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When do I know it's time to end my relationship?

Aug 27, 2023

Dr. Liz Powell: When do I throw in the towel on a relationship after being in couple’s therapy? Do you feel like a breakup doula a lot of the time? 

Rae McDaniel: Sometimes yeah.


Dr. Liz Powell: Yeah. 

Rae McDaniel: I can. 

Dr. Liz Powell: In my experience, a lot of people do not go to couple’s therapy until shit is super fucking bad like it has been bad for a long time.

There are deep pits of resentment and anger and hurt that are at best very difficult to overcome and often reflective of just key differences in how people are and do things.

And a lot of my job often ends up being giving them permission to say like, “We still really care about each other and this relationship is not working.” 

Rae McDaniel: Yeah.

The point of couple’s therapy is not to save the relationship.

It’s for both people or whoever is in that to discern what the best way forward is for them and for the relationship whether that’s together or separate.

And I don’t think there is one thing that I’m like, “This is when you throw in the towel.”

It’s unique to each relationship and person and how much each person has capacity for and to try. 

So there is the very therapist answer is it depends.

At the end of the day, it often comes down to a gut check.


Have you done enough work on this relationship that you feel confident or at least as confident as you can that moving forward is not going to be the best move for you?

And does your gut confirm that?

Do you feel done? 

Dr. Liz Powell: Yeah.

I mean I think – I see a lot of people where often the person who has done more of the attempts to make the relationship work, laborer, is also someone who is like, “But I haven’t tried everything.”

And I’m like, “You don’t need to try to everything actually.” 

Rae McDaniel: Yeah. 

Dr. Liz Powell: If you had a pair of pants and you were trying to figure out if it fit you, you wouldn’t try 30 different ways to get into that pair of pants.

You would put them on and if they felt good, you would say, “Great. They fit.” And if they didn’t feel good, you could just say, “OK, they don’t fit.” 

Rae McDaniel: Yeah. 

Dr. Liz Powell: It doesn’t have to be a huge thing where you put in all of the things that you possibly could and you try everything you possibly could because there is always going to be something else you could try. 

Something that I talk about a lot with folks is that we should not date people for their potential.

There is an old show, Coupling, those written by Steven Moffat.

It has all of these same problems that all his shows do.

But there was a great line in it where one of the women says, “He’s a whole buffet of improvability.”

That she is dating this man because of what she can make him.

And like that does not feel good to anybody involved. 

Rae McDaniel: No. 

Dr. Liz Powell: When you are looking of the changes that you want in a relationship or in a partner, it is really important to ask yourself like, “What kind of changes are these? Are these fundamental changes or are these ways that they can adjust things that they are doing? Are these changes that they also want to make for their own reasons or are these changes that they are enacting because I’ve asked for them?” 

Rae McDaniel: Yes. 

Dr. Liz Powell: And if it’s only for you end up with a big change, it is unlikely it is ever going to stick. 

Rae McDaniel: Yup. 

Dr. Liz Powell: I think a lot of people get into relationships without addressing and negotiating a lot of these fundamental things.

I over the last several years have been putting together a relationship manual for me so that anybody who is interested in dating me can just pull it up and know all of the things about me that make me good and terrible to date. 

Rae McDaniel: That’s brilliant. 

Dr. Liz Powell: I got the idea from Cunning Minx and it has really been a great exercise for me as well because each time I go through a breakup or a challenging thing in my relationship, I go to my manual and make sure that there’s something in there that covers what happened because I’m learning about again, the things that don’t work for me.

We all have shit that is just our personal, “This does not work for me.”

You need to know that and you need to negotiate that with people.

A lot of folks who talk about, “You shouldn’t talk about big things too early,” I think that you should talk about the things that are important and fundamental to you within the first handful of days because it’s not – you’re not going to form a great partnership with someone who fundamentally wants a very different thing than you do. 

Rae McDaniel: Yup.


I love this idea.

I have long said that I wish people could just fill out an extensive application to date me. It would just save everybody so much trouble. 

Dr. Liz Powell: Oh my god!

Me too!

It would be so much easier. 

Rae McDaniel: Like go into Google Doc.

It’s like my little Virgo moon is like, “Can I just have a spreadsheet?” 

Dr. Liz Powell: Virgo rising. 

Rae McDaniel: Yes. 

Dr. Liz Powell: Yes. 

Rae McDaniel: I love it. 

Dr. Liz Powell: Virgo placements. 

Rae McDaniel: I love it.

So yes, yes.

If you were trying to fundamentally change who somebody is in couple’s therapy, that’s not going to work. 

Dr. Liz Powell: No. 

Rae McDaniel: So with change, one of the questions I tend to think about is, are things changing?

Because often, they might be just not at a pace that you would want.

So then it becomes, is it changing at a pace that you can live with, at a pace that you are OK continuing to give effort towards with the foundation of everything you said of some that you don’t have to try everything?

Sometimes it’s just not a good fit or you or a partner is out of capacity and it’s OK to let something go that’s not working without killing yourself for it.

But at the end of the day, it’s about your gut.

And when do you feel done? 

Dr. Liz Powell: And I think too that there’s this way that a lot of people talk themselves out of something that is a deal-breaker for them by saying like it’s not a valid reason.

I’m deeply upset that this person never does their dishes.

That’s not a valid reason to break up with somebody.

And I’m like, what is right for you is completely personal.

If you have a million tiny little things that make people a bad fit for you, maybe that’s worth looking at. 

But if for you it is a deal-breaker if somebody does not do their dishes in a timely fashion, that’s probably not going to change.

So try to let it go.

If you can’t let it go, it’s time to let go of that relationship. 

Rae McDaniel: Yup.


I have come to the conclusion that a price of admission for me is a clean house.

I cannot live in a house that is not clean.

It’s not good for my mental health.

And maybe that is trite or like a small thing but it isn’t.

It’s something that I talk about with people because it is important to me for the way I want to live my life and how I want to feel in my home. 

Dr. Liz Powell: And again, everything affects people differently, right?

Some folks are fine with a sink full of dishes all the time.

Some people seeing that sink full of dishes every time they see it is another huge hit to their comfort, to their enjoyment, to their pleasure, to their joy.

You are who you are.

There’s some of that that can’t be shifted and changed.

And it’s OK to be who you are. 

I think that there’s a beautiful culture now that encourages like growth and change and self-examination and you can’t always self-grow with yourself out of who you are.

And you shouldn’t need to.

It’s OK.

People have different preferences.

If you are the person who is totally fine with dishes in the sink all the time, you will find someone who either loves doing the dishes or is totally fine with dishes in the sink or like would pay for the house cleaner to come twice a week.

Find someone who fits.

Stop trying to force it to fit. 

Rae McDaniel: Yup.


Dr. Liz Powell: Yeah.

And I think also, it’s OK to break up.

And I think when you break up earlier, it goes better. 

Rae McDaniel: It does. 

Dr. Liz Powell: Not like as in like the first fight, let’s break up.

But like the people who really like hang on until the very bitter end are unlikely to be able to be friends or even friendly with those former partners.

I have a lot of close friends who were former partners.

I live with a former partner right now.

And when we broke up 7 years ago, if you had told me that I would be living with him 7 years from then, I would have told you that there was no fucking world in which that would happen.

But here we are. 

Who we are as friends, who we are in our connection has changed a ton over the 8 years that we’ve known each other.

And it’s a place now where living together actually makes sense for us for a little while.

And that worked because we broke up before it got terrible and because we process the stuff that were the resentments we were holding that was the shit that we weren’t talking about after that breakup so that we could clear that and form a friendship and figure out what the connection was. 

Rae McDaniel: Yup.


And I’m in that process with an ex as well.

They’re moving out in a month to move states but yeah, same thing.

We did work really hard on it and at the end of the day, it wasn’t working.

And we were able because we did call it to still live together, to still process through that stuff.

We continued couple’s therapy after we broke up to try to like make sure that we were going to be OK. 

Dr. Liz Powell: Yeah.

And again, breakups are OK.

It’s OK.

Not every relationship is for a lifetime.

How long a relationship last is not the only marker of how good it was.

There’s a semi joke that I tell in a lot of my classes which is that I’ve had a monogamy perfect relationship.

We met.

We were super into each other.

It was going fantastically.

We never had a fight.

Then he died of a heart attack.

And that is the perfect relationship.

It ended in death.

I have done it.

I have achieved it.


That is not necessarily a more meaningful or better relationship in my life than other ones that I’ve had that lasted longer or that ended with more acrimony but we found our way back.

Who you are continues to change.

To assume that everybody in your life and your connection to them will remain static while you change does not make any sense especially when you consider like you’ve said, that they are changing too.

We are all changing.

That’s OK.

Who you are now may not be the kind of person that can have this kind of relationship with that person.

That’s OK. 

Rae McDaniel: Yup. 

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