It’s pretty rare that someone gets a chance to marry their first love, and even rarer that they stay together until old age. For the rest of us, we get to deal with breakups. It’s hard to know when to call it quits, but sometimes you need to, before you get hurt any more than you probably already are.
Every relationship comes with its share of heartache, and it’s not abnormal to fight or be hurt by your partner. But, everyone has their limits, and there does come a tipping point where you just need to say goodbye.
This article will help you navigate this rough terrain. Short-term relationships operate differently than longer term ones, so there is a section for each. You can define whether your relationship is short or long-term. Some couples take months or even years to get serious, while others dive in rather quickly. There’s nothing wrong with either, the most important thing to remember is that it’s up to you to decide where you’re at. Even if you’re at an ending you never wanted to reach, it is up to you to decide.
In the beginning, one of the very first things that should strike you is compatibility. Ideally, you’ll be extremely compatible at first, and it’s normal for a bit of that fluff to melt away as you get to know each other. But, there should always remain a solid core of ease. If that goes away completely in the early stages, it’s unlikely that it will return. Also, if you feel like you’re “giving someone a shot,” or that they’re doing the same for you, it may be time to reconsider.
There are several red flags that can tell you a relationship is nearing its end. Some of the most obvious and volatile include:
- Your partner is difficult to get ahold of, or goes long periods without calling or texting back: it’s not unhealthy to go days without speaking in a less serious relationship, but if you do try to talk to them and they ignore it often, it’s not on purpose.
- They constantly flake with little or no warning: it’s no lie, sometimes things pop up, and in a shorter term relationship, it’s okay for your partner’s work, friends, and family to be a priority over you. However, no one’s life is so crazy that these “unavoidable” situations pop up all the time. If you feel the urge to check up on their social media or question your mutual friends to verify stories, it’s time to say goodbye.
- Your partner does not like to make plans: if it takes weeks of back-and forth to meet up, it’s likely because you aren’t a priority. Even worse, if they dodge your attempts to make plans altogether, get out. Every emotionally abusive relationship I have been in had one thing in common, and it was his unwillingness to make plans. If they always say things like “we’ll see what happens,” or “I’ll keep you posted,” it’s an effort (whether conscious or not) to keep you waiting around for them. You could be doing better things, so don’t let them stop you from making your own plans just because they coughed up a “maybe.” Also, if your partner doesn’t know on Wednesday that they want to see you Friday, that is a problem.
- They make too much effort: the last few had to do with a lack of effort, but there are also those who are overzealous even when they know that’s not what you want. If they know you’re uncomfortable with being doted upon but do anyway, it’s not going to work out. If you’ve set a healthy boundary for a new relationship (such as asking them not to come by your home unannounced or share your relationship status via social media) and they violate this request, it means that they don’t respect you.
- They still have dating apps on their phone: if you’re still in the “just dating” phase, it’s fine to cling on to your dating apps. But once you’re in a defined relationship (defined doesn’t have to be fully committed,) it’s time to remove them. There’s no reason to keep a dating app on your phone if you’re not using it. Ahem… there’s no reason for your partner to keep a dating app on their phone of they’re not using it.
- They’re controlling. This is another one that could be a sign of a more serious issue. If they speak poorly of your friends or family, they are probably a very negative person. If they actually try to distance you from your loved ones, or constantly want to know where you are, look through your phone, or just generally tell you what to do, it is absolutely time to say goodbye for good.
Every relationship has it’s ups and downs, but if yours are extreme or imbalanced, it may be time to say goodbye. Fighting occasionally is normal, but if you fight all the time, or over unimportant things, that’s not a good sign. For the most part you should be able to resolve small differences without an argument, and a good fight will eventually end in a resolution.
If you find it difficult to get over the things they’ve said or done, it may be time to let go of the struggle. If you feel like you are trying too hard to keep them happy, or that their effort doesn’t match yours, stop swimming toward the abyss and just head toward the shallow end where you can get your feet on the ground and eventually find the courage to get out of the pool altogether.
This goes the same if you feel the situation is reversed.
You might not feel “in love” yet. If you do feel in love, that’s okay, too. Either way, your feelings should be steadily getting stronger throughout this stage. Every once in awhile you may backpedal over something, but if it’s worth overcoming, you will. If you’re losing feelings for your partner, don’t lead them on or draw it out. That is unfair to both of you.
Again, short term relationships are a little different. It’s okay for you to keep that cute coworker in the back of your mind. As long as you don’t think about them all the time or actively pursue them, that’s not a bad sign. Eventually you’ll get to a point where all those “what ifs” fall away, and it may take time. But, if you’re having strong feelings for other people, or are putting yourself in situations that could lead to cheating, it’s time to stop lying to yourself. Nobody deserves to be cheated on, so look deep into yourself, figure out what you really want, and act accordingly.
Serious relationships often see struggles with “keeping the spark.” That is normal, and it shouldn’t concern you unless you partner is unwilling to help get it back. There are, however, some serious compatibility issues that may mean it’s time to leave, even if you’re not ready to on all of the other fronts:
- You aren’t financially compatible: finances are often the biggest stressor in a long-term relationship. If you are seeing someone who is far more responsible than you, or who has endless debt that you’ll end up having to pay off, it’s important to discuss these things at length. There are some very important questions you should ask each other about debt, and if an understanding can’t be made on how finances will be handled, it’s not a good idea to drag it out.
- You aren’t religiously/philosophically/morally compatible. This one is tough, because it is possible to have a healthy and respectful relationship with someone who practices a different religion or has differing views on certain issues. The thing to remember here is your core values: You have things you believe, and then you have your core values. If one of them is equality, you will never be happy with someone who’s even slightly racist.
- You aren’t commitment compatible: if your ideas of what a serious commitment is differ vastly, it’s probably not going to work out. Your partner may feel you should be living together after a year, but if you’re not okay with this, that is a wide gap that probably can’t be filled.
- One wants to have children and the other doesn’t: this is a sign that things need to end, no matter how difficult it may be. Chances are slim that either will ever change their mind. It’s more likely that one gets what they want, the other doesn’t and grows bitter, and it ends horribly and painfully.
When you’ve been together for a while, and are committed and maybe even cohabitating, the signs are a little different. The biggest thing to look for is changes: changes in the way you communicate, in how much time you spend together, or how intimate you are. Changes for the better are great, but if things are getting worse, or more distant, it’s time to re-examine things.
I’m not suggesting that you give up on someone just because you’re not having as much sex or spending as much quality time with each other. If these changes are affecting you, the first step is to talk openly and honestly about them. If this leads to an argument where you come out feeling terrible for sharing your feelings or trying to set boundaries, it’s definitely time to leave. If they have no interest in trying harder, or say they will and don’t, it is also time to say goodbye. If your partner can’t strive for a healthier relationship with you, it’s not meant to be.
The struggles are always more intense and heart-wrenching in a long term relationship, so don’t think that a fight that leaves you sour for days or a difficult time where you both grow temporarily distant is reason enough to call it quits. In any serious relationship, it’s important to grow closer together while also maintaining your separate identities, which means some of your struggles will be very real and painful. But like a short term relationship, if the struggles make up a majority of the relationship and it doesn’t get better, the end is near.
Also, if you find that most of your personal struggles are being dealt with solo, it’s time to think about leaving. You shouldn’t feel like you’re alone if you have a serious partner. If you feel like your struggles are becoming too much to bear, ask yourself some important questions, like: is it difficult for you to get your needs met? Do you and your partner offer mutual respect and forgiveness? And, if your loved ones told you they’d be okay with you ending things, would you feel relieved that you could leave the relationship?
In a long term relationship, it’s okay for your feelings to even out, or keep growing. It’s even okay for them to waver or for you to question them from time to time. But if you find that your feelings are completely gone, or if you’re well on your way there, it’s time to call it quits.
If you’re having feelings for another person, or if you are cheating, or if you’ve cheated, been caught and forgiven, and can’t stop: all reasons to say goodbye. If you suspect your partner is doing any of the same, then it’s time to start questioning the relationship. We are all humans, and it’s one thing to be attracted to someone else. But if there are feelings there and you can’t keep yourself away from that person, well, you know the drill…
The Hardest Part…
All of this, each and every bit, is painful. It sucks. Unfortunately, knowing when it’s time to leave isn’t the hardest part. Accepting it, and then actually doing it, are going to be the real struggle. Remember that you’re intelligent. This is usually an asset, but it can also be a burden, because you’re smart enough to convince yourself that things aren’t that bad.
There are other things that can compound the problem: for instance, if you have children, or if you own a home together, it’s easy to use these as reasons to stay in a doomed limbo. Custody battles are painful and expensive, and trying to sell or refinance a home after a split can be pure chaos, but that doesn’t mean splitting is the wrong thing to do. The last thing anyone should ever believe is that children are a reason to stay in an unhappy relationship.
In the end, it’s important to remember that everyone deserves to be happy. If one partner is still in love but the other isn’t, neither will be happy. Both deserve a chance to start again with someone who adores them. Both deserve a chance to be happy. Don’t spend any more time being unhappy than you have to, you deserve much better.