When I learned why to say goodbye

It would be one of the toughest decisions I had ever made. We had been together for a year and a half and considering our culture’s microwave approach to dating that’s a lifetime. Our kids were similar ages; we lived close to each other, and were on same weekends.

I didn’t know it then but the day I told her goodbye, for reasons that seemed so trivial, would become a life changing moment.  One of those instances when you look back years later thankful it happened because of what it taught you.

At the time my kids were five and three and my youngest had gotten to that age where he blurted out of his mouth everything coming into his ears. I had received a few emails and the occasional phone call from his worried mother asking if I knew why our son had said ‘this’ or done ‘that’. All of the issues were petty by most standards but nonetheless noticeable and for the longest I chalked all of it up to the robustness of a growing boy, yet I knew better.

She shared a 50/50 custody arrange with her two daughters, the oldest of which was eight. Her ex husband was a good man but for the most part out of touch. Having remarried a woman slightly half his age, without kids of her own, it seemed he was looking for a baby sitter instead of a soul mate. For the most part discipline and boundaries were imaginary. Case in point, after spending thousands of dollars filling eight cavities on her five year old I was more than surprised to find the girl sucking on a pixi stick the following week. I had worked with her to set some rules for the girls and impose discipline if needed – all to no avail.  It’s astounding what parenting looks like when fueled by guilt. We had witnessed enough of tantrums that even my  son got it, “daddy, they are whiny cry babies.”  

After a lot of convincing she reluctantly decided to put her oldest into counseling with some noticeable improvements. But not being a fan of therapy in general as the weeks went on she couldn’t see the long-term benefits and promptly yanked the girl out. Up to this point, I had been respectful but candid about my concerns, which were punctuated anytime my ex called, but my patience was now on thin ice.

I reached my tipping point one December night when I brought my kids over to exchange Christmas gifts. We walk in the house to World War III. The oldest was in mid eruption – all because she left a jacket at school that day and couldn’t get it until tomorrow. Mom has flustered and the girl was hysterical. We ended up bribing her with presents to get her calmed down.


Years later, in a men’s group discussion about relationships and knowing when they’re over, I wrote the following in my journal:

“A relationship is over when we begin to compromise our value system in order to stay.”

Teaching my children respect, upright behavior, and proper boundaries are very important to me. Kids who never hear ‘no’ end up living in their parents’ basement.  And with each phone call from my ex the difference in our parenting styles became more defined. With every new meltdown and display of disrespect from her daughters to their mom and me the sirens grew louder and louder to the point I could no longer drown it out with the good things she and I may have had. While she readily admitted there was a problem, her conscience and a refusal to actually be the parent meant things were never going to get better.

And so three days after Christmas I decided to end the relationship. The immediate struggle was feeling like I’d been too quick to judge, overly harsh, and not understanding enough because the issue was never really between her and I. Friends would often look at me funny when I told them – as if it wasn’t a good enough reason.  But as I pondered it more I kept coming back again and again to this one thought, ‘what type of relationship did we really have if I had to sacrifice my principles to stay with her?’ Even more what did it say about our longevity? If taken to its logical conclusion where could that relationship have ended up but one full of resentment and a loss of respect for each other over the very thing I knew and should have done something about when I had the chance  – but I decided to ignore because everything else was good.

There can be few greater truths behind that phrase. No relationship, regardless of how good it might ‘feel’ at the time, is ever worth sacrificing your morals over. Because in the end if we give up those what do we have left?

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13 responses to When I learned why to say goodbye

  1. Locsin

    I know that you are able to think it over with this tough decision, just continue reaching up all the greatness because many of us here believe on you…

  2. Sheila McKinney

    Wow this really hit home today as I am currently faced with the tough decision of moving on from a relationship that I know is toxic but keep getting pulled back in. This is something I need to continue to think about anytime I waiver.

    “A relationship is over when we begin to compromise our value system in order to stay.”

    Great post as usual.

  3. “A relationship is over when we begin to compromise our value system in order to stay.”

    That’s an awesome realization and a great quote in general. Is amazing the wisdom we have when looking back at a relationship.


  4. There were 2 guys I dated whom I had to end the relationship with because of their children. The first guy had 2 daughters who were absolutely HORRIBLE! He and his ex-wife were friends with my mom. She had babysat their daughters and became friends with them even though they were significantly younger than her. When they divorced and he started dating, his daughters would throw a fit. It was worse with me because they knew me. Their mom knew me. They would be nice to me when I was there, but then as soon as I left, it was WW3 for him. They would throw things at him, scream, yell, cry, lock themselves in bedrooms. The last straw was when we took them to the mall to go school shopping. The word “no” was not in his vocabulary. And if he told one of them that something was a little too expensive and they should pick something else, they would call him names and throw things in the store. I was SO embarrassed. When I told him their behavior was unacceptable, he gave me the “Well, I feel bad because their mom and I split up. This is really hard on them” song and dance.

    The second guy had 2 younger boys. My son was slightly older than them. He was miserable around them because they would constantly lie and say that he was doing/saying things he wasn’t. The first several times it came out, my son got in trouble. But then he started changing and I asked him what’s wrong. He said, “I am not doing and saying what they’re saying I am and you don’t believe me then I get in trouble.” I felt awful. When I talked to the guy about it, he said, “Are you and your son calling my sons liars?” Yes, because that’s what I wanted you to get out of this. That was done.

    Anyway, you’re so right. And I also love your sentence, “A relationship is over when we begin to compromise our value system in order to stay.”

  5. Great and valuable story. WE can never compromise our values, the core things we live by or IT will never work!

  6. Born27

    I know what you feels right now. It’s hard, it’s even like a mourning. It’s been always hard to say goodbye. And most of the time, you say goodbye for someone because its him/her you sacrifice than the other. Why do we have do sacrifice? To make a better living? Why? Is it worst if they’re present? Life is very cruel. I don’t understand why people have to say goodbye. It left us an emptiness, a sad feeling that we can’t barely manage. But we keep on trying to manage. That’s humans. Coping up with whatever situation we’re going through.

  7. There’s a rule in my men’s group that no one is allowed to get married without the group’s permission. It’s kind of tongue-in-cheek but it’s kind of not. The point is to think about these kinds of problems and bounce them off the group before it’s too late. Works pretty good.

  8. mcravener

    Wow kudos to you Papa for making such a strong and intuitive decision. Like you say – you don’t really know if the decision is correct until afterwards, but your motivation turned out to be so very very correct. So many relationships are allowed to be prolonged to the detriment of both parties because neither can take a stand. Of course there always is the flip-side of partners leaving each other at the first sign of trouble, but I can’t see that you are that kind of person.

  9. Papa – Author

    ” So many relationships are allowed to be prolonged to the detriment of both parties because neither can take a stand” – I think a lot of that has to do with partners who don’t want to be alone so they’ll follow the adage “Why trade the devil you know for the devil you don’t”

  10. shawn

    Great point about not compromising your value system. I think you could apply that same rule to most friendships as well as your career choices. Too many parents are out there trying to be their kids’ friends instead of focusing on raising a good person.

  11. Willow

    Now I know that my relationship is destined to end. You are right. A relationship that compromises our own values is just not worth it. Thank you Papa.

  12. Anonymous

    Hello again Papa! I did finish the relationship a few weeks now. And I am in the recovery process. Any useful tips about dealing with the necessary grief?

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