Nobody quit quite like Fred

One of the hardest questions in a relationship is when to leave it.

If only there was a clear metric or formula! Such as “add the number of months you’ve been together with the number of children you have. If the number of wounding fights you have per year exceeds that total, break up.”

M + C < WF/Y 

(That’s bad, but, as ridiculous back-of-the-envelope made-up rules go, not atrocious!)

I approach this question a couple of different ways.

  1. Are you, overall, grounded in this relationship and moving on doesn’t occur to you? That’s not to say there won’t be ups and those brutal downs, even significant year-long downs. But if leaving isn’t really on your radar, then–it’s not!
  2. Far more important overall: do you think your partner is capable of growth in the right direction in a reasonable timeline?

No partner is perfect. And we’re all constantly changing. But we have to want to grow.

Building bigger muscles–especially the one in our chest–takes time and practice, and there will be setbacks. Sometimes hideous, stinky, gut-churning setbacks. But some people throw themselves into the love gym, get a trainer, take the bad days with the good, and hit their goals relatively quickly. Some people go to the gym, but mostly screw around on their phones and hang out in the steam room. Some people avoid it altogether, and just watch Netflix and order in Thai.

Growth comes a lot faster when you seek it out. And when your partner doesn’t put in the sweat equity, it shows they 1. don’t care enough about growth in the relationship to be uncomfortable 2. don’t realize they should care enough to shift the equation 3. haven’t had much practice being uncomfortable and have trouble going through the sweaty, muscle-straining reps. All are troubling to a different degree, but the first is probably the one to look for when you consider heading for the exit.

Growth is critical to the User Manual, because I’ve found two growth-related limitations to people really investing in the User Manual — and unlocking its magical-ish power.

  1. Most people have no idea what to actually put in their User Manual. What do we actually need from our partner every day — or ourselves — to make us happy?
  2. Following our partner’s User Manual is difficult, requiring new habits and possibly doing things we don’t really like to do, which is made infinitely harder when relationships wander into the danger zone.

Figuring out what we want and following the User Manual isn’t easy. But so is leaving an afternoon of daiquiris and beach lounging to sweat it out pumping iron. It takes work and–ultimately–desire.

Desire not just to build a ridiculously amazing relationship, but also to build a ridiculously amazing life. It’s the interest in growing as a partner, friend, kid, bowling chum, cycling buddy, cake decorator pal, tutor, drinking companion–you name it–that takes us into new and thrilling directions and unlocks life’s vibrant energy.

If your partner quits on that, what else will they quit on?

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