Our relationships are indeed the most important aspect of our lives. Healthy relationships are essential for leading a happy and satisfying life. Starting or ending or fixing or improving our relationships therefore are all very important decisions that we take. However, these efforts are generally clouded with emotions often leading to inappropriate decisions that cause grief, depression, anger or resentment to ourselves and others. The net result of these emotional decisions is that we live our lives bereft of joy and happiness.
Whether your relationship issues revolve around your spouse, partner, business associate, boss or family, they all have some common elements. These common parameters determine whether such a relationship plays a positive part in our lives or a negative part where we struggle to get any peace of mind and general wellbeing.
In both our personal and professional lives, there are times when it becomes necessary and important for us to stand up and “end” something. It could be something whose time has passed or more critically something that could spell destructive consequences if continued.
As Henry Cloud, Clinical Psychologist, Leadership Coach and author of over 20 books explains ‘Life and success require “necessary endings” but unfortunately we are too afraid to execute such endings’. Please read his wonderful article on the subject using the link provided at the end of article.
Good starting point for this discussion is to ask some searching questions like
Are we unnecessarily creating things that should in fact be getting destroyed?
Are we embracing someone or something that we should rightfully be shunning?
Are we clinging on to things when rightfully we should be letting them go?
As an example, we may be stretching and straining ourselves to help someone without asking the question ‘Are we really trying to help someone who is disabled, incapable, or otherwise infirm or are we struggling to help someone who is simply refusing to grow up and is unwilling to take up any of his/her responsibilities seriously?’ If we are shouldering someone else’s responsibilities, then we need to ponder ‘Are we not going to be stuck with this responsibility for a long time and in all probability are we not doing the greatest harm by destroying whatever intrinsic capabilities that the individual may have’.
Loyalty is a very misunderstood concept and is one that critically needs definition of boundary conditions. While loyalty is an admirable character, it does not mean that one needs to accept abusive behaviour or unfair treatment to show loyalty. It also does not mean that we take misplaced and unnecessary responsibility for someone else’s life.
Cutting ties with family members is one of the hardest decisions we may face in life because we are conditioned to believe that to terminate relationships with “family” is morally and inherently wrong. The reality is that “family members” are just regular people, some good and some bad, and if the bad people with toxic behaviour were not our family members, we would never allow them to be a part of our lives. False sense of family loyalty makes us spend precious years sacrificing our mental and emotional health in abusive relationships under the notion that we have to somehow put up with it. We are conditioned to believe that if we end relationships with family members, then we will be generally branded as selfish and unethical persons.
Behavioural neuroscience suggests that dealing with uncertainty may be the primary reason which delays necessary endings. Ending a relationship will be perceived as risky and uncertain, particularly when the relationship has been built over a long period of time. Human beings have a strong bias called ‘loss aversion’. This makes the decision to end a relationship a very difficult one due to perceived losses. Such losses could be uncomfortable changes in our status quo, emotional or financial difficulties, loss of esteem from others etc. This loss aversion bias forces us to completely ignore potential gains of ending a relationship such as getting back peace of mind, feeling more empowered and independent freely doing things that give us satisfaction etc.
There is one more human bias called ‘Endowment Effect’ that comes into play in avoiding ending of relationships. This bias makes us give undue weightage and value to the investments that we have made in our relationships which could be emotional investment, large amounts of time and effort we have spent as well as financial investments. This bias completely overshadows all potential positive gains. This is a phenomenon economists call the “sunk cost fallacy”. The fallacy is the urge to try to recover something from the sunk investment instead of letting it go for other more important benefits.
When we hear people talking about their difficulties in ending a relationship with arguments like “we have gone through so much together” or “we have been together for so long“, we are actually witnessing the endowment effect and sunk cost fallacy in action.
Recently the Supreme Court of India allowed passive euthanasia. This is again a case of difficult but necessary ending of life of a terminally ill person without any consciousness by withdrawing the life support system.
One area where there is a lot of controversy due to various religious beliefs is the case for aborting a baby in the womb who is diagnosed with serious deficiencies. The parents ideally will need to take the call whether they are willing and wanting to take care of such a baby for many long years. If they do and in doing so derive satisfaction in taking care of such a child with love and affection, then they are very much entitled to do so. On the other hand, if they are not willing to take such a big responsibility, then the society should think twice before stopping them from resorting to painful but necessary ending.
We also need to appreciate the need to walk away from toxic environment in our workplaces.
Reporting to work every day where we are surrounded by people we love, respect, and admire can make a world of difference in our day-to-day life. On the other hand, when we find ourselves in the midst of co-workers where relationships are toxic, it is best to cut our losses and move on, because in most situations we may not have the power to drastically change the environment.
Whether we have ended the relationship or plan to end it or want to fix it, the most important part remains the same. It is the realization that we deserve a better life. That the actions, opinions, and mistakes of the people around us do not really define us. We must regain our self-confidence and our self-worth. Without these things, we cannot move forward. There’s no shame in doing what we need to do for ourselves not only for our own career growth but also for our own peace of mind and well-being.
Please remember the adage ‘Even God cannot help those who cannot help themselves’.
In the end, we need to realize that we were not designed just to cope with life but to thrive with enthusiasm, happiness and joy. But just like a rosebush, you can’t thrive without pruning, which means your necessary endings truly are urgent.