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Unhappy couple: Should you stay together or is it time to break up?

Unhappy couples:

Endless fights, escalating arguments, terrible nights. Even relationships that were once ideal partnerships can only go through so much strain.

As heartbreaking as that can be, there comes a time when one or both parties must acknowledge it’s time to end the relationship.

But reaching this decision isn’t easy. That’s why I’m going to cover everything you need to know about an unhappy relationship, and what to do if you think it’s time to end things.

Is your relationship over?

The end of a relationship is like the end of a long, twisting, high-speed rollercoaster, with lulls, stops, reversals, and all the works.

When it finally comes to that final slow down right before the end, a growing part of you knows that it’s over, but the lingering feeling remains: is it really? Or will they ever come back?

But unlike a rollercoaster, a relationship doesn’t end of its own volition.

The end of the relationship requires one or both individuals to make the choice to end it. And that choice is often far too difficult or frightening to make.

Why?

Because we don’t want the relationship with our supposed “one and only” to end.

No matter how bad it gets, we want to keep believing that this is just another fight, just another stupid argument, just another bad night.

We never want to think what will happen when the fights finally come to an end. When enough is finally enough.

Because that means things will truly have to change, and change can be scary because change is unknown.

But the choice needs to be made.

So how can you know for sure that your relationship is over?

We spoke to relationship expert and editor of Mantelligence, Sam Whittaker, who shared some valuable insights on leaving an unhappy relationship:

No relationship comes without any problems. However, when the issues seem not to make sense anymore, maybe the relationship’s just waiting to be over officially. If the two of you fight constantly and it becomes too tiring because there seems to be no resolution or even a little bit of intimacy, it means the relationship is toxic and should be over.

When it’s time to make the choice to end your relationship, you need to have the guts to pull the trigger and push the choice over the line.

The longer you stay in a relationship that is long dead and over, the longer you allow your own soul to rot and regress in a set-up you no longer enjoy.

Just another fight, or finally the end? 

Knowing the difference between “just another fight” and “this is the end” can be difficult – we go through many fights in a long-term relationship where it feels like we’ve finally come to the end of the line, only to feel totally in love again the next day.

According to relationship counselor Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D., “Even when you feel like you and your partner are the ‘perfect match’, there are going to be times when the relationship seems to lose steam.

There will be times where you might feel like you and your partner are on different wavelengths, or living parallel lives rather than intersecting lives.”

Why do these lulls and conflicting points occur?

According to Degges-White, it’s because we are naturally dynamic as people, meaning changes occur constantly to our personality and our behavior in subtle yet drastic ways.

As we shift, so do our relationships with other people, and we are forced to relearn how to be our best selves with our partners.

Here are some signs to look out for, to define the line between “just another fight” and “this is the end”:

  1. If you are mad at your partner, is it because you are truly mad at them, or is it because of something or someone else?
  2. Do you go into every relationship with the expectation that it will be rocky? Does that change the way you engage in fights and how often you engage in them?
  3. Are you sexually uninterested in your partner, or are you just hitting a sexual dip (which is a normal part of life)? If you can still use memories to get aroused by your partner, then you are still sexually interested in them.

Remember: anger at your partner doesn’t mean the relationship is over. However, constant anger or growing anger might be a sign it’s time to end or make drastic changes to the relationship.

If you feel that arguments are beginning to escalate or that your fighting is much more frequent than before, then it’s time to look at your relationship seriously.

Remember the purpose of a relationship: 3 Signs of a healthy relationship

Ultimately, the best way to tell if your relationship is going through another rough patch or is finally past its expiration date is to ask yourself about the value your relationship still brings to the table, for you and for your partner.

Relationships aren’t easy, but they also shouldn’t weigh you down and regress who you are as an individual. 

They should be a source of support, companionship, and joy.

Whittaker explains how a healthy relationship should benefit you:

They say when people go into a relationship, they get that “glow.” That’s what a healthy relationship does. A healthy relationship should allow you to reach the best version of yourself. It does not hold you back. It does not add to your problems. A healthy relationship boosts your mood and makes you a better and more productive individual.

There is always a give and take with relationships – invested time and effort and received rewards.

But the good should always outweigh the bad. There may be periods where you go through a rough patch, but be clear on whether it’s a temporary situation or if the relationship itself has changed.

Your relationship should add the following to your life:

Growth. You should be able to look at your relationship and see that it is still helping you grow as an individual. Your continued partnership with your loved one should be making you a greater person, mentally and psychologically.

Happiness. It may be tough at times, but there should be happiness at the core of every successful relationship. And that happiness needs to be organic, something that happens simply because of the bond you and your partner share. When that organic happiness is gone, so too is the point of the relationship.

Excitement. Life is whatever you make it. It can be a long, slow crawl to death, or it can be a series of unexpected, new, and fulfilling events. This doesn’t mean that you and your partner must constantly explore the world; but being together should naturally add excitement to your life by wanting to experience new things together.

Growth, happiness, and excitement. Even the best relationships struggle to fulfill all three all the time, but every healthy relationship must experience these factors at least every so often.

If you feel that your relationship might finally be dead, then ask yourself: when was the last time you felt excitement, happiness, and that you truly grew as a person because of your partner?

3 Reasons people convince themselves to stay in unhappy relationships

If you find yourself second-guessing whether or not it’s time to end your relationship, that might be a sign that you are simply afraid to go through with it, and you are finding the right reasons to convince yourself that the situation is not as bad as it really is.

Millions of people stay in unhealthy, regressive, and emotionally dead relationships, no matter how much their family, friends, and even their inner voice urge them otherwise.

The main reason we do this is that we are afraid of significant change occurring in our lives, but there are many subcategories as to why people cling to relationships they should have ended long ago.

Whittaker agrees:

People convince themselves to stay in a relationship primarily because they think no one else would accept them. This is the number one reason why toxic and unhappy relationships drag on for too long. People aren’t secure enough to be single, so they choose to stay in a relationship even if it’s not doing them any good.

Here are three reasons why people stay in bad relationships, and why you might be convincing yourself to stay in yours:

1) We would rather be unhappy in a sure situation than uncertain

What you tell yourself:

“Happiness is overrated; relationships are always hard.”

“No one is perfect; I can forgive my partner for this again.”

“I would leave, but the dating scene is so terrible these days.”

The top reason why people stay in bad relationships is because they don’t like the alternative – being single, being alone, and being uncertain of the future.

We talk a lot about exploring our options and living our best life, but most of the time, the decisions we make about our future tend to be conservative.

Humans are naturally risk-averse creatures, and ending an unhappy relationship that can go on indefinitely with little effort is a very risky act.

So instead we teach ourselves to be happy with substandard love. We convince ourselves that love is overrated, that there is no such thing as a perfect partner, and that perhaps we don’t deserve more.

All this simply because we don’t want to try again and see what might be out there.

2) We don’t want all the investment in the relationship to mean nothing

What you tell yourself:

“But we’ve been together for so long, we have so many great memories.”

“I gave the best years of my life to this relationship, of course it has to work.”

 “No one knows me more than my partner, I can’t leave them.”

Even when we don’t think about it, we’re always factoring in our own mortality. When you’re a young adult, it can be easy to live life as if it will last forever.

But once you start climbing into your late 20s, your 30s, and especially your 40s, you realize just how little time left you have on this earth.

And that stops countless people from leaving unhealthy relationships.

According to a study from 2015, the longer that relationships last and the more financially entwined the couple is with each other, the likelier that the relationship will continue through difficult fights.

Simply put, we think of relationships as a sunk cost. When we’ve invested a year, two years, five years into a relationship, ending the relationship also means throwing away several years’ worth of time invested into it. Instead of trying to escape a bad relationship, we want our time to be worth it and work it out to find a light at the end of the tunnel.

3) We fear that there is no one else out there, so we change our standards

What you tell yourself:

It’s okay that my partner isn’t kind, kindness is overrated.”

“Maybe my partner isn’t thoughtful, but at least he is patient.”

“I don’t really want a partner who plans surprises for me anyway.”

We all have the ideal partner we want to be with. If not, then we have certain traits that we desire in a partner – maybe we want someone who plans surprise parties for us, or someone who is thoughtful and generous, or someone who stays healthy and fit at the gym.

But when we find ourselves in a relationship where our partner isn’t as great as we wish they were, then we slowly start changing our standards.

This is known amongst psychologists as “positive illusions” and “partner-enhancement”.

When we notice that our partners don’t have the qualities we wish they had, we instead teach ourselves to appreciate the qualities they do have and downgrade the qualities we used to value.

One of the reasons why we do this is because we are afraid that if we do dump our partner and seek out someone else, not only will they not have the qualities we used to value, but they won’t even have the qualities that our previous partner had.

The situation becomes – not only are you still not with the person you want to be, but you are with a worse partner than your previous one.

Other reasons why we stay with bad partners include…

  • We have low self-esteem
  • We are terrified of being lonely
  • We keep believing our partner can change
  • We have children
  • We have become desensitized to the bad parts of the relationship

5 Signs that it’s time to let your relationship go

Knowing when to let go isn’t easy.

But if these signs are becoming more commonplace in your relationship, it’s a big indication that it might be time to move on soon.

 1) Small annoyances become more irritating 

At the beginning of your relationship, slightly annoying interactions were easy to let go of.

Even their most disagreeable features and personality quirks were understandable, and have been swept under the rug because of your initial affection for them

But as fights and misunderstandings wear on, your affection for them diminishes, and suddenly the not-so-good things become increasingly annoying.

Their quirks and affectations are no longer endearing and charming; you see these undesirable qualities as what they are and even become grounds for breaking up. 

2) You can’t go through life bumps

New relationships are always blessed with the seemingly endless energy to overcome anything, no matter what.

But as the relationship gets more real and challenged by external stressors, personal and shared crises can test your bond and show who your partner really is in times of distress. 

Oftentimes, events like the death of a family member, job loss, or personal tragedy can wear down a couple’s ability to support each other.

Once you find each others’ responses inadequate, you begin to question whether your partner is the right match for you.

No amount of compatibility and history can help a relationship that feels unsupportive, especially during times of immense stress. 

With this, one of you will start thinking, “If they can’t get through this with me now, how else can we get through life after we get married?”

3) Hidden issues are showing up 

Cheating isn’t the only way to make your partner feel betrayed. Almost everyone has something they want to hide from prospective partners in fear of rejection.

For some people it’s bad habits and addictions, for others it can be a mistress, a troubled past, or an unmentioned child. 

Whatever the secret, most people only feel comfortable revealing this part of themselves after securing the relationship.

At this point, the guilty party may start revealing bits and pieces hoping the bond so far can diminish the gravity of the hidden issues. 

But it doesn’t always work out that way. When their hidden issue is completely unacceptable to you, it can be hard to overcome betrayal and feel like the relationship is as genuine as it once was. 

4) Your needs are incompatible

Partners don’t have to be cut out from the same mold to be in a successful relationship. Two lucky individuals can find themselves in a happy, healthy relationship even if they are seemingly irreconcilable on paper. 

However, not all differences can be overlooked.

For new couples, incompatibility in sexual appetites, career choices, cultural beliefs, and economic backgrounds may make the relationship more interesting, but these truths can severely derail a relationship as two people get to know each other better. 

After spending years together, the prospect of spending your entire life with this one person becomes more imminent.

Are you really willing to wake up next to someone who doesn’t share your core values and your needs? 

5) Your connection remains superficial 

When you enter a new relationship, you purposely keep your interactions light and surface in order to maintain freshness and excitement.

But when relationships fail to evolve beyond meaningless conversations and movie-like attraction, even the great things aren’t enough to hold you together. 

Couples need to have deep conversations in order to get to know each other better. Those who explore each other’s hearts, souls, and fears are likely to spend the rest of their lives longer or at least last longer than couples who don’t. 

When you can’t seem to get past the surface, it might be a sign that you are either not ready to commit or that you subconsciously don’t see your partner as a long-time mate, which is why you haven’t committed yet. 

The ultimate question: Do we owe our partners something at the end?

We want the best for ourselves, and when we decide that the best thing we can do for ourselves is to leave our relationship, another voice might come up and say, “But what about your partner?” This leaves us with the question – what do we owe our partner when the relationship has reached its end?

This can be a difficult question to answer, simply because it varies on a case-by-case basis.

It depends on how you both feel about the relationship – are you and your partner on the same page when it comes to the relationship being over, or is your partner still attached to you in ways that you aren’t?

If your partner is resistant to the breakup, then they will try to guilt you into staying. If they’ve helped you financially, in your career, with your family, or if you have kids, they will use that to make you stay.

What’s important to remember is that when you decide to move on from the relationship, you are no longer obligated to your partner in the ways you once were, although that doesn’t mean you should act as if your partner has disappeared off the face of the earth.

On the subject of owing your partner something, Whittaker takes a similar approach:

How to consider them during a break-up? We never owe our partners anything when the relationship is over. However, it wouldn’t hurt to be civil about the break-up. It only adds more pain to the break-up if you involve other people and broadcast it. It will only add fuel to the fire if you don’t let it go.

Your priorities should be your happiness and your mental health, but as a mature adult, you should also factor in what you might still owe your partner, for all the time and dedication they gave you, as well.

It can be difficult to think so rationally about your relationship especially at the end, but if you can, it’s the best way to make sure you both get out with all your sanity intact.

Here is our “end of the relationship checklist” – the minimum obligations you should still give your partner.

Because even if you no longer love them today, there was still a time when you did love them, and basic human decency is the minimum of what anyone deserves.

The end of the relationship checklist:

1) You aren’t letting a single fight fuel your desire to end the relationship

2) Your reasons for leaving your partner are real rather than superficial

3) You understand that it’s impossible to be happy all the time in a relationship, and it’s not your partner’s responsibility to make you feel good 24/7

4) You’ve talked to your partner about your concerns. They have been given more than enough time and opportunity to understand exactly how you feel

5) You aren’t just leaving your partner because things are getting a little tough – financially, your career, your emotions

6) You’ve given them a fair amount of support and love when they were at their low points

7) You gave them the time and chances to express their own feelings and share their side of the story

8) You’ve gone over your plans to end the relationship with those closest to you, and they support your decision (and if they don’t support it, at least they understand)

9) You’ve taken the time to pause and look at your own actions and behavior, and you’ve asked yourself – “Am I the cause for the unhappiness and the problems in this relationship? Am I self-sabotaging this? And if so, why?”

10) You’ve made sure that you and your partner won’t be completely out on the street when you end the relationship

You want to end the relationship: Now what?

The first step to ending the relationship is knowing you want to call it quits. When you arrive at this decision, no matter how tentative, there’s no way you can look at your partner the same way. 

The fact that you’re considering it is a tell-tale sign things aren’t going well. At the end of the day, it’s only a matter of time before you eventually break up. 

Instead of letting time, resentment, and disappointment run your relationship to the ground, salvage what you can by taking matters into your own hands.

The end of the relationship doesn’t have to mean the end for you or your partner; by making a clear decision you are able to control the situation and decide how it ends. 

And there’s no doubt this will be a tough time, but to move on and keep your head up, Whittaker suggests:

Focusing on ourselves is the best way to recover after a relationship. We need to use the relationship to assess what we did wrong and how we can improve ourselves. Even though you may not be the only reason for the break-up, it’s always best to move forward and invest in yourself. Keep yourself busy. Meet new people. Learn new things. Life is beautiful, and you should explore it to heal.

Remember that ending the relationship is less about your partner now and more about you. But even then, you still have an obligation to end things amicably and ensure both of you get out of the relationship with your dignity intact. 

Only then will you both have the chance to heal and move forward with your lives.

Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the editor of Ideapod and founder of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you to want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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