How do you know when it is time to break up with someone you love, or once loved? The red flags below are by no means comprehensive, but they are a good first step towards assessing whether it is time for you to walk away from something you once thought was forever.
You’ve been in a rut for a while, and you see no end in sight.
You and your partner are generally on different pages to the point where it feels like the foundation has shifted. Both of you are frustrated and feel like the other one has changed. You feel confused, hurt, and are finding it hard to eat and sleep. After some time, a thought pops into your head: “Is this it?”
You’re not able to express your needs
When talking about your needs feels scary, or you’re worried they will be used against you, this is a good indicator that something is not right.
First, check-in with yourself. What exactly are your needs, and why are they difficult to express? Is this difficulty coming from you or your partner? Needs expression, especially the need for space, sex, or connection, is extremely vulnerable and a beautiful way to build closeness with someone safe.
If expressing your needs feels intimidating or out of the question, this can create a relationship culture of isolation and judgment. Eventually, both partners will inevitably begin to feel alone in their needs and in their relationship.
The tug of war has worn you out
Shifting power back and forth in a relationship is typical. In fact, it is quite rare for couples to equally share power in a relationship. The goal is not to avoid a power dynamic completely, but instead to note whether both parties are able to give their input in decisions if warranted.
Esther Perel explores the differences between realistic relationship expectations and idealistic relationship expectations. Perel highlights the idea that a fluid power dynamic is appropriate until it becomes uncomfortable.
Is your partner able to relinquish control when you need it? Who decides how to spend the holidays, or what is best for your child? Is there room for compromise? Does your partner see the value in your feedback? These are just a few ways to assess whether you feel like you share control in your relationship.
You’re alone in taking accountability
So you’ve made a bunch of tiny steps towards communicating and arguing in a way that feels healthy. You’re no longer slamming the door, and you’re approaching your partner with a softened start-up. And yet, you notice no progress in the way your arguments are escalating.
Your partner continues to blame you, your triggers, your mental health issues, or your personality for the arguments. This kind of work for you two for a while, but you’re realizing that taking the blame is actually doing both of you a disservice. How can things get better if you’re not identifying the issues?
You finally bring this to your partner’s attention, and they explode. Accountability is a crucial part of a relationship– after all, how is a couple to grow if there is no note of ownership of mistakes? This can create stagnancy, frustration, and confusion, and will prevent change for the better.
You’ve asked, you’ve asked again, and still nothing
You’re not asking your partner for the entire world. As Esther Perel states in her book, The State of Affairs, it is unrealistic for your partner to be your community, your teacher, your lover, your student, your parent, your child, and various other roles all at once. You’ve done an honest assessment of your needs and you know you are only asking for a partner, yet you’re still unfulfilled.
As an individual, you can only do so much. You cannot heal your relationship alone, or change your partner, or “just get over it.” It is also not comfortable for you (or your partner) to eliminate all of your needs in order to make a relationship work. You know what you need is within reach, but not with your present partner.
Conclusion: Is there ever a clear answer to whether it is time to break up?
Actually, usually, we don’t know when it is time to break up. Don’t panic if the ideas you read on this post feel only 70% true. People are complicated, and hope for better is always in the back of the mind– especially with regards to someone you love.
It can feel impossible when you two go through a month of being stuck, have an incredible day or two together, and then go right back to feeling stuck. The process of building hope to only have it dismissed can be exhausting and numbing. Take the time to check in with yourself, and with your partner. Are you two in a cycle of self-defeat? Is there room to grow, or are you feeling stagnant and lost?
If you feel like you have room to grow in your relationship, or if you feel like you need some coaching on how to manage a breakup, separation, or divorce, give us a call. We are here to help guide you, and give you the tools to succeed and heal.
Alyssa Ashenfarb, LCSW