How To Know It’s Time To Call It Quits

When it’s needed, breaking up is harder to do than anything except for not breaking up.  But how do you know it’s time?

Are we having fun yet?

We all know relationships involve work.  But good relationships are overbalanced towards fun and reward—by a factor of twenty.  Literally, happy couples have 20x more positive interactions than negative, work-inducing ones.

And in a really solid dating relationship, the work often feels like play.  Being in love is the great motivating force that helps us put in the time and effort to build a future together, feeling more like “us against the world” than “me against you.”

So if you’ve been settling for 50/50, that’s a bad ratio.  Yes, sometimes really long-term relationships hit rough spots and couples need counseling.  But you’re dating.  Anytime a dating relationship involves more pain than pleasure, more unpleasant work than good times–it’s time to move on.

Does my partner listen only when I’ve got a foot out the door?

Did you know?  Whether or not a couple is happy, a full 2/3 of every couple’s problems never get solved.  Research proves you should pick someone whose differences you can live with, because most differences don’t ever fully go away.  Fifty years from now, you’re still going to be having that fight about who wipes the crumbs off the counter.

Put more optimistically, you don’t have to agree on everything to make a good life together.  But you’d better choose a partner who deeply cares about your happiness, and who is motivated to meet your needs/clear the crumbs as much as they’re able—because they actively want to further your well-being, not because you’re leaving them. Otherwise, de-fanging tough ongoing issues is impossible, because the underlying attitude says, “Your needs aren’t important unless I’m losing something.”

Committing to a partner whose primary allegiance is “me” not “we” means you’ve lost your ability to negotiate and to be heard unless you’re perpetually ready to pack your bags.  Instead, pack them now—and lock the door behind you

If my best friend was in this relationship, how would I advise them?

In my client work, I frequently hear from people who are being treated terribly.  Maybe their dating partner is stringing them along year after year with false promises, or publicly humiliating them, or withholding sex for months on end.

Whatever it is, as soon as I ask the question above, they get much clearer.

Factually speaking, a lack of kind and respectful treatment should be a total deal-breaker—because the relationship really is doomed.  If you’re going to have a happy love life, you’re going to insist on having a partner who treats you as a cherished friend and who welcomes your views, even when things aren’t going their way.  I cannot overstate this: settling for less is settling for pain.

Was the relationship worth it before this happened?

Factors inside and outside a relationship can cause us to reassess.  Betrayals happen when there’s a large mismatch between what we expect and what our partner does—whether that’s an affair, hiding money, or any other big violation of trust. Other times, a life change emerges, such as a move or new career or school option.

Transition points like these indicate a long road ahead.  If you already didn’t get what you needed from the relationship, it’s time to make the break.

Ultimately, these questions lead to the one question that will never let you down: Are we on the same team?  Loving is something we do birth to death.  Attachment never stops mattering.  It’s vital to attach to someone who is with us and for us—or to break the attachment and find someone who is.

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