Relationship Fitness

S18: Action E11: Deciding to Commit, Break-up or Persevere When Children

Season 18, Episode 11 of “Relationship Workout for Men” explores the nuanced decisions of committing, breaking up, or persevering in relationships where children are involved. This episode discusses a five-step action plan tailored to navigating relationship challenges with the added responsibilities of parenthood. It encourages careful consideration of relationship dynamics, the potential impact on children, and the significant adjustments required when deciding the future of a family, advocating for informed, thoughtful decision-making aimed at minimizing emotional trauma for all family members.

Welcome to Relationship Workout for Men, a podcast dedicated to helping men be intentional in choosing a better partner, and being a better partner for the person they choose.

Season 18 Episode 11:  Deciding to Commit, Breakup or Persevere When Children

In the previous episode, we discussed the Five-step Action Plan to help make a life-altering Relationship Decision when you do not have children together. In this episode, we discuss this five-step action plan when you do have children.

As a reminder, you can find more detail on this action plan at RelationshipWorkout.com/resources. In addition, this action plan assumes there is no abuse happening within the relationship. If there is abuse, then you’d be well advised to seek help immediately.

I might add that the five-steps with and without children have a lot of overlap, including the same first two steps.

Okay, so let’s get started.

Step 1: Gather Information to Inform Your Decision

Informed decisions hinge on having the right information. At RelationshipWorkout.com, access three crucial types of information to evaluate your relationship’s quality:

1.     Determine your relationship baseline grade by completing the Relationship Workout program. To ensure your insights remain current, revisit and complete this program every two to three months.

2.     Identify any potentially misaligned ‘must-have’ expectations by completing the Relationship Workout Expectations exercise and discussing your results with your partner.

3.     Keep a Relationship Workout Journal for at least six months, tracking the ratio of positive experiences to drama-filled experiences within your relationship. For those dating, maintaining this journal for one to two years is advisable before deciding on making a long-term commitment.

The initial exercises take approximately an hour, while the journal requires just 5-10 minutes each week—a modest investment of time for insights that can impact significant life choices, like whether to marry, stay married, continue the relationship, or part ways.

We’re now ready to go to Step 2: Assess the Quality of Your Relationship

Here, you look at the information from Step 1 – presented through your Relationship Workout Dashboard — to get a better idea of the quality of your relationship. In this step, you ask these three questions: 

1.     Does your Relationship Baseline grade score an A or B?

2.     Do both of you align on each of your ‘must-have’ expectations?

3.     Is your fun-to-drama ratio 5 or higher, based on your Relationship Journal entries?

Remember, the fun-to-drama ratio, introduced in Season 1, Episode 3, measures the number of enjoyable, connected moments against the number of disconnected, drama-filled moments.

If you answer ‘yes’ to all three questions, you can be more confident in the strength of your relationship and feel assured in your decision to Commit, whether that means making or maintaining a long-term commitment to your partner and your shared family life.

Conversely, if any of these questions yield a ‘no,’ it’s time to proceed to Step 3.

Step 3: Assess Your Contribution to the Drama

In this step, the objective is to assess the extent of the drama and disconnection that you might be introducing into your relationship, by asking yourself these two questions:

1.     Do you initiate unnecessary drama within your relationship?

2.     When drama arises from your partner, do you often play a role in its continuing and escalating?

For many, including myself, it can be challenging to self-assess accurately due to possible discrepancies between our self-perception and reality.

To get a clearer picture, consult the ‘Top Relationship Skill Insights to Work on’ in your Relationship Workout Dashboard. Further insights can be gleaned from Stage 3 of the Relationship Program: ‘Get Recommendations.’

If there are areas highlighted for you to improve your relationship skills – consider these as opportunities to foster growth in your relationship – and Choose to Persevere, focusing on bettering your relational abilities. For added motivation, consider the profound impact a joyful family atmosphere can have on your children.

Conversely, if your dashboard doesn’t point out any areas where you might do well to improve – and you’ve been honest when completing the Relationship Workout Program – then it’s time to progress to Step 4.

Step 4: Assess Compatibility

This stage is about discerning whether your differences stem from relationship skills in need of improvement or fundamental incompatibility.

As a reminder, episode 6 emphasizes the significance of this distinction: incompatibilities are often more challenging to reconcile than issues stemming from relationship skill weaknesses.

For instance, a core must-have difference—like wanting to raise your children with religious practices while your partner is a staunch atheist—can be more complex to navigate than overcoming drama caused by a need to improve listening skills.

To help answer this question, within your Relationship Workout Dashboard, check these two areas to explore compatibility:

First, discuss the items listed under ‘Expectations You Should Discuss’ and ‘Your Important Passions’ with your partner. Have you resolved any misaligned must-have expectations?

Second, are there no ‘Compatibility Insights to Work On’ highlighted for you to work on?

If both answers are yes—you have resolved all potentially misaligned must-have expectations and you have no compatibility insights that require your attention—then consider choosing to stay in the relationship and Persevere. Continue to work on improving your relationship skills, which benefits you and your relationship, while also valuing your family.

Why persevere, especially if the relationship quality is not great and your partner appears to be a primary source of the drama which is making the relationship not so great? It boils down to compatibility being rare, and sometimes, it’s more viable to improve your relationship skills than face the disruption of family, potentially causing significant distress to your children.

If you commit to improving your relationship skills and prioritize creating joyful and connected family moments, you might see a gradual increase in your fun-to-drama ratio. All the while, you remain fully present in your children’s lives.

However, if you’ve identified fundamental incompatibilities by answering “no” to the questions, then Step 5 awaits.

Step 5: Assess Staying Together for the Children?

Having recognized that you’re not the one adding to drama and disconnect in the relationship and acknowledging incompatibilities exist between you two, it’s time to ask yourself these four questions:

1.     Are you open to addressing any remaining incompatibilities, which might require you to let go of deep-seated expectations – for the sake of your children?

2.     Do you possess the endurance to deal with the inevitable drama without holding on to counterproductive, past conflict – again for the sake of your children?

3.     Will you seek out and initiate moments of fun and connection with your family, even when you feel disconnected in the moment? 

4.     Can you cherish the limited time you have available with your children, fully grasping that childhood is brief and your influence is pivotal to your children’s well-being?

If you can answer ‘yes’ to these four questions, then your best path to take may very well be to stay in your relationship and persevere, if for no other reason to not put your children through the trauma of witnessing their parents breaking up. 

In this case, consider engaging with a therapist to support your commitment to this relationship journey.

If your answer is ‘no’ to all four of these questions, then separating may be the more appropriate path to take, ideally only after all other options like therapy have been explored and you genuinely believe that it’s in your children’s best interest for you and their mother to part ways. At this critical point, reflect on the insights from Episode 7: ‘Think Thrice if Children Are Involved,’ as the decision to dissolve a family is obviously huge and life-altering for all involved.

An additional perspective I share with my married friends contemplating divorce: Regardless of how much drama you have with partner, she uniquely remains the mother of your children. Separating means significantly reducing the time you spend with your children and potentially inflicting deep emotional distress on them. Truly consider if this is the outcome you are prepared to face.

One last concluding reflection: Opting to remain in a relationship should be accompanied by an ongoing effort to enhance your relational skills. Such commitment signifies a pursuit of excellence in partnership. As you improve these skills, both your romantic and family life are apt to become increasingly fulfilling and rewarding.

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