My son recently graduated from college in biomedical engineering. Having lunch with him is like cozying up to a stack of medical journals and scientific studies. A lot of what he likes to talk about is a little over my head but I do find it fascinating, mainly because he is so passionate about it. I like going to lunch with people smarter than myself, especially when I can get them to offer their perspective on relationships.

I hit the jackpot yesterday with my son. I was able to steer the conversation to marriage and the various perspectives people his age have on relationships. I soon discovered he is more than just book smart. He told me of a friend who is struggling to keep her marriage together. He listened to her concerns for a while, not knowing quite what to do or say. He was wise enough not to give out advice but still wanted to help. Finally, he asked her some important questions.

“Do you apologize?’
“Yes.”
“Does he apologize?
“He did once.”
“Do you say I love you?”
“Yes.”
“Does he?”
“Whenever I say I love you, he just says thanks.”
“It sounds like he isn’t very committed to your marriage.”
“I know.”

My son is a fan of The Eight-Cow Relationship and more particularly our book, “An Eight-Cow Woman Deserves an Eight-Cow Man.” He asked me, “Dad. What do you do when someone refuses to get all of his or her cows? Is that a good enough reason to end the relationship?” The latter is a good question and one that I am usually loath to answer—but it did spark some lively discussion for the rest of our meal together.

Both questions my son asked have popped up many times in response to our surveys over the years. Although I have my own opinions, I generally find that the person asking is the most qualified to give the proper answers.

Relationships endure or they end—obviously. We have found that a lasting, happy relationship has eight specific cows or traits. If one or more cows are missing, the relationship struggles and often ends. In a marriage, the relationship may end emotionally long before the divorce.

Most discussions I have had on this topic, including the one with my son yesterday, revolve around the issue of timing. When is it time to call it quits? How long should I suffer? How much time do I give my spouse to change?

As much as I would love to have the definitive answer to any of these questions, I do not—and they probably don’t exist in a pithy response that fits every situation anyway. However, I do know that it is important to find your answers and act on them sooner rather than later. Too often we heard the lament, “I finally had the courage to do what I knew was right. I just wish it hadn’t taken me 20 years to do it.”

The choice either to endure a failing relationship or finally end it is a hard and sad decision. When a spouse is unwilling or unable to get the requisite cows one is often left with only those options. Conversely, an Eight-Cow Relationship is to be enjoyed, celebrated, and savored—not endured—and it certainly doesn’t have to end.

Kurt Dowdle