When is it Time to End a Relationship?

couple standing next to each other looking at a sparkler.

Is this a rough patch to work through, or proof it’s not meant to be?

You’re in a relationship. It went well for a while, but lately you’ve started to question whether it’s what you want. You wonder if you’re just missing the giddy early stages of romance or if you’re afraid of commitment. You don’t want to walk away from a good thing, but you’re not sure if what you have is such a good thing after all. Is this the moment to double down and work through the rough spots, or should you just call it quits?

We all know people who’ve tried too hard. Who stayed in a relationship long past its expiration date. Who refused to let go from anxiety, guilt, or simply habit. Maybe we’ve been that person ourselves. After all, as energizing as the single life can be, it can also be scary, and sometimes even lonely. And if you respect and value the partner you have, accepting that you’re not right for each other can bring a lot of pain, guilt, and self-doubt.

Ending a relationship is hard. But taking the action needed to move on is a necessary part of being authentic, healthy and pursuing your best life—and allowing your partner to do the same. If you’re on the fence, think through some of these red flags. Do they describe your relationship?

The bad outweighs the good.

Every relationship has its arguments. In fact, being able to disagree with your partner, so that you both learn and grow through the exchange is actually a sign of relational health. This might have been your first argument—or you might have had so many arguments you’ve lost count. Either way, as long as those disagreements remain respectful and productive, they’re not a sign your relationship is doomed. They’re actually a sign that you’re both human and distinctly different!

However, bad memories linger. Psychologically, we’re more likely to remember a negative experience than a positive one, and it will carry more emotional weight. This has a significant impact on your psychological health. Even though you may have lots of great experiences, if for every one or two good dates you have another negative exchange, then the negatives may be starting to outweigh the positives. Ask yourself a tough question: “If nothing changed, Is this how you WANT to live in relationship with someone else?”

You feel resentful.

We hold on to grudges for a number of reasons. Maybe it’s because we want to avoid conflict, so we hide the things that upset us. Perhaps we fear that our concerns will be dismissed, so we minimize our concerns/angst until we’ve gathered up enough evidence to prove we’re right. Or maybe we’re denying our feelings and hoping that whatever is irritating us will go away and no longer be an issue.

All of these things build up over time, without our even being aware of them. Without knowing it we can amass a heart and mind filled with emotional concerns while waiting for the ‘right’ time to discuss things. When we feel this way about another person, we have three choices: we can acknowledge the lack of emotional honesty in the relationship and take steps to correct it, we can accept the relationship isn’t working and end it, or (saddest of all) we can continue to stifle and devalue ourselves and continue on as we’ve been. Grudges and resentment stem from a lack of trust and honesty. To remain in this type of relationship does hurt you. Ask yourself a tough question: “What change(s) do YOU need to make in order to be break free of your resentment and devalued existence?”

It’s holding you back.

Sacrifice is a normal part of any healthy relationship. Committing to a person means devoting time and attention to an individual which could have gone toward a career, a hobby, or simply another person. For the right person—someone who supports, challenges, and inspires you—these sacrifices are a small thing compared to the great good which comes from sharing your life with another person.

But what if you have a dream about traveling the world, or a work of community service you want to become involved in, or postgraduate education you want to pursue? Making this work within your relationship will require the support of your partner and a commitment from both of you to make time for each other as your life grows more busy. If your partner can’t provide that support or isn’t willing to make the necessary sacrifices, then it’s time to ask yourself if they’re helping you live your best life. Ask yourself some tough questions: “Are your lives moving in different directions? Are either of you clinging to the other and insisting that the relationship requires the death of your dreams, the denial of your passions, and the destruction of your peace?”

There’s no future in it.

It’s OK to start a relationship with someone, even if you don’t think it will last. Short-term relationships can teach us a lot about ourselves and the people we are with. They may even surprise us, and turn out to be more significant than we first gave them credit for. But once you recognize the kind of differences you either can’t or don’t want to work through, it’s time to end it and move on.

Those differences can include: divergent plans for a career or family, a long distance relationship where neither party is willing to move to be with the other, deeply-held beliefs, preferences, or lifestyle choices. Ask yourself a tough question: Are you investing in the relationship that is or the relationship you dream of having, one day? If so, remember, you can’t change someone else.  Stop investing in a fantasy that is only diminishing reality, and start investing in YOURSELF and YOUR future. And be kind and respectful enough to let your partner do the same.

Leave the guilt behind.

Relationships of any kind are complicated and messy things. Such fallout is the natural result of two imperfect people coming together to try to do anything with one other. Every relationship—not just romantic ones—will have times when you feel irritated, misunderstood, or held back by the other person. How you and your partner respond to these situations determines whether your relationship is worth the commitment.

Just because your relationship isn’t working doesn’t mean that either you or your partner are wrong or flawed. In fact, knowing and appreciating the good things in your partner can make it harder to break things off. But if you’re not right for each other, your sacrifice to end the relationship can actually show how highly you regard your partner and yourself.

You have a lot to give the world. Whether you do that with your current partner, alone, or with someone new is your choice. Make the one that’s best for you.

Iris Proctor
Iris is the director of ArborWoman.