay in relationships with expiration dates because they feel that even if it won't last the rest of their lives, a relationship can be very worthwhile for the time being. Others still don't even have the goal of meeting a life partner and are just along for the ride. So, which is the best approach?
Liz*, 27, knew her relationship would end both because she planned to move and because her partner lacked ambition, couldn't have conversations with her about the things she cared about, drank too much, and didn't make her feel important. Ultimately, seeing it through to the end undermined her sense of self-worth. "I was too depressed at the time to stand up for myself and demand respect," she tells Bustle.
Similarly, David, 28, knew his relationship would end because he was cheated on, but he was afraid to be alone and felt like he couldn't do better. "I convinced myself at the time that it wasn’t a big deal because I was lonely and frankly, she’s a beautiful girl who I felt was slightly out of my league," he tells Bustle. "But ultimately, I learned to respect myself and came to the realization that I couldn’t be with someone who would so willingly treat me like that."
Laura, 35, has seen the end of all her past relationships coming. In one, she decided to stay with one partner after he said he was moving in six months. "Yes, it was sad, but it wasn't sadder than other relationships ending for other reasons, and I'm glad we had time together," she tells Bustle.
As these stories show, the outcome of staying in a relationship with an expiration date can vary greatly. Here are some questions to ask yourself to figure out what the right course of action is for you.
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What's The Goal Of The Relationship?
"There are times that relationships are meant to last a season and not a lifetime," Stef Safran, matchmaking and dating expert and owner of Stef and the City, tells Bustle. If your goal is just to have a companion or spend some (limited) time with someone you care about, a relationship with an expiration date can still fulfill it.
What's Your Partner's Goal?
Even if your goal can be accomplished with a short-term relationship, you shouldn't stick around if your partner has a longer-term goal, says Safran. Then, you're building up their hopes only to let them down later. If you're not sure where they stand, explain your approach to the relationship and make sure they're OK with it. "When there are different goals and needs that by continuing the relationship will not be met, it's best to end things," says Safran.
Will Staying Make You Resent Each Other?
If you know your partner's not The One, you might grow to resent them for taking up your time while falling short of the qualities you really want. "We come to resent not only our partner but ourselves when we cling to our relationship, prioritizing our fear of loneliness over our own intuition," relationship expert and breakup coach Chelsea Leigh Trescott tells Bustle.
"Doing this makes us lose faith in our capacity to have our best interest in mind and makes us even regret falling in love as we come to experience the hold it has over our lives," Trescott says. "Ultimately, when you don’t let go when you need to, you end up associating love with weakness rather than strength." Tescott believes you owe it to yourself to at least talk to your partner and see if you can fix the relationship if you're having second thoughts about it.
Is This Relationship Closing Off Other Opportunities?
The downside to staying in a relationship that you know will end is that it could keep you from finding one that won't, Rhonda Milrad, LCSW, relationship therapist and founder of online relationship community Relationup, tells Bustle. If you're going to stay, at least make sure the relationship is worth sacrificing any possible future ones.
Why Do You Think The Relationship Will End?
If your relationship has an expiration date for logistical reasons — like, say, one of you is going to move — it's possible that it's still a healthy and fulfilling relationship. But if you don't want to stay with your partner because they have traits you consider undesirable or they're keeping you from doing something you want to do, you're probably not as happy as you could be in that relationship.
"Your realization that this relationship is not forever is probably based on a serious incompatibility," says Milard. "To stay means that you are choosing to remain in a dynamic that is dissatisfying and unfulfilling and your relationship and sense of happiness can decay further."
Are You Still Able To Give Your Relationship Your All?
If your knowledge that the relationship will end is making you all the more determined to make the most of it now, it could actually be an advantage. But if it's making you check out of the relationship, that's not fair to you or your partner. "It is painful to remain in a relationship that once had meaning where you are now faxing it in and checked out," says Milrad.
What Would Make You Happier?
What all these questions really come down to is whether you'll be happier staying or going. The time to exit a relationship isn't necessarily when you know it'll end — it's when it's no longer making you happy. And some people will be unhappy, or at least less happy than they would be single or with someone else, if they know their relationship will end.
So, there's no universal right or wrong answer to this. Once you realize a relationship is temporary, staying and going are both valid options. Just be honest with yourself about what's best for you in the long run and what you may be doing just for temporary comfort.