The ‘kill list’ that will save you from being stuck in a bad relationship

person writing a to do list

Do you have a tendency to stay in dead-end relationships long past its expiry date? If so, this post will provide you some valuable information on how we make decisions, why we get stuck in a ‘bad deal’ and how to avoid this from happening in the future.

Knowing when to ‘quit’, exit a bad job or a bad relationship isn’t about one’s strength or weakness – it’s about how humans make decisions. And because most people avoid uncertainty, are prone to sunk-cost fallacy and other biases, we make decisions that seem rational in the short term, but harm us in the long run.

Often, we resist quitting projects or relationships because we fear the consequences of “wasted” time or emotional investment. This fear is connected to the behavioral economics concept of sunk costs, the irretrievable investments we make, which can trap us in unfavorable situations. Also when we are invested in a person or a relationship, the emotions are running high, there are chemical forces at play (like dopamine and oxytocin that promote bonding and attachment).

To help you get unstuck, you can create a ‘kill list’ – as presented by Annie Duke in her book Quit: The Power of Knowing When to Walk Away. Similar to the concept of writing out a list of non-negotiables, the idea of the “kill list,” is to prepare a list of quitting criteria in advance.

How to create your kill list

This list is deeply personal and should reflect your values, needs, and boundaries. What one person might deem unacceptable, another may find tolerable. For instance, you might value monogamy and write infidelity on your kill list, but someone who prefers open relationships would not.

Here are some examples of criteria that individuals might include in their relationship “kill list”:

  1. Dishonesty: Trust is the bedrock of any relationship. If your partner frequently lies or obscures the truth, it could be a sign of more significant issues.
  2. Lack of Respect: Everyone deserves to be treated with respect. This can involve acknowledging your feelings, respecting your personal space, or honoring your opinions, even if they differ.
  3. Poor Communication: Open and honest communication is vital. If issues are consistently left unresolved due to poor communication, it might be a “kill” signal.
  4. Incompatibility in Life Goals: If you desire to have children but your partner doesn’t, or if your career aspirations are constantly at odds, these are serious incompatibilities that might make a relationship untenable.
  5. Emotional or Physical Abuse: Any form of abuse is an immediate and non-negotiable reason to quit a relationship. Everyone deserves to feel safe and loved.
  6. Frequent Criticism or Contempt: If your partner regularly belittles you, criticizes you, or treats you with contempt, this can erode the affection and respect necessary for a healthy relationship.
  7. Emotional Unavailability: A partner who is consistently emotionally distant, disinterested, or unresponsive can make for a lonely and unfulfilling relationship.

Example of implementing the kill list

Say you’ve started dating someone new, and over time, you realize they keep lying to you. You’ve addressed it, waited for change, but they’ve continued to break your trust. Here, your “kill list” comes into play. It serves as a clear reminder that one of your non-negotiables is not being met, signaling that it might be time to quit and seek a relationship that better aligns with your needs.

While this might sound harsh initially, it’s crucial for self-preservation and growth. It allows us to make decisions not out of fear or guilt but from a place of self-respect and rationality. The criteria on your “kill list” should not be inflexible but should evolve as you gain more clarity about what you need and deserve.

In essence, the “kill list” is a potent tool to guard against the sunk cost fallacy and navigate life more wisely. It encourages us to quit projects or relationships that don’t serve us well. It’s a courageous step towards ensuring that our investments of time, effort, and emotion lead us to fulfillment rather than regret. Remember, quitting isn’t a sign of failure but a testament to your growth and self-awareness.

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