Ending a relationship is tough. Bearing the responsibility for breaking things off can too readily feel like a decision you don’t want to make. But –more likely than not – it’s something you’ll need to do at least once in your life and it could prove to be the best thing for the both of you. Making sure you’re doing the right thing is merely taking due diligence in shaping your life story.
Besides which, over 50% of people become depressed after a split1, so it’s only natural to be wary of the pain ending a relationship might cause you. If you’re unsure whether you should break things off, the key is identifying how big – and how unsolvable – the issue in your relationship is. Here to explain the 3 basic types of relationship problem, here’s our guide on figuring out when to end a relationship…
Irreparable Problems: Ending things now
Ending a relationship – particularly a significant one – is a major life choice, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Yet some problems make that choice for you. Most people would agree these situations warrant leaving a partner, but when it’s your own situation it’s a little harder in practice; if you feel down-trodden or trapped the last thing you want is the despair ending a relationship can bring. Rest assured, if this is your situation, reclaiming your life by ending your relationship is the best thing for you.
Some problems are so egregious, so damaging, that you really should just leave your partner – in most cases, for good. You’ll know when to end a relationship if you have any of these issues…
Physical Abuse: It should go without saying, but for those giving their partner the benefit of the doubt, don’t. Violence has no place in a loving relationship and there can be no excuse for being hit by your partner. Not sure when to end a relationship with someone who hurts you? The answer is right now.
Emotional Abuse: Often harder to identify than physical abuse, emotional abuse is no less an irreparable problem. Being with a partner who makes you feel worthless, or who puts you down to make themselves feel better, or who denies you your basic right to be whoever you want to be, is not a partner worth being with. Ending a relationship like this will set you free again.
Lying & Cheating: Some partnerships and marriages work in spite of infidelity – some even work because of it – but sadly in the majority of cases cheating and other major transgressions of trust render a relationship broken and irreparable. Being deceived by your partner undermines the relationship at its core, so fundamental rebuilding must be done. If you leave the relationship, there’s always a possibility that your partner can regain your trust and rekindle your love – whether you allow them to or not has to be your decision. But it’s only with the clarity breaking things off brings that you will be able to properly consider all your options when you’ve been hurt in this way.
Problems of Conflict: Taking a step back
The second type of relationship issues that will make you consider ending a relationship are ‘problems of conflict’. These are serious battle lines, and the war analogy (for anyone experiencing it) isn’t too far off the truth. It can feel exhausting to be constantly at odds with your partner over important issues and it’s only inevitable that you’ll start to wonder if it’s all really worth the trouble.
Problems of conflict don’t necessarily mean that the relationship is irretrievably lost however. Writing for the New York Times, Rachel Zucker famously wrote about getting ‘a little divorced’2. She writes: ‘maybe what I mean by “acting divorced” is that I want us to renew our vows not of marriage but of egalitarianism.’ Often couples need only redress the balance in their relationship, and if it’s worth fighting for then you should take the time to explore all options – separation, or divorce, should be the last resort.
Sometimes all it takes is stepping back from the relationship for a while to reevaluate where you are and where you want to be. Then, and only then, will you know when to end a relationship like this. Example problems of conflict include…
The Relationship is Unbalanced: In many relationships, one person can be characterized as ‘the flower’ and the other as ‘the gardener’. It’s an old analogy, true of plenty of successful relationships – one person does a lot of the looking after, and the other person relishes being cared for. This is fine in moderation. Both partners have to contribute something, however – if one person feels like the onus is on them to do all the hard work they’ll just end up feeling unappreciated. If you’ve gotten to that point already, be cautious; redress the balance in your relationship and ensure your partner takes a turn to do their bit before you crack and feel compelled to end things. Feeling unappreciated is worthy of ending a relationship, but give your partner a chance to prove you wrong first!
Playing by Old Rules: Misunderstandings all too frequently occur in the latter stages of long-term relationships. A failure to spot the subtle changes in outlook that your partner has will lead you to thinking that they’re acting out of character. Once you’ve been together for a while, you might find yourself saying ‘You never do that for me anymore…’ instead of realizing that the relationship has simply moved on. Feeling like you no longer understand each other is deeply harmful – it undermines your sense of why you were ever together in the first place. Take a step back to appreciate the changes in your personalities, and be sure to discuss the new rule-book with your partner instead of holding them to unrealistic – and old – standards.
Important Personal Desires & Life Goals: Classic examples of this problem are wanting a family when your partner doesn’t (or vice versa) or wanting to get married when your partner doesn’t (or vice versa). But having your own ideas about how you want your life to pan out isn’t limited to such domestic problems – what if you want to live abroad and your partner doesn’t? What if they want to spend more time working to get that promotion, and you’d rather they didn’t? Ending a relationship might sound like an extreme measure, but your life goals and personal ambitions are a fundamental part of who you are – take the time to take a step back here and reassess how important your relationship is in the wider context of your life. Something’s got to give, and if you can’t find a consensus between you then you risk resenting each other later if you don’t break things off.
Nagging & Underlying Problems: Working on your issues
When you’re in a long-term relationship there can be any number of minor issues you have to deal with. Even when you’re basically pretty compatible and love each other dearly, life can throw spanners in the works or tiny yet persistent problems can wear you down over time. Often in these cases everything seems fine at surface level, and your friends, family and sometimes even your partner can’t tell there’s anything wrong. It doesn’t make the problem less valid.
Ask yourself two questions, your answer to both is important;
- Am I totally unhappy in this relationship?
- Can I see a path back to happiness?
In the course of your relationship, and in life at large, you can expect to be unhappy from time to time. But as long as you can see a path back to happiness then there’s no need to despair. Example nagging and underlying problems that can be addressed with a little work are…
When it’s Just Sex: When your relationship stays at surface level – whether that means it’s just sex, or otherwise – it might not be such a big problem in the beginning. Eventually though, if one of you wants it to be more this will become a fundamental issue. Deeper feelings develop, it’s a natural part of getting to know another person intimately, and the only way to determine whether you’re moving along at the same pace is to have a conversation about it. Most people agree that these conversations can be clumsy and awkward, but avoid it at your peril – otherwise you might find yourself ending a relationship sooner than you think!
Constant Drama: Nothing wears you down quicker than constant relationship drama. Emotionally – and often physically – draining, getting into a cycle of falling in and out of love or arguing and making up again isn’t a healthy state of affairs. You might be able to sustain it for a while, but it’ll soon have you both wondering when to end things. Better to break the cycle as soon as you spot it. Elite Daily’s Evelyn Pelczar takes an unforgiving view of it: ‘If you hate drama and aren’t walking out the door the first sign that you are dating an unstable drama queen, then you deserve every annoying fight and issue that comes along your way and you have no one to blame but yourself.’3 Consider yourself warned!
Boredom & Deadness: Not an uncommon problem in the course of a long-term relationship, if you find yourself growing bored of the mundane routines of domestic life do something about it as soon as possible. Failing to evolve as a couple is not only boring, but potentially harmful. Writing for Psychology Today, Dr Randi Gunther explains it this way: ‘Relationships have two major dimensions, growing and scarring. If a relationship constantly scars and doesn’t grow, the emotional scarring will eventually pervade the relationship and destroy it.’4 To feel like you’re in a dead-end relationship isn’t nice, but it’s not fatal either. Work on keeping yourself interested and your relationship interesting and you might just avoid having to end it early.
To conclude, the severity of the problem has to dictate when to end a relationship. Good partners can be hard to find, so if there’s a chance you can fix things what’s the harm in trying? Only in a few cases are relationships a totally lost cause, so give it your best shot and – if that still doesn’t work – you can feel no qualms about ending a relationship you’ve tried to fix.
1Melissa A. Fabello, Everyday Feminism (‘The Neurobiology of a Break-Up: 5 Things to Expect (And How to Get Through)’, http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/02/neurobiology-of-a-break-up/)
2Rachel Zucker, New York Times (‘Honey, Let’s Get a Little Divorced’, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/05/fashion/05Modern.html)
3Evelyn Pelczar, Elite Daily (‘11 Signs You Need To Leave Your Relationship’, http://elitedaily.com/dating/gentlemen/11-signs-you-need-to-leave-your-relationship/)
4Randi Gunther Ph.D., Psychology Today (‘When It’s Time to Let a Relationship Go’, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/rediscovering-love/201405/when-its-time-let-relationship-go)