How to know when it's time to leave your relationship
The first thing to recognise is these are two different questions. Deciding a relationship is over and deciding to leave a relationship are very different things: leaving doesn’t always follow the decision that the relationship is over. You may experience the sensation of knowing it is over but feel paralysed to act or too frightened or guilty to contemplate life alone.
There are many reasons people stay in unfulfilling relationships – for some it becomes a way of life they choose, either consciously or unconsciously. Or they feel trapped because of confused loyalties or the mistaken belief its best for the kids.
How do you know when a relationship is over?
Being able to tell if a relationship is over and has irretrievably broken down versus the situation where you’re just ‘going through a bad patch’ can be a difficult thing. Relationship breakdown is a process after all. However, it isn’t a linear one. It often involves a seesaw of feelings and emotions; attempts to leave and reconciliations. It can be tricky to know how you really feel or when you have passed the point of no return. Confusingly, it is quite normal for partners to disagree about when and if the point of no return has been passed.
The decision that a relationship is over and that you want to leave can feel especially complicated if there are children involved. Add financial considerations, fear and emotion into the mix and decisions become overwhelming. If you find yourself at this point, then here is a process for trying to work through what probably feels like a tangled mess of contradictory feelings. This is our guide for how to know when it’s over and when to leave a relationship.
How can I know for sure that my relationship is over and if I should leave?
A big decision like this requires a lot of thought. Set aside time (and headspace) with no distractions (yep, I’m afraid you can’t do this type of thinking effectively in front of the TV or wedged into someone’s breath space on the train!) to contemplate what you want from a relationship and whether the one you are in has any real prospect of delivering it.
Most people find this hard to do, so adding some simple structured questions can be useful. Try the two sets of questions below.
The first set of questions are prompts to help you start thinking about the specifics of the relationship. The second set are questions you can answer alone or invite your partner to consider too:
- Does your partner fulfil your current needs?
- Do you know what needs you want fulfilled?
- Do you think your partner can ever fulfil your needs?
- How does it feel if you imagine life without your partner?
- After you argue or row, do you and your partner sort things out and resolve issues?
- How long have the issues you are most concerned about been a feature of your relationship?
- Are any of these “danger” traits present in your relationship: constant criticism, contempt (e.g. name calling), defensiveness (not listening), stonewalling (ignoring each other/sulking)?
You might find it helpful to write answers down and then come back to them when you are in a different state of mind or mood. What changes? When? I know it’s obvious but be especially careful to keep these notes private.
Now work through these:
- List what makes you unhappy about the relationship – be specific
- List what you can change and what you want your partner to change to improve things – again be specific
- You can either discuss with your partner, or decide for yourself: Is change possible? Am I/are they motivated to change?
- Write a few sentences about what you conclude having completed steps 1-3
“I’ve tried these steps, and they haven’t worked, should I leave?”
If you’re still unsure about whether to stay or go, then speaking with a relationship counsellor can be very helpful. It’s usually best for you both to go along and start the process of exploration together as it rarely works starting the process alone and inviting your partner to join later.
If you do decide that your relationship is over, then our blog ‘In the Beginning – 5 tips for an amicable divorce’, talks you through how to break this news and set yourself on the right track for an amicable separation.
I want to end my relationship but he won’t leave, what should I do?
If you have initiated the formal ending of your relationship with your partner but they won’t leave we have a blog that can help guide you through this process.
My partner wants to breakup with me, how do I get them back?
The reality is if they think its all over it is now over and you need to accept this. Understand that you both have free will and that if one of you wants to leave the relationship, then nothing should stop you from doing so.
How do I accept that my relationship is ending?
It’s hard to know how to accept your relationship is ending. It’s important to allow yourself to grieve the end of the relationship and to get help with the process if you’re struggling. Therapy or counselling can help you accept the end of the relationship.
How do I get out of a toxic relationship?
Knowing how to get out of a relationship is a skill in itself, especially if the ties that bound you to your ex are still present. If you are in a toxic relationship and are seeking advice, we would recommend contacting Refuge, a domestic abuse charity for survivors of mental, emotional, or physical abuse.
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