Can You Save a Relationship at the Very End?

Last-ditch attempts to save a relationship at the very end often fail.

Posted Nov 25, 2020

Few things are as hard to cope with as the end of a romantic relationship, especially if that relationship has been a long-term one. When couples have shared a home together, made major decisions together over many years, or share children, the end of a relationship can be devastating.

When relationships end, they often end because both members of a couple have grown unhappy and want to terminate the physical and emotional union. But many other times, one person chooses to end the relationship while the other person would prefer to keep it going. This article is intended as a coping reference for those individuals who sense or know that their relationship is ending because the other person is choosing to end it.

To begin, part of what makes a psychological trauma actually traumatic is the lack of control. When your partner wants to end a consensual relationship, the experience is so emotionally painful because you don’t actually have control over the outcome. Because you don’t have control over another person's feelings, you can’t change the feelings your partner has.

What do you do when your partner wants to end the relationship but you don’t want it to end? In long-term relationships that end, they typically don’t end overnight; they end usually after a series of arguments, angry words spoken, and threats of leaving over a period of time. The important point is that simply asking the other person to stay or pleading to make it work will often fall on deaf ears because there have typically been enough exhausted efforts that changed nothing, so the leaving partner usually feels that they have already tried every possible way to make the relationship work.

If you have a partner in a long-term relationship who wants to end the relationship, and there has been a pattern of disconnection or conflicts for a significant period of time, the most crucial approach is for you to focus on yourself. You must transition into problem-solving mode and focus on anchoring yourself once again, which means not overly focusing or depending on a significant other. Because the other person leaving triggers a sense of panic, desperation, and a lack of control, you must focus on regaining your sense of control.

How can you regain your sense of control? Consider the major areas of your life, including your work life, social life, financial circumstances, and your health, and set goals for each. Practice good self-care by engaging in behaviors that will advance your life and make you feel functional, in control, and even proud of yourself.

Interestingly, it's sometimes the moment when a person regains their emotional strength and pride that causes the leaving partner to change their mind and come to see the positive changes that have been made. Of course, there is never a guarantee of a reunion, and a reunion can’t be the ultimate reason why you make these efforts to set goals and make self-improvements. The point of prioritizing your own self-care is that you can come to realize, with the prospect of the end of a long-term relationship, that you are going to be “stuck” with yourself regardless of whether you keep that romantic partner or lose them.

The most important two words to keep in mind as you navigate the potential end of a relationship are "coping skills." When you think about coping skills, consider your repertoire of two different types of coping skills: stimulating coping skills and relaxing or de-stimulating coping skills. In order to reach a sense of mind and body balance, an individual must have a good mix of both coping skills in their weekly routine.

In terms of stimulating coping activities, consider employing one or more of the following activities in your weekly menu of behaviors: swimming laps, running, kickboxing, sit-ups, push-ups, hiking, and cardio fitness classes (that are socially distanced and outdoors in the era of COVID-19). In terms of relaxing or de-stimulating coping activities, consider meditation, yoga, taking walks, journaling, painting, drawing, cooking (from a recipe), or making arts and crafts. These activities require your brain to focus, distracting you from "living in" your negative feelings.

The focus on coping skills and self-care is especially critical when anyone is coping with an event that is psychologically traumatic. The National Institute of Mental Health urges the following recommendations for coping with such a situation: avoid alcohol and drugs; spend time with loved ones who are supportive; and maintain normal routines for meals, exercise, and sleep (National Institute of Mental Health, 2020).

Ultimately, what will serve you best at the end of a relationship is focusing on yourself and your physical and mental well-being, and being disciplined and focused on the schedule you keep and prosocial, healthy activities that reinforce a sense of self-control. Engaging in such behavior reinforces a sense of pride and hopefulness that you now know what to do to feel good and safe in the life you have, whether that life is one as a single person or with a partner. Perhaps when you reconnect to positivity and self-care, the future of your relationship could benefit.


National Institute of Mental Health (2020). Coping with Traumatic Events. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from