Whether you’ve been married for a decade or have been together just long enough to get past the honeymoon phase, it can be difficult to know when to call it a day when your relationship has gone sour. Here are some signs that might sound familiar: The two of you are fighting constantly lately and you never really make up — and maybe don’t talk to each other at all some days. You rarely plan date nights anymore, and sex has lost its spontaneity. It may feel like you’re drifting farther and farther apart. On the outside, it seems like you’re on the brink of a break-up.
Or are you? Sometimes you find yourself doubting that splitting up is the right thing to do in between those moments when you’re positive this relationship is done. But how can you be certain there’s nothing left of your love to hold onto? How do you know when things are really, truly over…past the point of saving?
“It’s important to consider all the little ‘endings’ that come and go but feel big at the time,” says Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist in Los Angeles and the author of Now You Want Me, Now You Don’t!. “Many of my clients feel the relationship is going to end any minute when they are insecure… Their fears become a self-fulfilling prophecy and propel the relationship to a premature end.”
But every relationship is different. We spoke to experts to better understand when to call it quits and when you should put more effort toward working it out.
Here are seven signs your relationship is about to end:
You don’t want to be together as much anymore.
If you’ve lost interest in being with each other and spending time together, that’s a common red flag that your relationship might be on the verge of a split, according to Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., a psychotherapist known as “Dr. Romance” and the author of Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences.
Your conversations with each other have fallen flat.
Not so excited about hearing what your guy has to say these days and having trouble getting him to listen to you too? Do your discussions with him bore you or are you having trouble paying attention when you talk to each other? That’s a bad sign for your future and could mean you’re on the brink of a breakup, according to Tessina.
Sex has gone down the drain.
If one or both of you has significantly less interest in sex with each other than you used to, or the sex has stopped entirely, that’s a telltale sign that you two are in serious trouble. However, if you’re going through something personally and are not feeling sexy at the moment, there are ways you can work on your own self-esteem and get back to your strong connection in the bedroom.
You’re both moody and irritable a lot of the time.
If your relationship is causing you grief and regularly affecting your moods in a bad way, then the end might be near. But too often, couples mistake their own depression or unhappiness about other areas of their lives for unhappiness with their partners and blame the relationship and their significant other for all their misery.
You don’t want to talk about it.
If neither of you feels like discussing your problems and trying to fix things — like, ever — then that’s a big red flag your relationship is about to end. It means you’ve both given up and just can’t be bothered doing what it takes to save your love from ruin.
One of you is stifling or controlling the other.
Many people are blindsided when their partners suddenly tell them it’s over. They don’t see that they played a part by trying to control or impose their will on the other person, oblivious to the damage it was doing to the relationship. That’s always a recipe for disaster. And it can be one of the most difficult signs to pick up on, according to Raymond.
You refuse to meet in the middle on anything.
“The most important thing is how a couple repairs the tears in the relationship when things go wrong,” says Raymond. “It’s when they stand their ground about having their rigid expectations met that the relationship is more likely to end — in that both go their separate ways.”
So when should you stay — and when is it really time to go? Tessina says you should give it another shot and try to work things out if:
You still love each other.
Sometimes it can be hard to tell in the moment whether or not you’re still in love with that person. “Maybe you’re irritated, frustrated or resentful, but bottom line, you’d be sad to lose your partner,” she says. “Don’t give up. What’s wrong can probably be fixed. If you haven’t calmly told the truth about how you’re feeling and it only comes out when you fight, then you haven’t created a chance to fix things and restore your loving feelings.”
You have children.
“Divorce is devastating for kids, and it’s not right as a parent to put your happiness above theirs,” Tessina says. “In any case, doing what it takes to repair the marriage will make everyone, including you, a lot happier than the failure of divorce.”
Obviously we all have to do what makes us happy and everyone — adults included — gets a stake in that. But as Tessina says, children raise those stakes. Exhaust all options, including therapy and time alone together before making the difficult decision to part ways.
Your complaints are petty and juvenile.
“If you’re mad because you’re not getting enough attention or there’s no romance, or someone else looks better to you than your partner, you’re probably not being realistic or doing your part to fix things,” she says. “Don’t be a baby. Grown-ups don’t keep complaining, whining and nagging.”
You haven’t tried counseling or haven’t put real effort into it.
“You may need to try a couple of counselors before you find one you can work with. Look for a counselor who is demanding, who expects you to change what you’re doing,” Tessina suggests. “It will be the best investment you ever made in your marriage and your own happiness.”
On the other hand, here are three solid reasons to let it go:
One or both of you keeps crossing the line.
If your partner is struggling with compulsive behavior like repeated affairs or addictions to alcohol, drugs, porn, gambling or spending money and it just doesn’t end, it’s probably time to say goodbye. “If you’ve caught your spouse out of bounds before, and he or she keeps repeating the behavior, it’s an addiction that’s out of control,” Tessina explains. “If your spouse won’t get proper treatment, or treatment hasn’t worked, leaving the relationship may be your only choice.”
There’s violence or abuse in the relationship.
“If you or your children are subjected to violence, verbal abuse or sexual abuse, it’s important for you to get safety for yourself and your children,” Tessina warns. “Report the abuse, get a restraining order and get out of the relationship.”
You tried therapy — and it didn’t work.
“If you and your spouse have been to couples therapy, given it a good effort and it didn’t fix the problems or stop your fighting and teach you to communicate, perhaps one or both of you haven’t enough motivation left to stay together,” she says.
So how do you avoid getting to that critical “end is near” stage in the first place?
Take a breather.
“Couples often feel panicked when something goes wrong in the marriage,” Tessina says. “Understand that problems are just opportunities to learn and grow, and to find a new and exciting way to do things. You can’t think when you’re upset, so don’t talk when you are. Take a moment to calm down, take a deep breath and talk rationally about what’s going on. Any problem can be fixed, if you both focus on finding a solution.”
“We often grow up with parents who create a lot of drama — fighting, cold silences, leaving and returning, court battles, child custody problems and financial struggles,” Tessina says. “Drama of that type is never necessary — it’s a result of adults acting like upset children. Avoid dramatic pronouncements, scenes and ultimatums when problems arise.” Instead, she suggests, act as though you’re trying to solve a problem at work. “Most people can’t throw fits and keep their jobs,” she says.
Get counseling early.
“When my husband and I first married, in 1982, we made a deal: If we couldn’t solve a problem on our own in three days, we’d go for counseling,” remembers Tessina. “In the first few years, we had a few sessions, which were very helpful in teaching us how to be effective with each other. All these years later, we are happy and haven’t needed counseling in many years. Getting counseling early, before the drama sets in, will help you create a successful marriage together.”
If you do decide your relationship is worth trying to repair, roll up your sleeves and get to work. Chances are, you and your significant other will be able to turn things around. But if things ultimately end in a breakup, as hard as it is, take heart. It probably wasn’t a good match to begin with.
“If a relationship is going to end, it probably wasn’t a secure connection in the first place,” Raymond says.
A version of this story was published March 2015.
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