Asking when a relationship is over is like asking when scrambled eggs are done. There’s no standard for “over-ness.” You are the one making the decision, eggs or relationships. The difference is, it takes two to start a relationship, but most of the time relationships end because one person is much more unhappy than the other or is getting much less from the relationship than the other. “It’s” not over. You’re over it.
And you can’t really make a well-based decision to stay or to leave until you’ve worked with a couples therapist both of you like and trust for a number of months. Look, if you owned a Jaguar XK-E (possibly the greatest sports car of all time and a legendary beauty) that was giving you all kinds of trouble, you’d literally be an idiot if you sold it before you gave a competent mechanic a chance to see if he could put it in good working condition.
Given all that, here are 5 signs that are exactly what you need to be thinking about to make your decision. There’s a lot more to this than just 5 signs; we’ve written a bestselling, award-winning book about this: Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay. But these 5 signs should give you a good start:
• “I just don’t like my partner.” Forget love. Liking is the really good indicator here. Do you like your partner? Like in the sense of the way you like anyone: you want to be with that person, you seek that person out, you enjoy being with that person. This is not “Oh, she’s great.” Yeah, he may be great—full of all kinds of admirable qualities—but you still may not like him.
• “There’s no real basis for our relationship.” Yes, yes, you own stuff together, maybe even a house. You have friends together. Maybe you even have kids. The question here is, Are there things that are meaningful to each of you separately that connect you as a couple.
For example, if you both love going to the beach, then boom! that’s a connection. If you like the same shows on TV, that’s a connection. Anything you both like that you can do together or share together is a connection. A basis for your relationship.
And people need a basis for their relationship for the relationship to make sense.
By the way, kids aren’t part of that basis. Kids make a family. They don’t make a relationship. Before you know it, the kids’ll be out of the house. And if you have no basis for your relationship, you have a shell of a relationship now and you’ll still have one later.
• “I think my partner just wants to control me.” A lot of people don’t like confrontations, and a lot of people find themselves in a relationship with someone who’s very opinionated. That’s normal. But what you have to run from is a Power Person. That’s someone who you feel has to win every conflict and will keep the struggle going and going and going, using every tactic under the sun, until they do win. They’re not fair. They don’t fight for what they need. They fight against your getting your needs met.
• “My partner doesn’t respect me.” It doesn’t matter what they say. It’s how they act. You need to feel that your partner respects you, your judgment, your character. Yes, of course, our partners are all too aware of our imperfections, and sometimes make us all too aware of how aware they are, but if you are feeling more contempt from them than respect, then this is a bad sign.
• “Where’s the happiness and fun?” Fun is the glue of intimacy. Now everyday life in most marriages can’t be a laff riot, but you should be feeling that there’s an undercurrent of happiness and fun that frequently bubbles to the surface. No one can tell you how often is enough, or what fun and happiness consist of for you, but, still, you have to decide for yourself whether it’s there or not and whether there seems like a chance of it coming back or not.
I really want to emphasize something I said earlier, in case you’ve read this and are feeling hopeless about your relationship. These are signs leaving your relationship would be a good decision only if you’ve worked with a professional you trust and whom you think is effective and still nothing has changed. Couples can wind themselves into a bad state where all these 5 signs seem true but don’t in fact reveal the underlying health of your relationship, just the way you can be so sick you pray for death and yet a visit to the doctor and some treatment can make you feel all better fairly quickly.
But if you’ve done what you can to make things better, then any one of these signs may be all you need to decide to leave your relationship. It’s like with a car. All kinds of things can be imperfect and yet you still feel you have a great car. But if you can’t stop or go or turn—any one of those—the car’s no good to you. It’s the same for you with anything that’s vital to your relationship. And each of these signs points to something vital.
For a lot more help in making things better in your relationship, please check out Why Couples Fight. It’s very possible some of those negative signs will go away.