Should I Break Up With My Boyfriend/Girlfriend? 10 Signs It May Be Time to Call It Quits
If you're googling this, it's probably too late: Emphasis on probably. Love is complicated, people are complicated and no stranger of the internet can definitively say what works and what doesn't for a partnership in which they themselves are not involved.
That said, when we look back at our relationship history, most of us can probably spot some things that — seen in the perfect, 20/20 vision of hindsight — look like bright, billowing red flags. And whether or not we're aware of relationship problems as they're happening, for innumerable complicated reasons, breaking up is hard to do: When people love another, when they want a relationship to work, accepting that it just can't is a prickly idea around which to wrap the mind. There's a reason why the title question is one of the most frequently searched on the internet.
"When you're in a state of complete confusion, feeling dizzy with confusion, you have to listen to that," Andrea Syrtash, a relationship expert and author of He's Just Not Your Type, told Mic. "Relationships are work, but the work isn't tying to figure out if you should be with someone."
To make that work a little easier, we've compiled a list of 10 common harbingers of a relationship's demise. The most important factor to consider in weighing a relationship's staying power is, of course, yourself — so said each of the experts with whom Mic spoke. Pay attention to what your instincts are telling you and what your behavior says. Nothing is more telling than that.
1. There's abuse of any kind
When it comes to deal breakers, "verbal and physical abuse are number one," Lisa Brateman, psychotherapist in New York City, told Mic. "Verbal abuse comes in a lot of different forms," she said, including (but not limited to) humiliation and emotional manipulation, neither of which are part of a healthy relationship.
To that list, Syrtash added guilt and a sense of obligation: "The important thing is that you listen to your instincts," she said. "Don't stay wth someone out of guilt or pressure ... that will always lead to resentment and disconnection."
Abuse of any kind — physical, mental, emotional, substance, whatever — is reason number one to sever ties. If your significant other is hurting you, or if you are hurting your significant other, it's time to split.
2. Sexual feelings are polarized
Wanting to have sex with your partner 24/7 is a good thing, right? Sure, when it's not the only thing you want to do together. Whether sex becomes the last tie binding a couple together, or whether one partner's libido suddenly drops to zero, a change in bedroom behavior can herald the end of a relationship.
"Sex is really important," Dr. Rachel Sussman, a licensed therapist and relationship expert, told Mic, but "it shouldn't be the most important, and it certainly shouldn't be something you avoid having. Sex is a good barometer for how the relationship is going," she explained. In early days, it's natural to want one another all the time. But as the relationship ages and life gets in the way, it's just as natural for desire to taper off.
"Either side of the spectrum isn't good," Sussman said. But, she added, "sexual issues are worth working through." It depends on what's normal for the couple and what's at the bottom of a dip in desire. In any case, an abrupt change in sex drive is a sign worth paying attention to.
3. One of you does not prioritize the other
We all have our own lives. Everyone is busy, sometimes too busy to give others the time and attention they want or deserve. When it comes to relationships, though, one person's failure to make the other a priority can lead to a well of resentment. A question to consider, Brateman said, is whether or not one party is always left to do the emotional heavy lifting.
What's important, she told Mic, is "understanding power struggles and their conflicts. 'I want this, you want this, neither of us are willing to move our positions. We, as a couple, are going to learn how we both can get our own needs met and respect one another.'" Solving this particular problem is, then, a matter of conversation: Both partners talking about what they want and acknowledging the equal importance of one another's time.
"If you feel like 'my boyfriend never has time for me' but you've never said that to him and you leave, that's a little unfair," Syrtash said. Having the talk is critical: A person can't change their behavior without knowing what they're doing wrong.
"If you feel like a broken record and you complain about it every day and he's still not making changes," she continued, "it's time to take a step back."
4. The jealousy is constant
Let's say that the S.O.'s ex is always hanging around. Not ideal, but so long as the feelings are gone — so long as things are truly over between them — it shouldn't torpedo the relationship. If the trust has evaporated, though, and one party is (or both parties are) jealous of the other, a couple can land on shaky ground.
"Jealousy is a big issue and we see this coming up in a lot of relationships," Sussman said. "If you're dating someone who's really jealous and it's unreasonable, thats a huge red flag. You want to cut and run."
"Jealousy is about insecurity," she continued. And while most people are insecure, to a degree, there's a point at which insecurity becomes toxic. For example, when someone "searches for constant proof that you're loyal, when the other person seems to need constant proof," as Brateman explained, that belies a deeper mistrust. This is especially disconcerting if both parties have been faithful, but even if one has cheated, the inability to reestablish trust points to a relationship's demise.
"Infidelity doesn't have to be a deal breaker, but often it is," Brateman told Mic. "Lying, constant mistrust — if your gut feelings are always questioning what's going on ... sometimes your gut is telling you what's really going on." It's important, if admittedly near impossible at times, to separate those gut feelings from suspicion.
The bottom line is this: If the question is trust-based, as Syrtash said, it "boils down to instinct ... don't trust the rules, trust yourself." And trust your significant other. If you can't that's your answer.
5. The adorable quirks have become excruciating annoyances
"My friend's mother once told me, 'If you don't like the way he's eating his cereal, he's not for you,'" Syrtash told Mic. "If every little thing is driving you crazy," she said, that's a good indicator that a reevaluation is in order.
When the small ticks that made the person attractive during the honeymoon phase become unspeakably irritating, when that snort laugh that you used to find to be just so cute now sets your teeth to grinding; pay attention to that sentiment.
"There are all these litmus tests," Syrtash explained. "For instance, your phone rings and you see his or her name, you're excited or annoyed — how do you feel? Most of the questions people should ask themselves are how they're feeling." Once again, listening to your gut is key. If you find your significant other intolerably annoying, you probably shouldn't keep dating them.
6. When the relationship stops making you feel good
This statement seems so obvious, it shouldn't bear mentioning. And yet many people continue dating people who make them unhappy, long after their misery first surfaces. Whether because one person is perpetually putting down the other, because they've realized love isn't enough to float the partnership or because the couple doesn't bring out the best in either person, when the vibe sinks and can't be restored, there's something wrong.
"I think it becomes quite simple," Sytrash said of the hard emotional realities. "It really comes down to a feeling and not a thought. Feeling distracted, resentful, uninterested, bored, uninspired or bad ... you have to listen to that."
A relationship that results in one partner's depression or continual, unshakeable bad mood is an unhealthy one, Brateman told Mic. "When you don't feel good about yourself in [a] relationship, chronically over time ... when the other person makes you feel less-than," she said, it's often a sign that it's time to say goodbye.
7. You want irreconcilably different things
On their face, relationships between twenty-somethings may seem safer than, say, those between thirty-, forty- or fifty-somethings. Marriage isn't necessarily on the table for either party. Millennials, often characterized as selfish, may be concerned more with their own interests than with one another's. But at an age when partners may heap importance on, for example, their respective, likely fledgling careers, divergent visions of the future can pull couples apart.
"If you're dating in your twenties," Sussman said, "career's important: How established are you in your career or your partner in their career? If you're dating someone who's being transferred or open to being transferred, you have to think about, 'How important am I versus this relationship?'"
When it comes to the things we really want long term — children and marriage, even if not now or necessarily with the current S.O.; a career; a specific city; a specific lifestyle — it's crucial to be on the same page as our partners. And while talking about those things can place a lot of pressure on a relationship, it's important that both parties have the same expectations.
And on that note, dating apps can prove problematic. According to Brateman, when so much of our romantic culture revolves around platforms like Tinder, expectations can easily end up imbalanced. She described a familiar situation: It's been a few months, the relationship has yet to be defined and one person is growing anxious.
"You can't ask for a commitment too soon because you don't want to sabotage what could be something worthwhile," she said. "You both have to come to it within a similar time frame. Internal insecurity or pressure to do this [define the relationship] sabotages what can happen" organically, down the line. But successful couples are attentive one another's needs, which means talking about them in the first place.
8. You keep having the same old argument
Anyone who's ever been in a serious relationship knows that some fights are cyclical. There's always that one subject that neither party can resist picking at — which, Syrtash said, is totally normal. "Generally, couples — no matter their age — recycle arguments," she told Mic.
It could be something as small as one person never taking out the trash, or it could be something as big as one party's inability to trust the other. Scale matters, tone matters. If "it's just become kind of toxic," Sussman told Mic, "you can't even have a discussion without it turning into an argument, that's definitely a red flag."
If someone tells their partner that a particular comment or behavior hurts them, and their partner persists — keeps hammering on the same old shortcoming, won't drop that single mistake of a year ago, can't forget or forgive past indiscretions — there may be a deeper crack in the foundation. Talking about it is worthwhile.
"Look at the situation and ask, 'Have I voiced my needs clearly?' Collect information from yourself. Communicate," Syrtash said. If you already have, she continued, and nothing has changed, it could be time to cut the cord.
9. One of you can't keep the eyes from wandering
No one has cheated — yet. But one or both partners are noticing other people, maybe striking up a flirtation. Even if nothing physical has happened, when we pull away from our partners and start considering our options; when our eyes start to wander, Sussman told Mic, it's "always a red flag."
It's also (arguably) human nature, especially among people who have been together for a long time. So when we find ourselves looking elsewhere for romantic fulfillment, we should take a step back and evaluate where that impulse is coming from. And when it seems like the other party is drifting, there are a few things to watch for.
"If you're looking for signs that maybe your partner is losing interest," Sussman said, it's helpful to ask the following questions: "Were you having sex a lot and suddenly you're not having it at all? Is she or he working later or hanging out with friends more? Is he or she more impatient with you or you're more impatient with he or she?" she continued. If the dynamic is changing for the worse, it's a good idea to reassess.
10. You can't be yourself around them
"Losing your sense of self and your identity to maintain the relationship," Brateman said, is a clear indicator of problems ahead. She described a scenario in which someone who hates sports meets someone who loves them. If person A invests themselves entirely in something they loathe, just to please their partner, there's something wrong with the relationship from the start. In Brateman's words, "you lose who you are to be the person you think they want you to be," and often before they had a chance to get to know you.
If one partner feels obligated to be a different sort of person because their partner is overbearing and intolerant, that's a problem, too. "If you're with somebody who thinks whatever they think is the law of the land and there's no ability to negotiate, no opening for another point of view, that will only increase with time," Brateman said. It's best to bail sooner, rather than later.
At the bottom of all of this is the idea that you have to listen to yourself and your intuition. If you find yourself regularly wondering whether or not you should break up with your significant other, take note: That question means something. "I joke about this but I'm also serious," Syrtash said. "If you're conducting market research to figure out if you should date [someone], that's a sign." Take stock of your instincts and go from there.