How do you know when to end a relationship? As a therapist, I’ve supported countless clients over the years as their relationships unraveled, and some themes seem to emerge again and again. If you’re wondering if you should break up with your boyfriend, girlfriend, or partner, here are a few signs you should break up or seriously consider it. If one or more of the following is true for you, it might be time to end your relationship:
1. You talk about the relationship improving in some hypothetical future.
In other words, you’re convinced the relationship will be better “when.” Some examples:
- I know he’ll appreciate me more when his friends get married.
- She’ll be more supportive of my anxiety disorder when we’ve finished school.
- We’ll feel more connected when we move in together.
Many believe their partners will change—for example, become more committed, understanding, or affectionate—when they hit a milestone or some external stressor is reduced. This certainly does happen, but it’s not a guarantee. If you knew they’d never change, would you still be in it for the long haul?
Base your desire to be in your relationship on your present experience, not on some future idea of what you want it to be. Don’t let fantasy bonds keep you in a relationship that’s going nowhere.
2. You’re feeling pressured to change, and it makes you feel less worthy as a result.
It’s one thing for your partner to ask you to stop putting so much garlic in the salad dressing. It’s another thing for them to ask you to lose 20 pounds or get a better job. You want to feel loved by your partner unconditionally. If they want you to change, it’s likely a projection of their own insecurity. Tell them to connect with a counselor and let you keep being you.
3. You feel loved and supported…but only when you’re happy.
Many of us feel loved and supported in our relationships when we’re feeling happy, confident, and comfortable. But what happens when we’re having a “low” day, when we’re mega-stressed at work, when we’re bedridden with the stomach flu, or when we’re paralyzed by anxiety? What happens when we lose someone we love, get laid off at work, or get a diagnosis that turns our world upside down?
When we feel pressured to maintain a certain emotional equilibrium around our partners, we breed secondary emotions—guilt, shame, and anxiety—for experiencing anything other than happiness and calm. Inevitably, life will throw more things than just happiness and calm your way, so it’s important to feel safe feeling those less comfortable emotions in the presence of your partner.
4. You feel negative around your partner, regularly.
You feel disrespected, underappreciated, frustrated, hurt, insignificant, lonely, invalidated, ashamed, or guilty on a regular basis. And you rarely hear “I’m sorry.”
Sure, “regular basis” is a time frame for you to define. Some people would say it’s never OK to be made to feel such things in a relationship, but hey, we’re all humans, and we all say hurtful or unsupportive things from time to time. If your partner messes up occasionally and responds with remorse, that might not be a reason to call it quits. However, if the above feelings are common ones, it’s time to end the relationship.
5. Getting your partner to spend time with your friends and family is weirdly difficult.
Do you dread telling your partner about your sister-in-law’s dinner invitation? Does attending your best friend’s birthday party go into hours of negotiations? Do your co-workers sometimes question whether your partner, in fact, exists? By asking your partner to hang out with your friends or family, do you feel like you’re asking them to hand over all their possessions and move to the Arctic?
Your better half doesn’t have to love every member of your family and every one of your friends, but it is important that they’re willing to embark on significant other duties without (much) protest. You, of course, do the same, right?
6. You feel needy or unreasonable every time you express a need.
When you express a need, you can’t help but feel crazy, needy, dramatic, high-maintenance, and unreasonable. Much of the time, you even end up apologizing for it. Look, we all have our “crazy” moments, and we ought to respect that our partners have theirs. We’re all imperfect, and some emotions like jealousy, insecurity, anger, and what-have-you can trigger intensely defensive behavior or outsized reactions.
But if you’ve lost the ability to clearly see that your needs are warranted and deserving of airtime, that’s a huge red flag. You deserve to be able to ask for things or express your emotions without being made to feel like you’re “crazy.” If you don’t go, your self-esteem will.
7. You only feel secure in the relationship when you’re physically together.
You should feel happy and secure when you’re together, when you’re apart, when your partner is out drinking without you, and in any other scenario really. If you feel largely abandoned or unsure when you’re not physically together or communicating digitally, that’s a sign that your relationship is not as supportive or healthy as it should be.
Now, it should be noted that insecurity in the pockets between texting, calling, and being together could also be an indicator of insecure attachment—something that’s best explored further with your therapist. It’s not your partner’s responsibility to heal those wounds (at least entirely). If this sounds like it might be an issue for you, I do encourage you to learn more about your attachment style and connect with a mental health professional.
However, for those of us who developed “attachment issues” somewhere along the way, we tend to seek out relationships that mirror those early attachment relationships. And so, we might be maintaining a less than optimal relationship with our partner because it’s what we know and not because it’s what’s healthy. The right partner will be supporting you as you work through your attachment issues, not stoking them or making you feel guilty about them.
8. You feel “hidden” by your partner.
Has it been seven months and you haven’t met their parents, who live just three blocks away? Has your partner never posted a photo of you on Instagram or invited you to their office party?
Depending on the circumstances, keeping things quiet initially can add to the excitement, but there comes a point when being their “little secret” is more degrading than anything else. You deserve to know your partner is proud of you and committed to the relationship.
9. You’re a markedly different person around your partner.
Many people find their “better half” makes them “a better person.” This shouldn’t be a red flag—learning from and being inspired by our partners is one of the wonderful perks of being in a relationship. But many of us have that friend (or are that person) who acts completely different when they’re around their partner. Maybe we seem more enthusiastic, easygoing, or pretentious. If you feel like you’re playing a part, behaving and responding based on how you think you should rather than authentically, you might want to reassess what’s going on. If you’re not able to be authentically yourself around your partner, flaws and bad moods and all, it might not be the right relationship for you.
If one or more of these signs resonated with you, investigate your thoughts and feelings further. Connect with a therapist, confide in a friend, or journal about your experience. The answer should come to you, and when you’re ready, you’ll be able to decide once and for all if you should stay together, take a break, or do the deed and break up with your partner.