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“I can’t do this anymore.” Oh, really?

Updated: Jul 10, 2021

Here’s how breaking up is done these days.

In a heated, emotional way, you go back and forth saying negative kinds of doom-y sounding things about the other person and the relationship. Like, “Yeah, you love me, but you’ve never loved yourself with me.” And then one of you says, ideally in a really sad, shut-down kind of way, “I can’t do this anymore.”

The other person will flutter around like a little bird with a wounded wing for a bit, making appeals for hope or another chance, then the first person says, again, “No, no, I just can’t do this anymore,” and grabs their stuff and leaves.

Boom! Done!!

I’ve seen so many couples do this in my office and report this scene just having happened to them. And I just saw it play out in an episode of the Mae Martin show on Netflix: Feel Good.

Well, since this is the script we’re stuck with, we’d better take a close look at it. Check out if it makes any sense.

Well, for sure there’s reality in people being unhappy in their relationship. And definitely for damn sure there’s reality in people playing the complain/blame game. That’s THE game. I’ll talk about how “this” sucks, basically blaming you. And you’ll say, “Yeah, but what about...,” making a speech about how something else sucks that I’m more or less responsible for.

Lots of couples will do this till 3 in the morning, till the bed is soaked with tears of frustration and despair.

And then up comes the “I can’t do this anymore” move. What is THAT?

Is it a feeling? Sure, but it’s intended as way more.

A statement about reality? Yes, and much more.

A negotiating move, as in a bid for the other person to pull a miracle out of their butt? Kind of, but it almost never works out that way.

No, it’s really most of all what’s called a performative utterance. You know, like when a clergy person says, “I now pronounce you husband and wife.” It’s words that by their being spoken make something happen. That creates a new state of affairs. “I am now declaring that whereas I was once able to ‘do this,’ I now deem myself certifiably no longer able to ‘do this’.”

And there’s no answer to that, is there? It’s a conversation stopper.

In fact, it’s a power move in the form of a declaration of helplessness.

And since a relationship is an organism kept alive by the hope and efforts of two people, it’s both the murder of the relationship and the certification of its death. Though it’s more like, “I kill this relationship by certifying it is dead, by certifying that my ability to keep it alive is dead.”


So much drama, pain, and destruction, when what you probably need is a good night’s sleep and the intervention of a good couples therapist.

Feelings are not self-validating. The fact that I feel there’s a monster in my closet doesn’t mean there is a monster in my closet. The fact that I feel “I can’t do this anymore” doesn’t mean I can’t do it anymore ever or that it simply can’t be done. Maybe what’s needed to be done can be done, by me and you and other normal human beings with some sleep and help.

So really “I just can’t do this anymore” means “I’m really tired and I’ve run out of ways to understand this and of tools that’ll move us forward.”

So for the love of all that’s good and holy, the next time you get into one of those negative, negative, negative, “I can’t do this anymore” places, will one of you please say this:

Look, I know that’s exactly how you feel. Helpless and hopeless. All out of ideas and

energy. I get it. I feel that way too. But you know what I think is our best bet, in spite of

how we feel right now? Let’s get some sleep. Then some more sleep. Then let’s get

some help. I mean, come on: if you’d been having stomach pain, you wouldn’t kill

yourself before you’d seen a couple of good doctors, would you? So why kill our

relationship until we’ve done the same thing.

Why Couples Fight puts the finger on why two smart people like you could have done better in working out your issues. And then it shows you how you can do better. You can’t beat that!


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