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4 Clear Signs That a Relationship Needs to End

And the 9 biggest obstacles to actually moving on.

Key points

  • Problematic relationships suffer from trust and abuse issues, lack of connection, and incompatible life goals.
  • Ending a relationship is a personal and complex process.
  • It is important to be aware of the common struggles that lead partners to resist leaving poor relationships.

"I just can't do this craziness anymore with him!" These were the words of Julie, who came to see me while at her wit's end with her fiance, Steven. Julie further processed her negative feelings with me over a few more sessions. She elaborated about her relationship having high levels of painful criticism, toxic sarcasm, passive-aggressiveness, and damaging defensiveness. Julie understandably broke up with Steven and moved on.

4 Signs That It's Time to Leave a Relationship

  1. Consistent Lack of Trust. Trust is the bedrock of any meaningful relationship, serving as the vital foundation that fosters intimacy, emotional connection, and mutual understanding between individuals. Kelly's partner, Dominic, kept questioning "Who were you with?" when she would return from innocently running errands. Sadly, Dominic even created a fake social media profile to spy on Kelly and monitor her interactions. Despite her hopes and efforts to build trust, this constant invasion of Kelly's privacy eroded the foundation of their relationship.
  2. Unresolved and Destructive Conflict. Josh and Evelyn's disagreements escalated into destructive fights where hurtful words were exchanged. During one of their arguments, Josh grabbed Evelyn's wrists resulting in some bruising on Evelyn. Josh staunchly maintained that he grabbed Evelyn to stop her from hitting him. Despite attempts at conflict resolution, the toxic dynamics persisted, creating an unsafe and unhealthy environment and ending their relationship.
  3. Emotional Neglect and Disconnection. Julia consistently dismissed Kevin's emotional needs and disregarded her feelings. Her repeated line to Kevin was "You need to grow up and grow a pair." Kevin's attempts to communicate and seek emotional support were met with indifference, leaving him feeling isolated and unimportant in the relationship.
  4. Misalignment of Life Goals. Samantha and Lilly painfully realized that they had fundamentally different aspirations for the future. Samantha dreamed of settling down and starting a family, but Lilly was committed to a nomadic lifestyle with no desire for long-term commitments. Despite their love, these irreconcilable differences created a growing wedge between them and a consequent end to their relationship.

Reasons Why It May Be Hard to Go

Ending an unhealthy relationship can be difficult for several reasons, as individuals may experience a combination of emotional, psychological, and practical challenges.

  • Emotional Attachment. Over time, individuals in a relationship develop emotional bonds and attachments to their partners. Breaking these bonds can be emotionally painful, and the fear of losing that emotional connection can make it challenging to end the relationship.
  • Fear of Loneliness. Some people stay in unhealthy relationships because they fear being alone or feel they won't find someone else. Kevin, as mentioned above, lived in this fear of being alone. This was a significant barrier to him ending his relationship with Julia, even though her behavior was detrimental to his well-being.
  • Hope for Change. Many partners often hold onto the hope that the unhealthy aspects of the relationship will improve over time. They may believe that their partner will change or that the situation will get better, making it difficult to take the step to end the relationship.
  • Guilt and Shame. People may feel guilty about ending a relationship, especially if they have invested a significant amount of time and effort into it. They may also experience shame or fear judgment from others, which can contribute to hesitation.
  • Low Self-Esteem. In some cases, people may have low self-esteem and believe they don't deserve better. This mindset can make it difficult for them to prioritize their well-being and leave an unhealthy relationship. Evelyn, as mentioned above, worked with me in counseling and she raised her self-esteem. Her heightened self-esteem led to her lowered tolerance of Josh's abusive behaviors and her decision to end their relationship.
  • Financial or Logistical Dependence. Practical considerations, such as shared finances, living arrangements, or dependence on a partner for support, can make it challenging to end a relationship. These factors can create obstacles that need careful consideration and planning.
  • Manipulation and Control. In some unhealthy relationships, one partner may exert control or manipulate the other, creating a sense of dependency. This manipulation can make it difficult for the victim to recognize the toxicity and take steps to end the relationship.
  • Social pressure. External factors, such as societal expectations, family opinions, or cultural norms, can influence a partner's decision to end a relationship. The fear of disappointing others or facing social stigma may contribute to the difficulty of taking this step.
  • Fear of Conflict or Retaliation. Some may fear confrontations, conflicts, or retaliation from their partner if they attempt to end the relationship. This fear can be a significant barrier to deciding to leave.

Ending an unhealthy relationship is a complex and personal process. Seeking the guidance of friends, family, or a professional counselor can be beneficial in navigating these challenging situations. Communication and self-reflection are crucial in determining whether a relationship is salvageable or if it's time to move on for the well-being of both individuals involved.

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

© Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph.D. (All rights reserved)

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