Posted on May 28th, 2013 by Dr. Andra Brosh

images-2You’ve probably been in a situation at some point in your life when you have had to decide whether toss something out or repair it. Maybe it was a tattered pillow, a ripped pair of jeans, or an old radio.

Deciding to discard something that has some potential for rejuvenation may not be too hard in every day life, but when it comes to a relationship it’s pure torture.

Relationships get broken just like the items in our lives, but we can’t just throw them away without much thought. We spend torturous hours deciding whether it’s worth saving, or if it’s reached it’s expiration date. It’s hard to know when a relationship is beyond repair, and when it can still be salvaged.

I have had both friendships and love relationships in my life that I have had to discard, and I have had to repair quite a few as well. I’m of the mind that most things are repairable up to a certain point, but sometimes retiring a relationship is in the best interest of everyone involved.

Repairing a relationship requires energy and work, and it entails re-investing in something that may be fixable, but also has the potential of breaking again in the future.

Trashing a relationship (and I use that word metaphorically) is a big decision and requires you to say goodbye to something to which you’ve become attached, and might miss. In the face of this, repairing might seem easier.

If you are in the ambivalent state of whether to keep or dump a relationship that is broken, damaged, or disintegrating, here are 5 questions to consider that will help you decide if it’s salvageable.

Can it be repaired?
This is the million-dollar question, and it actually generates another question. What does it mean to repair? Piecing a relationship back together is not the same as sewing up a hole in an item of clothing. To know if your relationship can be mended you will need the three C’s: commitment, change, and conversation. Both parties need to be fully committed to trying, change has to be visible and apparent, and an ongoing open conversation about the process is essential. This is no guarantee, but if these three C’s are in place, you at least know you have the right kit to start putting things back together. Make a list of what changes you expect to see, rate your commitment on a scale of 1-10, and schedule a time to check in on the process weekly.

How much will it cost?
There is always an expense with repair, and it’s definitely “cheaper” to throw something away. Asking yourself how much you are willing to re-invest in your relationship will help you determine if it makes sense. The cost will be related to your own emotional and physical energy, what you will need to sacrifice or give up to make a repair, and what price will you pay if it turns out to be irreparable. Make a list of all the things you need to work on and how much time you are willing to give the process. Then determine what aspects of your life will be affected by putting in the time to see if the relationship is salvageable. For example you may have to give up time spent with friends and family, or you might consider that you will be taking yourself “off the market” for a period of time eliminating your options for meeting someone new.

Can it be replaced?
We live in a society where most things seem replaceable, and this is true for our relationships as well. We might be quicker to dispose of something if we feel like there is something better or more out there. On the flip-side you might find that you convince yourself that there isn’t something better keeping you stuck in your relationship due to fear not choice. Instead of thinking about replacing the person, consider the qualities and characteristics you would want to replace (or not). It’s kind of like upgrading to a new model of an item. You take the basic qualities that you found useful and beneficial, and let go of the ineffective and purposeless pieces. Can these newer parts be integrated into your present relationship, or is it impossible due to fundamental issues that can’t be changed?

What have you invested?
You may have already invested a lot into this relationship. The more time and energy you have put into this situation, the greater loss you will feel in retiring it. No matter what you decide, there is probably some amount of joy you drew from being with your partner, so avoid looking at it as wasted time either way. What are the payoffs you have gotten so far? What would you need to gain to invest further? Sound investments come from really understanding what we are buying into, and what we expect to get in return. Relationships can be seen in the same way as a financial investment. If you feel like you haven’t been getting a good return on your time and energy, then you might have over-invested in something that isn’t paying off. Your investment should match the return, or the return should enrich you enough to feel that the investment was worth it.

Will it break again?
This is directly related to trust. Past behavior is often the best indicator of future behavior unless major changes are made. It’s not like you can buy insurance on your relationship, so the organic uncertainty of whether things will ultimately work out is something you will need to tolerate. There are no guarantees when it comes to relationships so what can you draw on to find the faith to go forward? You can use a risk to loss ratio here. Accepting the fact that your relationship may break again, or ultimately not be repairable, combined with all of your answers to the above questions will give you a start. Sometimes we need to let things become “garbage” before letting them go so we don’t have to face the uncertainty. You may want to really exhaust things to the point of no return, or cut your losses and not take the chance.

Consider all the facts, and listen to your heart. The answers will come.

May 28th, 2013

Posted In: Divorce, Infidelity, Love, Marriage, My Experience, Relationships, Therapy, Tips


  • Sandra says:


    Loved this column. Reminded me of when I did Feng Shui consulting and teaching. When I covered decluttering I told people to ask themselves three questions: Do I love it? Do I need/use it? Does it nurture me in some way? If they couldn’t answer yes to one of those questions it was time to move the item on. If they were still confused I asked Are you working for it or is it working for you? Relationships should be given and take. Sometimes you work for/help the other person, sometimes they are helping you, and if you are really lucky it is a good balance of both. But if you can’t answer yes to I love this relationship, I need it in my life for a positive reason, or it nurtures me — it is definitely time to move it on. In Feng Shui, we hold the belief that if you move something from your life something else will come in to take its place that is even better and more rewarding. I have found this to be true with relationships as well. Saying goodbye is really saying hello to a better and more rewarding opportunity. Thanks for the reminder!!

  • Andra says:

    Thanks Sandra! I love those questions and have asked them of myself when shopping for something I’m not sure I need 🙂 I agree that hello’s and goodbye’s are not mutually exclusive and that life will bring us the balance we need if we make space for it. Love reading your wisdom!

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