Breakups & Cheating
July 16, 2021

When To Break Up: 11 Signs It Might Be Time

Is this relationship actually serving you, your needs, and your future?
Written by
Kelly Gonsalves
Published on
July 16, 2021
Updated on
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Knowing when to break up can be difficult. If you’re currently on the fence and trying to make sense of a complicated relationship situation, here are a few telltale signs that it might be time to take the leap and end your relationship. While the healing process might be difficult post-break up, calling it quits could be the healthiest thing to do for yourself and a partner in the long-run.

1. Your needs are not being met.

“A healthy relationship is one when your needs are being met, where there is safety to be vulnerable,” licensed psychologist Kathleen Isaac, Ph.D., told Essence. “It might be time to break up when those things are no longer true or if you are no longer able to communicate and hear each other.”

When it comes to communication, It’s important to first check in with yourself. Have you directly communicated your needs to your partner, or are you just silently stewing? People aren’t mind readers, no matter how long you’ve been together. Make sure you’ve explicitly told your partner your needs.

Now, if you have told them, and nothing has changed — or if you have to repeatedly ask for something instead of your partner taking the initiative once they know it’s important to you — that could be a sign the relationship is in trouble. 

2. You’re not able to have your own life.

Relationships shouldn’t consume you. You should still be able to have your own hobbies, interests, friends, habits, and life goals. If your partner is overly possessive of your time, constantly feeling threatened by the things you do without them, or if you keep finding yourself feeling guilty when you try to take space for yourself, that may be a sign of unhealthy codependency.

“They might create drama whenever you choose to do something that doesn’t include them,” sex and relationship therapist Megan Fleming, Ph.D., explained to Glamour. “They may implicitly or explicitly say you can’t see a particular friend or do a particular thing. They make you choose between them and someone or something else. Ultimatums are signs of a toxic relationship.”

Your relationship shouldn’t be holding you back from living your life to its fullest. Instead, a partner should enable you to grow.

3. Your lives are going in different directions.

Maybe your lives are getting busier and you have less time to see each other. Maybe your interests are changing, and the two of you no longer have as many things to connect about. Or maybe one of you is moving far away and a long-distance relationship feels untenable. It could be that a partner has changed their political views or they’ve gotten deeper into religious beliefs that don’t align with your own. People evolve over time, and while you and your partner don’t have to evolve in completely parallel ways, it’s important to note how much of a deviation you’re okay with. What are you willing to work through? What’s a relationship deal-breaker? 

If you feel your lives are going in such different directions that it won’t be possible to connect on fundamental levels anymore, it’s okay to end the relationship — even if there are still positive, loving feelings there. 

4. You’re fighting all the time.

Conflicts are a natural part of any relationship, but if you find yourselves constantly getting into arguments and unable to peacefully resolve them, it’s time to do some serious thinking. 

It’s possible for couples to learn healthier, less volatile ways of resolving conflicts — either with the help of a couple’s counselor or using other resources to learn communication tactics — but both partners have to be willing to make changes to their behavior and take steps toward a new way of interacting. If you or your partner can’t seem to get on board with change and the fights just keep happening, it may be time to call it.

5. You feel complacent in the relationship.

Perhaps you feel stagnant in the relationship and no longer feel the need to put in the effort to make changes. Perhaps you no longer even bring up the issues because you don’t believe anything could be different anyway. While it can be nice to be totally conflict-free, it can also signal complacency in the relationship. 

Psychologist Heather Z. Lyons, Ph.D explained to Oprah Daily that being totally conflict-free in a relationship can sometimes be “a sign that both members of the couple have given up and are feeling hopeless about the impact they can have on each other and about the chances of the relationship changing.”

If you find yourself feeling disinvested or like you’re just going with the flow in the relationship, it’s possible that in your heart, you’re already moving on. 

6. You’re constantly feeling under attack.

If the primary feelings you have when you’re with your partner are dread, frustration, confusion, or anger, something is off in your dynamic. Maybe you’re finding yourself walking on eggshells to avoid triggering a fight because you know it’ll get nasty. According to research by The Gottman Institute, criticism and contempt are two of the four telltale signs of divorce.

“When critical commentary or judgment outweighs intimacy, it's hard for a relationship to recover,” licensed psychotherapist Kimberly Ciardella, PsyD, LMFT, explained to Oprah Daily. “How can you experience joy when you feel like you’re constantly failing?”

At the end of the day, relationships are supposed to feel good. They’re supposed to generally lift you up and enrich you. If that’s not what you’re getting from your relationship, it’s okay to walk away.

7. There’s a power imbalance. 

A power dynamic can emerge in a relationship when one person is much more invested in making the relationship work than the other. One person may be willing to do whatever it takes at the expense of their own needs and desires just to keep their partner around. Their partner may not be as willing to put in effort.

It can be very painful to acknowledge that your strong feelings and efforts are simply not being reciprocated, but one person can’t keep a relationship going on their own. Relationships take equal investment from all parties.

If you get the sense that your partner doesn’t feel as strongly as you do about making the relationship work, your energy is likely best directed elsewhere. You deserve to be with someone who will be willing to put in the effort too.

8. You feel you are being gaslighted all the time. 

Gaslighting can be hard to spot when it’s happening to you. According to the American Psychological Association, gaslighting is a subtle form of manipulation used to get someone to doubt their thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of events. When you bring up concerns to your partner, they might deflect, minimize, deny, or twist the situation so they always come out looking like they’ve done nothing wrong. Such behavior can leave you feeling like you’re “crazy” or blowing things out of proportion.

Pay attention to whether your partner ever takes accountability for their actions. If you find that they always find a way to turn things around such that you’re the one at fault, you might be dealing with gaslighting. 

While not always the case, gaslighting can be a symptom of emotional abuse. If you’re not quite sure if that’s how you’d describe your relationship, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has resources to help you recognize signs of abuse. Leaving an abusive relationship, whether it’s emotional or physical, can be complicated and it can be helpful to seek support.

9. Your biggest concern is upsetting your partner.

What’s holding you back from breaking up? Is it that you think you might still want to be in this relationship, or is it just that you don’t want to upset your partner? If the main thing keeping you from ending the relationship is your partner’s feelings, then that’s all the more reason to move forward with the break up. Ultimately, staying with a person only for their sake isn’t fair to your partner. It’s best to let them go so they can find a partner who is actively choosing them. 

“Staying in a relationship you don't want to be in because you're afraid to hurt your partner will only make you feel resentful,” Jenn Mann, LMFT, recently told InStyle.

10. You’re only staying because you feel you’ve invested so much in it already. 

Don’t hold onto the relationship just because you’ve been in it for so long that it seems “wasteful” to just throw it all away.

Mann told InStyle that “staying in a relationship because of the ‘sunk cost fallacy’ — just because you've already invested time into the relationship doesn't mean you should continue to invest in this relationship if it isn't the best person for you. This anger tends to leak out and make us unpleasant, short-tempered, and say things we regret.”

11. You just want to leave.

At the end of the day, you don’t need a “good reason” to break up with your partner. Your relationship doesn’t have to be toxic, unhealthy, or even unhappy for you to end it. If you want to end it, that’s reason enough. Your desire to experience something else — whether that’s freedom, singlehood, another partner, a new chapter in your life, or simply time and space to breathe on your own — is enough.

People can sometimes stay in unfulfilling relationships just because there’s nothing wrong with it and because their partner is a kind, good person. But you deserve to feel good about your relationship, your life, and the way you spend your time and energy. It’s okay to move on, even from a good thing.

The bottom line

Deciding whether to break up with someone can feel gut-wrenching, but it’s important to remember that your desires and needs matter. Do you actually want to still be in this relationship? Is this relationship actually serving you, your needs, and your future? If the answers to these questions are no, then allow yourself to walk away.

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy

Kelly Gonsalves is a multi-certified sex educator and relationship coach helping people figure out how to make their sex and dating lives actually feel good. Her writings on sexuality, relationships, identity, and the body have been featured in Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Bustle, The Cut, and elsewhere.

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