How long have you been thinking about breaking up with your long distance partner?

A week? Several months? Years?

Perhaps you’re not really sure what the answer is. After all, it’s quite common to have doubts but to not really know what they mean. And what counts as ‘thinking about breaking up’, anyway?

With some relationships, the problems are glaring and it’s obvious that you’d be happier just being friends (or going your separate ways entirely). For times when things are more ambiguous, I’m a big fan of thought experiments to help bring perspective to a situation. By asking ‘what if’, you can play out imaginary scenarios that can help you recognise some of the deeper feelings you might be having.

(Before I go on, I’ll reiterate that I’m not a relationship counsellor, psychologist or anything of the sort – just someone who has had experience of LDRs, both successful and unsuccessful, and wants to share my own thoughts. If in doubt, please take the advice of a qualified professional over my own 🙂 )

Now, here are three thought experiments that may help you decide whether or not you really want to break up.

1. If we were just at the start of our relationship and things were this way, would I feel more comfortable with breaking up?

Imagine that everything in your relationship is the same – including the amount of love you feel for your partner – except that instead of being many months or years deep into your relationship, you’ve only been dating for a few weeks.

How do you feel about the prospect of breaking up now? Would it be easier?

Why it helps to think about it

Sunk cost fallacy is a term that describes the value we give to things just because we’ve been doing them for a really long time. For example, say you start studying for a particular degree at university, only to realise halfway through that you’re not enjoying it at all. But you decide not to change your course now because then you’ll have ‘wasted’ all that time.

Sound familiar?

If that describes how you feel about your relationship, it might be time to rethink things.

2. How would I feel if my partner had to rely on me for a while?

For this thought experiment, imagine that your partner is in a tough situation (for example, a lost job, problems with their family or financial troubles) and you need to be there for them.

How do you feel about it?

Why it helps to think about it

It’s likely that your feelings here would be complex. Of course, anyone would feel down when someone they love is going through something difficult. Regardless of whether you’ve had more ups or downs in your relationship, there is often a sense of purpose and deeper commitment that comes with being someone’s rock in a bad situation.

However, if the overwhelming feeling you get is one of anxiety at the idea of them needing you, that could be a sign that you’re not comfortable with that vulnerability because you don’t see a future between the two of you.

3. If they broke up with me, how would I feel?

In this thought experiment, the tables are turned and it’s your partner breaking up with you.

How do you feel about it?

Why it helps to think about it

Break-ups are rarely pleasant, regardless of whether things were working out or not. But if you’d feel somewhat relieved by your partner breaking up with you, or if it seems like the solution to all of your problems, this is a major sign that you’re deferring the inevitable – not because you don’t want to go your separate ways, but because you don’t want to be the ‘bad guy’ who suggests it.

Chances are, this isn’t a good enough reason to stay together.

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