How do you know when to leave a relationship? To tell the truth, in many cases, you don’t. Not immediately, anyway. Your relationship is something that you experience all day, every day, making it tough to spot subtle changes over time.
Even when you recognize the signs to leave a relationship, making the decision to end things can be hugely difficult. You’ve invested time and emotion into it, so letting go can feel like sacrificing everything you’ve worked to build.
It’s not always easy to know when to leave a relationship. While some indicators, such as abuse, mean it’s time to go, it can be tough to spot others. In some cases, you might need a helping hand to recognize the signs.
“Generally, you should consider leaving when you and your partner do not have enough compatibility in the relationship,” says Michelle Shivers, a licensed family and marriage therapist.
So, how do you know if you’re not compatible, and what are some signs you should leave a relationship? Some are obvious, huge, screaming red flags. Others are more subtle and difficult to see when they’re part of your daily life. Below are some signs that it might be time to part ways.
The first is a clear sign to leave a relationship. If you suffer physical abuse, emotional abuse, or verbal abuse at the hands of your partner, it’s vital to find a way out. Somebody who loves you should not cause you intentional harm.
Likewise, nobody deserves to be in a toxic relationship. Look out for the common signs and gaslighting phrases, for example. If you suffer from repeated abusive behavior, that’s a clear sign that you should leave.
Leaving is not as simple as packing up and going, and ending an abusive relationship can be rather dangerous for many — it’s also very dependent on the resources available and if children are involved. The key thing to think about is often after abuse is acknowledged we tell ourselves things will change or the abuser makes promises that they will. Behavior doesn’t change unless someone wants to and is actively working on it.
There are also many circumstances in which couples might naturally drift apart. People can change over time, and if, for whatever reason, you find you want different things in life, it might be worth having a conversation about the future.
“Love is an action, relationships take continual work and how close you feel to your partner will absolutely go up and down through your relationship. But if you lose that trust that you both want to keep working on feeling connected again that is when you truly want to examine what the future will hold,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and Paired’s In-House Relationship Expert.
Likewise, if you’re already planning an exit strategy and have forgotten what a loving relationship feels like, that might be a sign that things are over.
Studies show that effective communication is a key sign of future happiness. If you can’t communicate with your partner to deal with deeper issues, if you’re always arguing without any sign of resolution in sight, or if you’re simply bottling up resentment, it could be time to reconsider your future together.
“Bringing in communication issues into couples therapy might be the best move before you end it for good,” says Seeger DeGeare.
“Because if the love between you feels strong, and you have times when are still really enjoying being around each other it can be worth seeing if you can step out of the negative fighting cycle to really hear each other. And if not you walk away with more skills to bring into your next relationship.”
Another way to frame your relationship is to consider the why. Why do you want to be in the relationship? What are you both getting out of it?
In a healthy, loving relationship, partners thrive off each other. You should receive love, care, and happiness. If you’re not sure of the benefits of your partnership — or you feel obligated to stay in it — then it could be a sign to leave.
Next on our list is receiving red flags about your relationship from friends and family. Be careful with this one. While loved ones can be an excellent source of guidance, they are also human. They might be having a bad day or have problems of their own that influence their words.
However, if a best friend or close family member shows genuine concern about your welfare, take notice. Not all their relationship advice will be worth following, but these are the people that know you best and they might see something you can’t.
“It’s vital to remember you are co-creating a relationship that meets the needs of all involved,” says Seeger DeGeare.
“If you have taken the time to clearly express your needs to each other it is worth examining if you want to adjust to make it fulfilling for you both.”
So have you found yourself spending more time without your significant other? Or maybe you’ve noticed that your partner is going elsewhere for certain needs?
While your partner can’t (and shouldn’t) be your everything, they should be able to meet your most basic needs — whether it’s sex, connection, or reassurance.
Remember that cheating can be emotional as well as physical, and may signal that it’s time to go.
Likewise, a lack of physical and emotional intimacy can mean that the relationship is at a low point. This doesn’t mean you should leave straight away — it’s normal for intimacy to ebb and flow in a long-term relationship — but if you’re simply not feeling any kind of intimacy, or are no longer attracted to your partner, pay attention.
Emotional intimacy is especially crucial here. If you can’t talk honestly and openly, how can you resolve conflict, make up, and move on?
The last of our signs to leave a relationship is another important one: valuing, and being valued by, your partner. It’s an essential ingredient in any relationship. Each partner should feel safe taking what they need while meeting their partner’s needs.
But, if you find that you don’t receive respect or don’t feel valued, it might be time to first talk about what respect looks like to you and if you truly don’t share similar values it can be worth thinking about if you want to grow old with this person still.
If you’ve spotted the signs and have decided to leave your relationship, when should you do it? In all honesty, knowing when it’s time to leave is tricky. Breaking up can be messy. You might want to take a break in your relationship and evaluate what you both want. Or you might decide to cut all ties.
Whatever the decision, you want to get it done with the minimum hurt possible. This will allow you both to make a clean start in your future lives. If your relationship is no longer working for you, then consider leaving — for both partners’ well-being, self-esteem, and future prospects.