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When to Have Hope and When to End a Bad Relationship

Dec 27, 2020

One of the most crucial elements someone can bring to their life is hope. Among the most powerful forces in the universe, hope gives energy, sustenance, and direction to people to keep going, and to win against all odds. With hope, we can endure almost anything, and certainly more than if we lose it or never had it to begin with. In short, hope keeps us going.

And that can be a problem.

Hope keeps us going, but when you misspend it, hope can keep you going in the wrong direction, sometimes for a long time. And this brings up a crucial dilemma. If hope is necessary, is it ever right to give up hope? Said another way, when do we need to face the music and realize that a situation, a relationship, a job, is not going to make it? How do you decide if something truly is worth of your hope, and when to pull the plug?

In talking to others, I find that negotiating the “hope paradox” is one of the factors that separates the truly great and successful people from those who aren’t. The good ones know when to spend the precious commodity of hope on a relationship or a situation, vs. when to get truly hopeless that it, or the person, is not going to work. They know when to step up and create a “necessary ending.”

The paradox is this: by getting hopeless about a situation or a specific person’s ability to change, these individuals step up, and create an ending to what is not working. By doing that they actually restore hope to their lives. Their decisive action restores confidence and builds hope that something is going to change and get better. The “get hopeless” step is one of the most courageous and powerful steps that someone can take. It can finally lead to real hope.

So here is the difficulty: how do you know when more perseverance is needed because there truly is hope for something, or someone, to turn around? And vice versa, how do you know that the worst thing you could do is give it more time? I suggest a simple diagnostic paradigm that helps individuals know when to have “hope,” vs. when to create a “necessary ending.” 

Here are some steps:

First: What is going to be “different”? People say, “I really hope my relationship is going to turn around soon.” And it may. But you have to ask the next question, “Why?” “What objective reason do you have to hope that it is going to be different?” Remember, the best predictor of the future is the past unless something changes. So often, because a person desires an outcome so much, they do not see that there is no real reason to believe that it is going to happen other than they have a strong wish for it to. It is a wish, not hope.

Second: Where is the new source of energy going to come from for change? Change happens when there is a new amount of force driving it. If a relationship is stuck, what new source of energy is going to be present? If you are thinking that the same amount or source of energy that has been present is going to drive a change, then think again. If someone is stuck in their not-good-enough performance, obviously their energy to make it work has not been enough. It is not moving. Where is the new energy, such as a coach, supervisor, counselor, peer coach, accountability partner, etc. going to come from? Find new energy to bring to the problem and you may have reason to hope. New energy changes things.

Third: Where new “ways” are going to be present? Energy is necessary but not sufficient. It has to be spent in a way that works. Your body has energy, but your brain has to organize that energy to make it deliver the actions that bring the results you need. In the same way, if you are truly working the plan and the plan is not working, there must be new ways brought to the table. New wisdom, knowledge, experience, and skills. Ask yourself where that is going to come from. There are many sources, but face the music that the old ways are not working and bring in some different ways. The energy list above may bring those ways, as well as many others like training, and other development. If those are being added, then hope may make sense.

The bottom line is this: hopelessness is not always a bad thing, but sometimes hope can be. To continue to do the same thing expecting different results is usually a sign that you are due for a necessary ending of some sort. The most fulfilled individuals know that hope is so valuable that they do not want to spend it on something, or someone, who does not warrant it.

You must have the courage to create the “necessary ending,” to what, or whom, is not working, and bring about new energy, and a new way, that can be the source of real hope instead of empty wishing. When you do that, you bring hope to yourself, your people, and your relationships. Hope is precious and essential. Do not let it go to waste because your desire for something is misplaced, or your fear of ending something is too strong. Step up, lead, and get the hope back.

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