How do you know when to end a relationship?
I’m sure you’ve already thought through some scenarios. And I suspect that for every scenario you’ve imagined, you can come up with reasons for and against breaking up.
Or perhaps you’ve been thinking that your partner may at any time end the relationship. However, because you’ve landed on this particular page, you’re more likely to be the unhappy one who’s thinking of ending your relationship.
I recommend that you read this article in conjunction with my article on the warning signs of a failing relationship.
Let’s now look at answering the question about when you should break up…
How to know when to end a relationship
When to end a short-term relationship
It’s normal to have some short-term relationships that simply don’t last – for various reasons.
Know, though, that being in a relationship and being a good partner are skills that can be learnt.
However, you may not want to hang on and wait too long before ending it if:
- You know you don’t love him or her and never will.
- You just like the look and feel of being in a relationship, don’t want to be on your own and hope to find a more suitable partner soon.
- You’re frightened of being ‘left on the shelf and your body clock is ticking.
- You don’t feel safe in your relationship.
- It’s difficult to get hold of him or her and they’re not consistent in responding to your reasonably timed messages (i.e. not the 25-a-day, desperate “call-me” and “where are you?” messages when they’re at work, for example)
- You’re in a relationship with someone who is already married or in a committed relationship (see my article on coping with infidelity).
- You’re not being introduced to their friends and family even though you’ve been together for long enough (most suspicious!).
When to end a longer-term relationship
Are you in a long-term relationship?
Then it should go without saying that you need to make every effort to make it work before even thinking about when you should break up. After all, you once loved – or still love – that person.
If you’ve been together for a while and you’re considering a break-up, ideally:
- You have talked about your relationship problems and your doubts with your partner, and given them the opportunity to contribute to improving the relationship.
- You have made an effort to understand how relationships work, what’s really required to increase your chances of success and how you personally can be the best partner you can be.
- You have taken responsibility for dealing with the issues you‘ve brought to the relationship. See my series of articles on how to make your partner love you again.
- You’ve sought relationship advice, whether from a professional counsellor, a religious leader or a trained volunteer. Or you’ll have talked over your troubles with someone you know who has wisdom, awareness and the ability to be non-judgmental when helping you explore your options (i.e. not tell you when you should break up!).
See how you score with the following test and get some immediate advice…
Are you really ready to end your relationship now?
Done all of the above?
Only then can you really consider if indeed it is time to break up.
Signs you should break up?
My aim here is to provide you with some signposts to guide you through your decision-making process of when to split up.
It’s up to you to decide if the problems you are experiencing are deal breakers when it comes to your own health, wellbeing and happiness.
The list below of situations and relationship issues is by no means exhaustive, but it might help you to consider your situation from a new perspective:
1. You're living like siblings
The spark is completely gone and you're living alongside each other, talking only about the necessary day to day activities, chores and what you've done that day. There’s no intimacy - emotional and/or physical.
2. You have different values and beliefs
You’ve discovered that your and your partner's values and beliefs are significantly different and incompatible.
3. Your partner is making no effort
Your partner or spouse is making no effort to work on the relationship with you. You’ve given them a serious and fair chance to contribute to solving your problems.
This doesn’t mean that he or she has to necessarily give you what you want, but that the two of you have compromised and made adjustments where possible and necessary!
(Do take your partner's personal well-being into account though. If he or she is going through a difficult time themselves then they may need your support for a while.)
4. Your partner has an addiction
Your partner suffers from a substance abuse for which he or she is not seeking help and it's seriously affecting your well-being.
5. Your partner prioritises their personal interests
Your partner continues to invest more in themselves than in the relationship, through sporting, gaming, spending time on their hobbies, pursuing their own interests or being with their friends.
7. Incompatible with regards to your physical relationship
Your need for a greater or lesser physical intimacy than your partner outweighs all the other advantages of being in this relationship.
8. Your partner is lying to you
Your partner has deliberately lied to you or lied by omission, i.e. he or she hasn’t told you things that were of great importance. Has your partner or spouse lied about money, for example?
9. You're being abused
More on that further down.
Your partner is having an affair and either refuses to break it off, or you can’t trust their promises that it really is over.
Please note: infidelity in itself need not necessarily be a reason to end a relationship. However, if there have been several affairs, it really is time to consider if you should end the relationship for your own sake.
11. Blended family problems
The negatives of your joint family significantly and consistently outweigh the positives, despite the both of you having done all you can to make it work. Maybe don't get on with your partner's children, or your children are rejecting your new partner.
12. Doubts from the beginning
You know you should never have married him/her or moved in together in the first place. For whatever reason, you just went along with it all rather than ending it some time ago.
13. Emotionally abandoned
You simply don't feel your partner cares for you anymore. You no longer feel loved by him or her. This may well go hand-in-hand with what I mentioned earlier: lack of effort and prioritising their own interests.
14. You've lost yourself
You no longer like or recognise the person you've become in this relationship.
As I mentioned earlier, this list is by no means exhaustive. Your situation is unique. And there are many more factors that could potentially play a role when you consider when to split up. See also: How to help your children through a breakup.
Can I really tell you when to break up your relationship?
No one can or should tell you if and when you should or shouldn’t break up. No one can know the full story from both of your perspectives.
Throughout my practice as an experienced professional therapist, I never advised a couple whether or not they should break up. My role was to explore their options with them, let them draw their own conclusions and make their own decisions.
You too are responsible for your own decisions. Throughout your life, you'll make good and bad decisions. There will be pros and cons for every decision you make - that’s life!
But, by taking the time to really think through your options and inform your decision, you give yourself the best chance of a smoother road ahead.
If you’re in a long term relationship, I can encourage you not to break up at the first sign of trouble. Expect that being in a close couple relationship can be really difficult.
Know that being in a relationship takes continuous effort, requires learning, being vulnerable, and increasing your self-knowledge, compassion and generosity.
It can all be soooo worth it in the end!
I hope therefore that when you’re wondering if you should break up your relationship, you’re not selling yourself short. Ask yourself: "Have I truly given it the very best of me?" Remind yourself of the things I suggested you can do before you even think about breaking up.
Are there areas you can improve on?
I strongly advise you to talk it through with a suitably qualified counsellor or therapist. He or she will take the time to get to know your situation and guide you through taking the next step.
Fortunately, it's very easy these days to connect with an online counsellor if you're not able to do so in your own environment. For further information, see my article on online breakup advice.
When it's absolutely time to end a relationship
There's only one situation where I strongly suggest that you don't think too long about whether or not it's time to break up and leave. That is when your partner or spouse is hurting you physically.
When you are being abused you need to get away. Know that domestic violence entails much more than being physically abused.
If indeed you are in an abusive relationship, do not discuss your thoughts of leaving with your partner. Get help first!
You'll find a list of helpful organisations at the end of the article on signs of an abusive relationship.
Don't break up until…
- … you've considered your financial situation if you're living together. Plan ahead if necessary. You'll find my 3-step plan in my article on breaking up when you're living with someone.
- … you've read my articles: How to break up with someone in 3 clear steps and How to end a long-term relationship.
- ... you've considered what the effect of your separation will be on any children involved. See How to help your children through a breakup and How to help your children through divorce.
Exactly when to break up
The timing of that possibly heart-wrenching and certainly difficult conversation is really important.
I know from personal and professional experience how difficult it can be to decide when to tell your partner that you want to end your relationship or marriage.
I can certainly tell you when it's not a good time for that conversation:
- Just before your partner is going out;
- When they're in the middle of something that takes all of their attention;
- When you're about to rush off out yourself;
- When the children are around;
- When your partner has no access to his/her own support network (friends, family etc.);
- When you have no access to your support network.
Please note: these things don't count if you're in an abusive relationship. That's why I urge you to get professional help if you’re in that situation so that you can ensure that you're safe.
You'll find a ton of advice on how to end your relationship, what to say and what not to say in all of my other articles on breaking up and ending your relationship.
I’ve been asked many times throughout my career how to know when to break up a relationship.
I’m afraid there is no mathematical formula or clear-cut right answer; individuals and couples are all unique - you are unique. Situations, circumstances, personalities, values, beliefs… there are infinite variations of all these things and more.
Ending a relationship is a personal decision that takes care, thought and probably some soul-searching too. I have all the tools and resources here on my website to help you think through your options, uncover your feelings and decide on your best way forward.
There’s no rush so take the time you need. Know that whatever decision you make, you will be able to live with the consequences as long as you’ve been honest and true to yourself.