Updated: Mar 30, 2022
Since the age of caveman courtship, humans have turned to their relationships for companionship, intimacy and support. In some cases, even survival. Human contact is an instinctual necessity, according to evolutionary psychologists.
And, though we've evolved as a species, oftentimes falling in love and sharing milestones over screens, our craving for loving, meaningful connection is as powerful as ever.
Whether cooking delicious meals with our families, gut-laughing over inside jokes with our best friends, planning sun-swept escapes with our romantic partner, or swapping our most ambitious dreams with our virtual circles, science has shown that our relationships either enhance or dampen our health, mindset and mood.
In fact, in my book, Radical Life Renovation: Heal the Past, Reclaim Your Power & Build a Future You Love, I unpack the science behind this, referencing a fascinating study that shows our closest relationships determine about 85 percent of our success and happiness in life.
Scary, right? Also liberating and life-unlocking, depending upon how you look at it.
Either way, know this: Relationships of every kind function under a series of contractual terms and conditions, even if unconscious or unspoken. Which means that, if something feels "off,"or like you're hitting an energetic brick wall, it might be time to consider if a renewal, a renegotiation or an expiration is on the table...
Yes, every relationship is a contract–one with terms and conditions...
We each bring a unique worldview, formed from a rolodex of biases, insecurities, traumas and privileges to every relationship we enter. This determines how we show up, as well as how we assume others will up for us. The marriage of these perspectives creates the terms and conditions within the relationship.
Even if the individual parties expect them to play out in wildly different ways.
For example, let's say there's a parent who finds purpose in acting as their adult child’s rescuer, expecting to forever be needed and called upon. But when their child decides to start governing themselves–no longer asking for permission to buy the house or book the flight or move across the coast, the parent might perceive that they’ve been wounded–perhaps discarded or ostracized.
Even if that's not at all the case. Even if their child is simply trying to grow up and become who they are.
Or, here's another example. Let's say someone finds confidence in being the leader of their pack– taking charge of organizing dinner plans and orchestrating trip itineraries. Except, unbeknownst to them, their friends secretly resent the expectation to always follow their lead, perceiving their take-charge attitude as overbearing AF. This might create an atmosphere of tension, even if the disgruntled friends never formally shout their annoyance.
...which means you’re saying “yes” to everything you tolerate.
If you’re tolerating something in a relationship, no matter how much it makes you scoff with irritation or fume with anger, you’re agreeing to it.
Like, say, the meddling aunt or uncle who causes you to hiss under your breath every time they pry with inappropriate questions, the boss who makes subtle digs no matter how hard you work to please them, or the deceptive lover who vanishes without explanation for days on end.
Every time you don’t speak up about what you want and need, you're giving your seal of approval. That means you're nodding "yes" to even the things you hate. You're single-handedly signing yourself up for disappointment and heartbreak, over and over again.
Sometimes it’s not necessarily that a person is toxic, but that the terms within the relationship are toxic...
There’s so much talk about nixing toxic people from our lives. You've probably seen those memes circulating on Pinterest or Instagram–the ones that chirp about the necessity of purging any and all poisonous souls from your vortex. And you may've shared them.
The problem, though? Pinning someone as "toxic" and cutting them out of your life will never work long-term. Because you're part of the problem.
Some of the time, the issue isn't specifically that a person you're struggling with is toxic, but that the combination of your energies brings out toxicities in each other.
Two people might bring out the best in each other, but they might also suffer from similar vices or share similar weaknesses, creating a bond that’s dangerously off-balance and bound to fall apart. So, with this in mind, if you’re in an unhappy relationship right now, it might simply mean that you need something different to compliment who you are and wish to become–perhaps someone who'll mirror the most radiant, empowered angles of yourself.
In other words, before you end a relationship, examine yourself.
Might the relationship feel icky or lopsided because you’re bringing a world of assumptions and expectations to it–ones the other party never signed up for? Perhaps ones they don’t have the capacity or power to fulfill? Or, might you be failing to communicate effectively?
I once had an explosive falling out with a close friend. When I received a furious email from her, the problem became clear to me: she’d been operating from a universe of romanticized expectations that I’d failed to meet–ones where I was her savior, her rock, her most mothering friend. Except I’d never agreed to meet those expectations and didn’t have the power to fulfill them. Those fanciful ideals were bound to crash and burn eventually.
From my view, I felt like I’d excelled at my role as a loyal pal–acting as a sounding board for hours, loving her through her darkest hours and shouting her worthiness. Yet, it seemed that every small misstep was shoved under a microscope and taken personally. After months of tension, the inflammatory email was the nail in the friendship's coffin. From my gaze, she’d taken my love for granted and I was 50 shades of done.
Not long after, I realized that we’d both played a role in the friendship’s demise. On her end, she’d expected a level of counsel that I was incapable of giving, and had displaced frustrations from other relationships within her life onto me, but on my end, I’d failed to properly articulate my boundaries and triggers. I’d dropped the ball when it came to setting clear limitations and unpacking my feelings in a calm and respectful way.
Which is also to say that I'd created levels of resentment that weren't her responsibility to remedy–because my failure to communicate had led her to believe that she had an all-access pass to my time and space and pep talks.
The beautiful news is that we eventually reunited, being transparent about our individual shortcomings, and “renegotiating” our roles within the friendship. I love and honor her, and she loves and honors me. But our reunion wouldn't have been possible had we not valued each other enough to revisit the relationship's terms. And what a shame that would have been.
...but don't let your emotions keep you bound to a contract that needs to end.
A few years ago, I interviewed a television personality for a magazine story. Our connection was instant, effortless and soulful. Months later, after forming a kinship over email and text, she approached me about co-authoring her memoir. I was immediately captivated by the opportunity.
Having been approached about various book projects, none had lit me up like hers. I adored and respected her, we saw the world through similar lenses, and I knew that the only obvious answer was a resounding “yes.” One with an exclamation point behind it. Contracts were drawn up and I signed my name with glee.
During the early days of the process, my body buzzed each time an audio message from her landed in my email inbox. I spent hours transcribing, conceptualizing, shaping up the narratives and making them sing. Our excitement was delicious and tangible. I often visualized the two of us, side by side on Wendy Williams’ couch, reflecting on the early days of putting it all together. “You are the person to write this book,” she often gushed.
But, as we traveled deeper into the project, and as my career further blossomed, and as I fell pregnant and became a first-time mom to a colicky newborn, and as she continued to move through her own personal and professional progressions in beautiful and celebrated ways, I began to wonder if maybe I wasn't her girl. And I was losing my spark to see it through.
I was trying so hard not to know this. I’d poured my most impassioned creative energies into the book and believed in its message. But the truth was wagging wildly in my face: our synergy was barely hanging on for dear life.
Our voices didn't mesh. Our schedules didn't align. Our careers were pulling us down distant paths. Sometimes it felt as though we were fumbling through the dark in a maze of inspirations, failing to link arms. And, then it started to feel as though we were shouting at each other from opposite ends of the world, determined to still be heard, yet unable to get our messages across. There was dissonance and distance where there had once been harmony and volume.
It was like that feeling you get once you know a lover isn't your “happily ever after,” but you gave so much of yourself to the relationship that the thought of throwing in the towel makes you want to ugly-cry into your pillow. I longed to pour my energy into other endeavors that were tugging at my hair, but there was also this lingering, “What if...what if we can get back to where we were?” I also didn't want to let her down.
One morning, while driving to a doctor’s appointment, the project began weighing on my psyche. The pandemic had put a temporary freeze on the publishing industry, so I hadn’t sent out queries in a couple of months, but things were starting to open back up. The thought of returning to the venture made me cringe with dread. Alone in my car, I said aloud, “I want to be freed from this. I know it’s the right thing for both of us. I want out.”
Hours later, my phone buzzed. Her name lit up on the screen. I exhaled slowly, answered the call, and greeted her cheerfully. We chatted for a few minutes, skirting around the one topic that we both knew needed to be addressed. After a moment, she asked, “I was wondering if maybe we could break our contract?”
My jaw nearly hit the sofa. I’d sent out a request into the ether that had proven to be magical, and I was primed and ready to rejoice. But, you know what else? I also felt a flicker of sadness. Because, though I was raring to pop a bottle of champagne and throw a party for my newfound freedom, I was also releasing something that had meant a lot to me at one time. I was letting go of something I’d once loved.
And that’s the point. Don’t let your time investments or emotional attachments trick you. Know when your pull toward something–whether it be an endeavor or a relationship–is not an indication of what’s best for your future. Know when you’re resisting.
Your job in this life is to be a loyal and obedient steward of your truth, babe. No matter how much time you’ve invested, or how many hopes and dreams you’ve folded into something. So please, know when it’s time to end a contract and get on with your life.
In some cases, ending a relationship means saving yourself...
If you need to end a relationship with someone, it doesn't mean you're a monster. Perhaps you’ve evolved in your perception of the world and soared into new and higher beliefs about what’s possible. Or, maybe the other person has changed in ways that renders the two of you standing at impossible odds.
I once had a boyfriend who verbally assaulted me each time I tried to break up with him. He'd shout, "Quitter! Quitter!" His pendulum swung from accusing me of caring about no one but myself, to professing undying exaltation and remorse for never having been worthy of me in the first place. He once threatened suicide, sending me a long and lamenting email that ended with, "I'll see you on the other side, beautiful..."
I won’t deny that his guilt tactics kept me in the relationship far, far, far past its expiration date. And that was the saddest part of it all. Because, while the best relationships are maintained out of mutual affection and understanding–whether romantic, platonic or professional, there are some that keep one or both parties locked in by way of entrapment, fear, guilt and manipulation.
And that’s the epitome of violating. Also the opposite of love.
Despite my ex’s resistance, quitting that relationship proved to be the kindest decision I ever made for myself. Because, if I hadn’t admitted, once and for all, that the terms and conditions of that relationship were shrinking my future and strangling my soul, and if I hadn’t ripped up that contract, I wouldn't have regained my sanity, or met my husband, or had my daughter, or forged the self-belief to build a career I love.
And, hey, chances are sky-high that you probably wouldn’t be reading these words right now either. Which is also to say that, sometimes, ending a relationship means saving your own life. Maybe someone else’s, too.
Because the most important relationship you’ll ever have is you...
You don’t owe another person your body, your time, your thoughts or your commitment if it means betraying yourself. You only owe others the compassionate willingness to let them be who they are.
So, if having a relationship with someone endangers your personal evolution or safety, or if it forces a muzzle over your joy and truth, that person doesn’t belong in your life no matter how much you’ve loved or given or invested.
You’re the longest human relationship you’ll ever have. The most worthy “happily ever after” you could ever lose is they one you have with. yourself. You're the most precious contract you could ever break.
All of your other relationships, no matter how meaningful, fall under its authority. So, honor and protect each contract with love, and keep your word to the best of your ability.
But, ultimately? Know when it’s time to renew, renegotiate...or walk away.
©2022, Lacey Johnson, LJ Media, LLC
**No portion of this content is to be used without credit to its owner, and a link back to laceyjohnson.com.