How to Know When to End a Relationship?

when to end a relationshipA Useful Way to Know When to End a Relationship

One of the most useful concepts for making personal and business decisions is “Zero-sum thinking.”

What is it?

Zero-sum thinking is a method of clearing the mind of the effects of what is called a “sunken investment.” It’s a well-known fact that humans are susceptible to over-valuing things that they have already invested in.

For example, if you have invested a lot of time and energy in a relationship, there is a tendency to avoid giving up on that relationship because you feel like you have invested so much. You don’t want to lose your investment.

That logic makes sense on the surface, but not if you look a little more closely. The things you have invested are in the past. You cannot get them back. So your decision should be all about the present and the future.

Zero-sum thinking means you ask yourself this question:

“If I was not already in the relationship I am in now, would I choose to start this relationship given what I now know?”

This question clears the cobwebs of a sunken investment from our mind. It allows us to clearly think about what’s going to happen next. It allows us to stop making the mistake of thinking that our investments of time and energy in the past should be a factor that determines whether something is a good bet at this point in time.

Suzy Orman is an investment adviser who first revealed this concept to me. She was talking about the many people who own stock that depreciated in value during recent downturns in the economy. She talked about how many of her clients hold on to a stock because they don’t want to lose the money they have invested in that stock. They hope the stock will regain its value in the future and they can avoid the “sunken investment” loss.

Here’s what Suzy has to say about that. If you would not buy that stock today, swallow the loss and sell it today.

Nobody cares how much money you lost by owning a certain stock. The only thing that matters is whether that stock is a good place to invest your money at the present time. If you would not buy more of the stock right now (at the current price you could sell it for), that means you do not believe it is a good investment for the future. If it is not a good investment for the future, you should sell it now even if you take a loss in doing so. That is zero-sum thinking.

And now back to knowing when to end a relationship.

when to end a relationshipIf you are with a guy who has some good and bad qualities, who treats you well only some of the time, zero-sum thinking may be in order. Ask yourself this question, “Knowing what I now know, would I pursue a relationship with this man if I was single and starting over?”

I hope this concept will be as useful to you as it has been for me. It’s a way of reducing the complexity of decisions while focusing your mind on what’s coming next. Our decisions are always based on our best guess about what will happen in the future. You will make better predictions about the future if you clear your mind of the tendency to put too much emphasis on “sunken investments” from the past.

And if you are looking to learn more about making great decisions, I’ve developed a training course on mastering your own intuition to make the right relationship choices, check it out here.

Have a great day!

James Bauer

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It's something he CRAVES... More than love, more than money, even more than sex.

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38 thoughts on “How to Know When to End a Relationship?

  1. Sarah said:

    Oh where do I start.At the beginning some would say ok here goes. I met my present partner through a friend, a male version of you she said and yes she was right. At first I was totally attractive to him, he was lovely, it was good in every sense of the word. He was sexy fun good looking and I thought he was my ever after. However once the initial lust had worn off we had nothing in common, he was totally different to me and he brought the worse out in me. I became aggressive angry and sad. It was because of his insecurities that I became withdrawn and extremely unhappy. I am still with him 6 years on I can’t explain it but I’ve tried to end it he has become nasty and aggressive and persuasive so i stay.

    • Joan Sullivan said:

      Get out!! I was with a guy who did the same thing for 25 years and I stayed bc of fear. It took 7 years to divorce . He was so narcissistic and manipulative. Listen to James. Believe in yourself. You have so much to receive. Best Joan

  2. Sad in Seattle said:

    This has really helped me right now. I met someone online and its only been 3 months, but am already trying to decide if I should end it. We have a great time together but our sex chemistry is not there. Not for me. I keep feeling like I am being a jerk and should give it a chance, but feel like I have and have even talked to him about my feelings. I think that you have to have a good sex life together and if you don’t, that is a deal breaker. He is newly divorced, I have been divorced for 5 years now. Would really like to hear others opinions about this. Only dating for 3 months. He is also not a very romantic person, does not share emotions. He is a great guy, has a big heart and has helped me. But am starting to feel more of a friendship now. We have not had time alone since July 4th. and I am starting to feel further and further away emotionally toward him. Anyway, I am so glad to see this article and to ask myself the question. “Would I start something with this person knowing what I know now.” I am pretty sure I would not.
    Thank you James.

  3. Modupe said:

    Thanks for this article James. It is thought provoking. My husband of 28 years is a very good man but thinking of spending the rest of my life with him depresses me! I see him more as a big brother or dad but the thought of divorce scares me as I keep thinking of the fact that I have invested most of my life in him and our home. I feel trapped to be honest! It is not easy to end a marriage to a good man even though you feel he is not the man of your future. Thanks for the challenging words.

    • Cole said:

      May I ask if youโ€™ve considered prayer? It works wonders in life. And has completely changed mine.

  4. Nina said:

    I divorced when I was almost 50 years old after 25 years of marriage and two children and absolutely everyone told me I was stupid, crazy, etc. He was a nice guy, provided well for us, but I was very lonely & unhappy with no change in sight. Seven years later I met my Romeo & Juliet romantic partner and spent 17 years with him (he died last year), every day getting better. I didn’t intend to fall in love again, but it was wonderful to experience the difference between “best friend” and “soulmate.” Go for being happy even if it means being alone.

    • James Bauer said:

      Wow. I wish I could interview you about the ways those two experiences were different.


      • Nina said:

        I am willing to answer any questions. I find your articles helpful and would like to help in any way I can.

  5. Penny Mashigo said:

    Wow! What a relief to the situations I am facing. Thank you so much for helping me to start a new journey of my life. I’ve learned that I should stop digging the grave, a dead thing is dead and shall never rise again. My struggles are over.. I’m gonna apply

  6. Donna L. said:

    This is REALLY good stuff. I recently ended a 3 1/2 year relationship and I did think of all the time that was put into it, and what a shame it was to give up after all that I had “invested”. This article explained exactly why I felt that way.
    The thing is at the end of the day I knew it wasn’t what I wanted, would never be what I wanted and so you really do have to cut your losses sometimes. I’m a few months out of my breakup and met the most wonderful man who treats me EXACTLY how I want to be treated, and I’m so happy. Now, I know everything that I went through was worth it.

    • James Bauer said:

      It’s great to hear you found the right partner!


  7. Sherry said:

    Some people have no heart to be broken, just lust to be fulfilled at the expense of your life. I made a mistake falling for a guy who demanded a threesome and got mad when I wouldn’t agree with him. I should have dumped him immediately like my friend advised.

  8. Annie said:

    Also our brains are seriously limited in predicting outcomes. Think about that for a second. Alot of things we think are going to happen are based of our own life, and what we see. Statistically, let’s all face it: you are probably just an average person.
    You can make educated guesses all you want, it still wouldn’t hold up in court. Why are we making life long decisions based on what we think the next year will be like? Why not just say, “Ok, if I am unhappy in a year, then I will take another look, but for the next year I am only going to look at ways I think I could be a good person, and really try to love the person I am committed to.”
    Obviously, I have abandonment issues. I think a lot of people were controlled way too much growing up because parents think kids won’t be happy if they make their own choices and own mistakes in life. I think people ruin a really beautiful thing in life because growing up they were too controlled, so instead of facing that, they blame their partners.
    When you date someone, please respect that you are dating a real person. You are not comparing user reviews online and waiting for black friday.
    So if you promise someone that you are going to be exclusive with them, you should give them a try. Wouldn’t you want someone to stick it out for a little while if you had a stick up your ass for a year, and you didn’t understand why? What about when Mom’s get post pardem blues? I doubt that Mom is the best wife, I sucked at being a lover after my daughter was born. I didn’t even notice for a long time. Something in my life changed my identity (I am a Mom now too) and I didn’t know how to be a wife and a Mom right away.
    I knew this at the time, and while I was very sorry,it took me a long time to completely adjust back to my good old self. Everyone told my boyfriend to leave the minute he was unhappy. No one offered advice about how to get what you need in the relationship agian or offered to help with our kid even. No one can tell you if you should leave your spouse ever. But ask yourself, “If I leave this guy I love because he did this mistake or is struggling with this and is kinda an ass about this” are you ever going to look back and wonder what would have happened if you just did something differently?
    My daughter would not have a solid family for the rest of her life if my man listened to those people. Instead, she might have that. I don’t want her to have to decide which parent to spend her holidays with. It sucks, and almost always, there is some kind of parental alienation that occurs which people seem to not understand will harm her sense of self.
    People, I am sorry, but stop giving up sooo easily on everything that doesn’t immediately work. I am only in my twenties, but I know anything worth having probably takes a lot of work. And when you interact with other people, you have an impact on their livelihood and everyone should seriously respect that. So before you break someone’s heart because he doesn’t make enough money, why don’t you get off your ass and make some money? How much money do you really need? Is that worth tearing out someone’s heart? If the person isn’t making you feel loved, is it possible, they can’t read your mind and have no idea how? Did you ask them to do something, and just wait, or do you nag them constantly to where they feel like they can’t do what they normally would do because asking someone to do something over and over again is hurtful?
    I just don’t buy the, “just ask yourself, are you happy?” and then making your decision based off that.
    My partner does bring a smile to my face, but if he pissed me off that day, I bet I will find other things to be happy about until he pulls his head out later on. Can you imagine feeling like another person, a fully able adult being unhappy and actually having the balls to take no credit for their own behaviors that would probably change everything?
    I am a ridiculously lazy person. To the point where I will you call you upstairs on my cell phone to bring me a diet coke. But even I think that it is way too lazy the way our culture treats relationships today instead of giving everyone the tools we need to know how the hell to keep a loving relationship alive and healthy. Instead of being patient, and seeing good in someone and fighting it out for them because they lost their job, or got screwed in a business deal or whatever the hell makes men down and out people are giving up.
    Knock it off, and figure it out. It is going to be hard, you won’t know why you are doing it, but eventually I bet most people would learn and grow and become better people.
    Again, all I ask, is before you break another human being’s heart, think about it. Their heart matters just as much as yours no matter what you think or what you have done or what they have done.

    • James Bauer said:

      Interesting thoughts, Annie. Thanks for sharing.

      • Anonymous said:

        I tend to agree with her. I can get very jealous over something he writes on Facebook. When I cool off, I think how dumb. It’s a stupid remark to somebody around the world. I have made remarks too. Just keep mouth closed while your head thinks things through.

  9. Annie said:

    Maybe I am in serious denial, however, when I am unhappy with my spouse for a minute, I just focus on making myself happier and he usually just comes around on his own. I decided a long time ago I was going to stick it out and I own that.
    People who are mean, don’t always need you to say, “I am unhappy, bye.”
    What happened to owning your own feelings and being happy with the life you have now?
    Why is it that relationships are being treated like the best TV you should buy at Wal-Mart? I have had bad years in my life, and my family didn’t leave me because of it. They let me fall, kept a healthy distance, and where still around when I stood back up. I have done this with Colby, and all I had to do is focus on other things that made me happy, remember all the good things I love about him and be happy for that and wait. I have never been let down.
    If you are unhappy in anything in your life, instead of throwing it out and getting a new one, why not take a serious long look at yourself. People are generally good nice people, and I cannot tell you how many times I was able to change one habit of my own that made my other more loving and caring.
    I am not saying some people don’t stay in relationships that suck just to stick it out. I am saying that it is amazing for someone to be stick it out for 25 years unhappy. That is a lot of love.
    But if I gave up at every time I felt unsure or unhappy for a minute, and I just waited and stayed happy, I was always happy I stuck it out. It has made me grow and understand so much in this world, and I love much more deeply than before and I know I am a zillion times stronger than I thought I was. If this relationship turns out to be a total waist of time because I stayed with someone who was depressed for a year, good for me. That person probably needed me and I don’t need my husband to make me happy.
    He is just a really awesome bonus.

    • Sally Sunday said:

      I love it: Awesome Bonus! Thanks.

    • Charlotte said:

      You are so right Annie, to many give up way too early. Love your way of thinking and for sticking it out, It is time all people realize that happiness comes from inside ourselves and we can all change a lot in our interactions with our partner (and others) just by focusing on the positive and good things and there are almost allways good things in any relationship and in life in general. “Smile to the world/other people and the world/someone will smile back” ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. I was online dating site and met a fake person. He was a Nigerian scammer. I had so much invested in him that I was addicted to the relationship and kept sending more money. I kept hoping he was not lying and would return my money. I was gambling
    with both my heart and my whole life of savings. Even my home is now lost because
    of this scam ring. He would write me many times a week but always had a problem
    that needed money to be sent to help him. I never even met this person except for
    talking on the phone to him yet was drawn in to think he cared about me. I am only
    writing this to tell single lonely people to never do what I did. Walk away from bad
    people and bad relationships as fast as you can.

    • James Bauer said:

      Thanks for sharing that warning, Patricia. I hope your hardship can at least save some others from a similar scam, though I wish you never went through it yourself!

      Generally speaking, you should never send money to anyone you have never met in person. Anyone who is legitimately interested in a relationship will understand that it would be inappropriate for them to ask. As soon as it happens you can be certain it is a scam.

  11. Synchronicity strikes again! I just gave my man and I a time-out in order to reevaluate our relationship to determine if it was worth investing more time and effort into it. We spent that week apart thinking about all the reasons we are still together and determined that we have so much in common, and so much chemistry that it IS worth it, but it could have gone either way.

    It wasn’t easy, but I had reconciled myself to the idea that he might decide it wasn’t worth pursuing, and was prepared to respect that and move on with dignity. But now that I know for sure he wants me for me (not out of some sense of obligation) I feel more reassured and secure in the relationship and we both feel good about going forward.

  12. Sara said:

    Thank you. This article has helped me think through some things. And will continue to help me think. It’s not an easy yes or no answer for me because no one ever knows then what they know now and along all this time feelings have developed. I’ve also learned valuable lessons and a lot about myself. The question to continue the relationship after taking a week off from it and knowing how I have felt that whole week adds more. It makes me add on, would I stay if we learned to communicate better? What is he going to have to commit to for me to stay? I’m a deeply sensitive and caring person. I don’t walk away, give up or quit easily. Thank you for helping me find a way to put more things into perspective. This along with something I read last week about the “choices” we make are helping me to see me, him and our relationship more clearly.

    • James Bauer said:

      Glad it helped, Sara.

    • Patricia said:

      Sara. I feel the same way. I am happy with myself but what about the long term…..

  13. E.E. Jones said:

    This article is very good and concise. It summarized a very important point and helped to answer the question that was bugging me for a long time: if I knew what I know now (but actually suspected a long time ago but was clearly in denial about), would I have given so much time, energy and emotion to this relationship that I’m still unhappy in, right now ? Would I ? No way ! I would have walked away a year ago, or even earlier and would not have shed a tear. Sometimes, our gut is right and heart is wrong. Thank you, James !!! You provide excellent value with your advice. I appreciate all the help you give women like myself. Great job !!

  14. R.Wilis said:

    Hmm facing that question right now…and have made up my mind. He will only be my friend and not that special someone.

  15. T- said:

    Ah, makes so much sense! Just the words I needed to end my 16 month relationship that I know will go nowhere. ๐Ÿ™

    • Patricia said:

      I am in my 16 month also and so much is good but yet so much good not too ggood. HELP.

      • Christina said:

        Patricia, once the bad out weighs the good it is time to end the relationship. People change, relationships as well, move on love.

  16. Ludah said:

    Very Right and truthful advice, James, I really respect your article!

  17. Lesego said:

    well this got me thinking a lot about my current relationship and i know that it will help me make the right decision for me so thanks a lot and keep up the good work. surely i will pass this advice to my firends

  18. Foteini said:

    This article seems to be right on time for me. I feel so grateful that I receive your emails! Your depth of thought is shown by your use of the language.

  19. Sheryl said:

    I thought this was going to be one of those lengthy articles that have you go through a list and when I read the one line that says it all ” If I was not already in the relationship I am in now, would I choose to start this relationship given what I now know?” I just STOPPED and said WOW… I am not currently in a relationship but I ended a 25 yr one about 7 years ago and had I had this thought process a very long time ago – I might be in a whole different life right now!!! That one question would change so many peoples lives if they were honest in answering and yes… I have heard countless times “I would get a divorce, but I’ve got too much invested”. Thank you… will pass on to as many as possible… Great Great stuff!!

  20. Julia said:

    This advise is worthy of archiving and reading at the start of each month…to keep the ideas fresh enough to boar into the subconscious and augment core beliefs. Thanks for sharing… I will pass this information on in my practice.

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