Ask Elizabeth: When do you Decide to Give Up on a Relationship?

by | Ask Elizabeth


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Dear Elizabeth

When do you decide it’s time to just give up? I made a commitment, and I love my partner but he has issues, and they permeate so many aspects of his life. Issues from childhood and his awful, awful parents. Abandonment, what about me, its not fair, thinks only of himself at times, massive stress and anxiety that makes him moody and crabby and get angry and yell at me and the kids at times, always looking for an advantage or a way to get one over someone (not necessarily in the relationship but at times I find myself upset by something he has done that morally I can’t agree with). He has said he is going to the doctor for his anxiety, promised me after a horrible fight where something small got him so angry, he said he was leaving. If he gets help, I am inclined to stay as I know if he takes the medication the basis for a lot of it will go away, the anger and stress. But if he doesn’t I’m not sure I can stay. But then the guilt kicks in. This would shatter our kids, especially our eldest, and then I am a single mum with 3 kids and not enough money coming in. Help me find clarity, please


Thank you for your question

Only you can decide when the time is right for you to leave. Every situation is different. But what I can say to you is your physical safety comes first. Emotional safety is also incredibly important because emotional abuse is crazy-making, as in it won’t make you crazy but you can feel like you are losing your mind. However, as unpleasant as emotional abuse is, technically it won’t kill you. Physical abuse is something that will escalate as I am sure the girls in our group will tell you, and staying will not make it any better if your partner is not taking responsibility for his behaviour. You haven’t mentioned any physically abusive behaviour in this question, and my hope is that when you describe your partner getting really angry that you are safe.


If you partner is physical, it is important that you tell someone you trust what is going on so they can support you. Have a meeting with a family violence support worker, and I will give you some numbers to call in Australia for support in your area. If there are incidences where your relationship becomes violent call the police. You need to start to think about having a recorded history of events if you do decide to leave. Women can find their silence works against them, they haven’t wanted to call the police in case it gets their partner into trouble. Then when they talk about the abuse it is, “he said she said” and it can be perceived as not being that bad because the police weren’t called. My experience has been that clients have been frightened to involve authorities, but once they have, they find their partner realises that their behaviour is unsafe and unacceptable and it creates an improvement, at least in the physical safety of the home. Occasionally I have had women find that their partners are completely unaffected by police involvement. If your partner is totally unmoved my police involvement this gives you important information that he is so firmly entrenched in the family violence that nothing will ever change, and it becomes even more important that you have a safety plan for your exit.


You are right leaving is a decision not to be taken lightly. We know that women are at major risk of being harmed or killed when they try to leave a relationship more than at any other time. This is why the decision to go needs to be carefully planned to ensure yours and your children’s safety. I have a blog post on Safety Planning – How to Exit your Relationship that I would like you to read.


As much as your children would be devastated, you need to think about the practicalities of staying in the relationship if it is going to be so elevated. Is this a good environment for the children? You talk about some of your partner’s behaviours, and I wonder if you are worried if the children might copy these behaviours? Your partner’s way of being in the world has come from somewhere, and that is usually his parents and the family environment he had when he was growing up. So the family environment your children are witnessing right now will shape how they are in the world. Your children can choose to take and process this way of being in three ways – they can copy the behaviour of their father, they can become a facilitator or collude with the behaviour which means they might make bad choices in life partners when they come to form their own family or they will rebel which means they will choose to be the exact opposite of everything they have experienced. Unfortunately, we don’t know why people process their life experience in this way. However, if you stay in this relationship, it will make it much harder for you to take a stand about your partner’s behaviour and show your children consequence and that the behaviour is totally unacceptable.


Leaving, however, is not without its challenges as you will be negotiating access visits and the logistics of separation with an abusive partner. If you have concerns about how your partner will be around the children, then this is extremely difficult as you will be having to let your children have time with their father, proving someone is unfit/unsafe to parent is extremely difficult. You will become both mother and father to your children regarding parenting because you will have to call boundaries on their behaviour and explain, sometimes many times over why you left, even if your partner’s unacceptable behaviour is very obvious. Having said all of this some women’s experience is that their partners parenting dramatically improves after the separation because losing family bumps them into reality, and the stress of being a full-time dad is taken away.


I think it is also important to remember that depression and anxiety are one thing and abuse is another. Very often we excuse abuse and say it is because of his anxiety or it is because of his depression. The reality is a person with anxiety and depression can be very difficult to live with, but it doesn’t make them abusive. Part of the abuse is your partner’s refusal to take responsibility for his illness by not seeking help. You are right, his anger over his childhood is making him externalise everything including responsibility for his bad behaviour.


Only you can decide whether the right thing to so is to stay or leave.  What is important is that you name your boundaries and stick to them as part of your own self respect. Do not threaten to leave and then not act on it, as this just increases the chaos and dilutes the threat. It will also activate your partner’s anxiety and may make you unsafe. This is where is it so important to plan your exit so you can leave safely. The most important thing you need to see is your partner to walk the talk, and it can be helpful in a calm moment to point this out to him. Words are easy anyone can promise anything. What you need to see from him is a commitment to seek help. This will mean both medication and seeing a counsellor. People often hope that medication will solve everything, however medication does not really work without talk therapy, you need both. You need your partner to have a willingness to be absolutely honest with his counsellor about his behaviour so he can put some strategies in place to manage himself and his abusive behaviour. This is what you need to see moving forward.


Toll free phone numbers you can call for support and referral are:

WIRE The Womens Information and Referral Exchange 1300 015 188

Safe Steps 1800 015 188

Lifeline 131114

1800Respect 1800 737 732


For those of you struggling in your relationship I strongly encourage you to join our Facebook Group Relationships and Dating Advice for Women. If you have a relationship question you would like to ask me, you can ask me anonymously in strictest confidence.  Please go to

Big Love

Elizabeth R-J


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