Should We Break Up or Stay Together?

Can this Relationship be Saved? Should We Breakup or Stay Together?

Are you asking yourself “should we breakup of stay together?” As a couples counselor and discernment counselor, I have clients who also ask this question.

“Do we break up or stay together?”

If you’ve been going through some hard times in your relationship, you’ve probably wondered this recently.

In fact, you might even have moved on to bigger questions. Questions like, should you break up or stay together? Is it worth it? How can you tell? Which signs indicate that a relationship is meant to last, and which means that it’s time to call it quits?

Let’s clear a few of those questions up today.

All Relationships Go Through Hard Times

I’ve been a breakup and divorce counselor for years, a discernment counselor for over a decade, the author of Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to an Ex Love, and a married person for even longer than that. And I can say, with confidence, that all relationships go through hard times. Any couple (and a lot do) could find themselves at the cross street of moving forward or parting ways – many wonder should we breakup or stay together. So, if you are finding yourself in this moment now, know that you’re not alone.

Even strong, healthy couples — with a lifetime of love ahead of them — can have weeks, months, or even years where they do not feel good about their partnership. It’s true! Even THAT couple has wondered whether they should breakup or stay together.

Communication is hard, and even the most committed partners will experience some growing pains as they truly get to know each other. Unfortunately, sometimes people think that this natural stage is a sign that they aren’t compatible, and they call things off before their relationship has a chance to evolve.

This is normal. But couples who don’t break up, who commit to solving their problems and growing together, can emerge from hard times having grown as people, with stronger relationships than ever before. I’ve seen it happen, and it’s happened in my own marriage. Not getting along for a spell does not necessarily mean you should break up. 

So for the rest of this article, let’s break down which signs indicate a potential growth opportunity for your relationship, and which mean that you and your partner are truly incompatible.

How Do You Know It’s Time to Break Up?

Here are ten questions to ask yourself as you decide whether to work on your relationship, or end it:

  1. Does my partner fundamentally prioritize my wellbeing?
  2. Am I being treated with love and respect?
  3. Have I communicated my feelings and needs openly with my partner?
  4. How does my partner respond when I ask for what I need?
  5. Do we share long-term goals and values?
  6. Am I holding on to this relationship out of love, fear, obligation, or convenience?
  7. Are the issues we’re facing things that are unique to this relationship? Or things I’m likely to experience in my next relationship?
  8. What have I done to resolve the issues in this relationship?
  9. Is my partner committed to working toward positive change in our relationship? Am I?

How to Tell: Should We Breakup or Stay Together?

All relationships go through rough patches. And while many rough patches are actually an opportunity for growth, there are situations where a relationship is too far gone to be salvaged. Can you solve your relationship problems without breaking up? There are partnerships where partners are fundamentally incompatible. And there are toxic, unhealthy relationships that aren’t good for anyone. Sometimes, breaking up is the best thing for both of you.

But it can be hard to decipher which rough patches are “normal” relationship turbulence, and which are red flags that mean you should break up. Things get even more complicated when you add factors like children or shared living situations into the mix.

Even when it seems like breaking up is clearly the only option, people still wonder if they’re doing the right thing, or if they should give their relationship just one more chance.

Because deciding “should we breakup or stay together” is such a hard decision, we dedicated an entire podcast to answering all of your questions about when to stay and when to call it quits. In the podcast, we answer questions like:

  1. “How long should it take to see improvement in my relationship?”
  2. “In my heart, I don’t want to be married to this person anymore. Will our love ever come back? Can this marriage be saved?”
  3. “Is what I’m seeing solvable, or is this a sign that we should break up?”
  4. “Once a cheater, always a cheater? Can you have a good relationship after infidelity?”
  5. “I’m not being treated well by my boyfriend. Can this change?”
  6. “How do I know if I’ve tried hard enough to save my relationship?”
  7. “Should I follow my head, or my heart?

So if you’ve been going through a hard time in your relationship, and you’re questioning whether to breakup or stay together, go forward with your partner or look elsewhere, I hope that this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast can help you decide if it’s time to break up, or if your relationship can be saved after all.


Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. — Couples counseling is not just for married people. Working with a marriage and family therapist is how couples find their opportunities for growth and strengthen their relationships so that they can stand the test of time. If you’d like support from a couples counselor on my team, I invite you to schedule a free consultation.

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Should We Break Up or Stay Together?

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you’re listening to the Love, Happiness, and Success podcast. 

[Intro song: Velvet Underground with Lou Reed – Pale Blue Eyes]

That’s the Velvet Underground and the late great Lou Reed what their classic song, “Pale Blue Eyes”, which is a beautiful love song about an extremely complicated relationship. I thought it was the perfect song to bookend our show today because we’ve been getting a lot of questions, I have been getting a lot of questions from listeners and from readers of our blog at, tackling this big question around, “How do I know if this relationship that I’m in can be saved? Can we get it back together? Can we love each other again? Or how do you know if it’s time to let go?” 

That’s where we’re going today on the Love, Happiness, and Success podcast. If this is your first time listening, welcome, I’m so glad you’re here. I’m Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and the Love, Happiness and Success podcast is all about you and your questions, and what’s going on in your life. So you know a little bit about me. I’m the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. We specialize in marriage counseling, couples’ counseling, dating coaching, hence the “love”. We also do a lot of therapy, life coaching, a lot of breakup recovery coaching lately, hence the “happiness”. In addition to that, we do career coaching, executive coaching, and all-around, like, “Who do I want to be when I grow up, and what is my life all about?” kind of coaching, hence the “success”. So that’s what we do. 

The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast is a spin-off of that. It’s my labor of love, it’s me just offering the world free, hopefully, helpful advice to meet you wherever you are, in your time of need. Because one thing I learned a long, long time ago is that it’s a very small percentage of people who have the wherewithal or sometimes even their resources to get involved in personal counseling and coaching. This podcast is, hopefully, filling the gap and just meeting you where you are, and giving you some expert-ish advice to help you along your way. So that’s what this is all about. 

As I mentioned in my little intro, we’ve been getting a lot of listener questions about this particular topic, “Should I stay or go? How do I know what’s happening in my relationship?” That’s what we’re going to talk about today. But if you have questions about anything under the love, happiness, or success umbrella that you would like to hear on an upcoming episode of the podcast, I hope you get in touch with me, because it’s really very important to me that we’re always talking about the things that are important to you. The best ways to do that are through our website, You can send a direct email. There is a vibrant community on our blog. So you can hop on, leave a comment, leave a question. 

There is a search bar on our site, you can kind of just type in whatever you’re interested in, be it mindfulness, or breakup, recovery, or career coaching, or whatever, and you will just be hit in the face with an avalanche of all kinds of articles and other podcasts related to your desired topic. So you can read more of those. Also, you can get in touch with me through Facebook, if you like, that is, that’s another good way to get involved in the conversation. So I do hope that you get in touch. While you’re on the website, don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast if you like it. If you want to get really fancy and super nice. You can even rate the podcast and leave a review because this podcast is totally free. We don’t do advertising for the podcast. We do not accept any advertising on the podcast. This is not any kind of a mercenary endeavor at all. The only way that people find out about it is through recommendations. If you have a friend or a loved one that you think could benefit from listening to the show, please forward on anything. Also, if you would subscribe and leave a review, it would help other people find this show in their own time of need. So thank you on their behalf, from me. 

So let’s dive into our topic today. We are going to be talking about how to tell if a relationship is salvageable, if there is hope for a relationship, and if so, what does the path forward look like. It’s hard to wrestle with, but there are some relationships where it is not ever going to be what really probably either of you want it to be, and it probably is for the highest and the best that it end. It can be so hard to know what that line is. So I’ve been getting, again, a ton of questions, and I want to answer some specific listener questions because I know we have a couple of people eagerly waiting for me to be talking about their particulars. 

But let me just start by talking a little bit about the difference between a normal and challenging relationship, normal being the same thing as challenging, which can feel scary sometimes. There are good, healthy, happy relationships that are going to endure for a lifetime. People hit rough patches, and it does not feel good, and it is harrowing. It’s normal to have doubts about a relationship sometimes. So that’s one side of the spectrum. 

The other side is difficult because the other side is often somebody saying, “There are a lot of things that I love about this person, there are a lot of things that I love about our life together, there are a lot of reasons for me to not end this relationship, and I feel like I might have to anyway, for these reasons.” It’s really hard. 

Sometimes things are more clear-cut in a relationship. Sometimes, it is so egregiously bad that it’s pretty obvious what you need to do, and we’ll talk about some of those situations too. On the same note, sometimes there are things going on that are really egregiously awful, and people have been in that relationship so long or they can be so attached to the idea of what the relationship could be like that it’s difficult, even when really bad things are happening for them to let go and move on. We’ll talk about some of those too. 

So to organize ourselves for just a second, first, we’re going to be talking about what normal but scary looks like, again, because a lot of people who are having those rough patches can wonder “Should we break up?” when actually they’re having a totally normal relationship. Then we’re going to be talking about what relationships that are actually failing tend to look like and then also those pretty clear-cut situations, just in case you needed a little nudge. Also, I wanted to let you know, I did a podcast a while ago called How Healthy is Your Relationship, which dives deeply into some of these things too. 

Also, to kind of piggyback with this, I created a free assessment that you can take any time you want to. It’s available either on our website, you can go to, the URL is You can just take this assessment, it’s fairly short, it’s like a very short version of one of the free assessments that we often use in our couples counseling practice. That’s like 200 and some questions. That’s just a way that our couples counselors sometimes just get a very quick assessment of, “Okay, what are this couple’s strengths? What are their growth areas to help guide the work in couples counseling?”

But again, this one that I’m offering you is just a very short version of that. You can take it and just do a quick assessment of what’s our relationship strengths, where are our growth opportunities, because again, I think sometimes if you are having a sort of normal but scary moment in your relationship, it can be extremely comforting to see all the strengths that your relationship has, and also it can be a very, very useful tool for you and your partner to take together just so that, it’s a non-confrontational way of addressing things is to go over the results of the quiz together. It gives you a green, yellow, red kind of hierarchy, like, okay, so green, this is a strength for you; yellow, this is something you guys should probably work on, and here are some tips; and red, this is actually a danger sign for your relationship. 

If you want to get, again, specifics on the things that I’m talking about, and how your relationship is doing in these areas, I would invite you to take that quiz. So, oh, and also, we actually set this up so you can text to get it too. You can send a text to 345345, that’s the number, and then just text R-E-L quiz, RELquiz to 345345, RELquiz, and you will also be able to email to get the quiz too. So those are two ways to access that. So anyway, just another free tool for you to kind of go along with what we’re talking about today. So here we go. 

To tackle these things, one at a time, let’s first of all talk about what normally difficult relationships can look like. First of all, and I know I’ve said this on the podcast before, but I’m going to say it again because I think it’s so important. This is me as a marriage counselor, but this is also me as somebody who has been married now for 20 plus years, and, we’ve gone through ups and downs, so take this, I hope, from me as a marriage counselor, but also as a friend, is that every relationship is a mixed bag. 

I think we can have ideas in our minds about what relationships should be like. Especially coming from the media, coming from movies, coming from what we think we see other people’s relationships being, like through, certainly social media can change the color of the relationships that we see, put everything in kind of a rosy glow, because we’re getting the edited version, we can think that relationships should be all that and a bag of chips. It’s very interesting because what we also know is that, in many ways, having overly high expectations for a relationship can in turn, damage the relationship, which is kind of paradoxical, but I’ll put some links to some of the research studies that have come out around that lately. 

But what I’m trying to say is that we can have expectations that our partner should be our very best friend that we talk about with anything, and they always respond to us perfectly, and they are, exactly who we want them to be in terms of their level of fitness and the kind of job they do, and they’re always perfectly reliable and responsible, and oh, they’re a lot of fun. They’re also a great sex partner, and oh, they’re also a perfect parent, and sometimes even co-worker if you’re doing a business. That’s an awful lot of expectation to have on one person. 

But there are these ideas that our spouse sometimes should be all of that, and should always know what to say, and always make us feel good and always be emotionally supportive, and exactly the way that we want them to be emotionally supportive. When they’re not, people can worry that, oh, is there something wrong with my relationship, or they can get mad at their partner and say you’re not being the partner that you should be, I don’t know if this relationship is the relationship for me, they can doubt the relationship even and maybe think that there’s something else better out there. One thing I would like to caution you against if you’re listening to this podcast in hopes of evaluating your relationship and what to do is maybe just backing off of that a little bit. I think that in the best relationships if we have a partner that’s like 75 to 80% of what we want, most of the time, that’s pretty good. 

If you have that, and there are some other things that maybe aren’t perfect, you have one of two choices: you can either talk with your partner about what that is and this might be a good time to get involved in some relationship coaching or even couples counseling. I’ll tell you this is not an infomercial for couples counseling, okay? Many times couples, especially with strong relationships, you can sit down and have a heart-to-heart. A tip is to not do it in the heat of an argument, but at a quiet moment, after the kids are in bed, you’ve had a nice day, whatever. “Hey, you know, can I talk with you about something,” sit him down and say, “I love you so much. This is something that would make my experience of this relationship even better, what do you think?”, and really, in a non-threatening, collaborative way, talk about what it is with your partner, that would help you feel more loved by them. 

Because sometimes, even in wonderful relationships, people can accidentally hurt each other’s feelings, or surprise or confuse each other if they don’t always know how to respond. People have different love languages, there are situations where someone in a relationship is doing what they think is showing you love, they’re maybe taking out the trash, they’re scraping the ice off the windshield of your car in the morning, they’re showing love in their way, and you are dying for somebody to say, “Hi, how was your day?” and to sit there and look in your eyes while you talk all about it.

If your partner doesn’t really know how to show you love in the way that you would like to experience it, that is not a sign of catastrophe, it is not a bad thing, it means that it’s a growth opportunity for your relationship and something to talk about. There are a lot of things in good relationships that need to be talked about, and it could be your sex life, it could be the way that you communicate with each other, it can be who does what around the house kinds of things. All of those things are solvable problems; and not just solvable problems, but normal and expected things for all couples at some point or another to need to have conversations about. Because you came from different families, you might have had different expectations around roles and responsibilities and what communication should look like, and everything that we all pick up in our family of origin, and it’s not just a perfect fit when you enter a relationship with another person. They didn’t grow up in your family, you did. 

Also, you might want to reevaluate some things in your family that you might expect from your partner. Maybe they’re not necessarily realistic or helpful as you guys move forward, creating your own healthy relationship. But all of these are normal friction points that happen in healthy relationships. Just because they’re happening does not mean that it is a cause for concern. Now, I will also tell you that there’s kind of an escalation of problems in a relationship. If we were to create a little imaginary scale between 1 and 10, and 1 is fine, normal, yes it’s not perfect every day, but you guys can talk through it, and a 10 is like, I don’t want to do this with you anymore, like, brink of divorce kind of situation. What tends to happen is that over time, if problems aren’t resolved effectively, if people can’t talk about how to make changes, positive changes in their relationship and do that productively, some emotional dynamics can begin to occur. 

I’ve talked generally about this on the podcast before, but one of the big things that we see as relationships sort of descends into a more unhealthy kind of state is that when people feel unheard, they crank up the volume. When they have been trying to get their needs met, and it feels like their partner is unresponsive to them, it’s upsetting, it’s hurtful, they start to feel hurt, and then they might begin to behave in an angry way. “You never listen to me. Why can’t you just XYZ.” What ends up happening on the other side of that equation to the partner, is that instead of hearing a, “It would make me really happy if you could XYZ,” it sort of turns into this “You’re not good enough. Why can’t you ever—” it sort of feels like being around an angry person. 

This doesn’t have a beginning or an end. This isn’t anybody’s fault, because we could certainly say, “Well, why didn’t; the other person isn’t responding in the first place and the other person wouldn’t have gotten upset.” But what can happen is that it sets up this pursue withdrawal dynamic, basically where the person in the other position begins to feel kind of inhibited in the relationship, begins to feel like their partner’s always mad at them, and can kind of withdraw emotionally, be less likely to do things that make the other person happy, which then, in turn, increases the upset and resentment of the other person. 

A lot of times when people come into couples counseling, this is the state in which we find them. It’s just a matter of degree, but usually when one person is feeling upset, or both people are feeling upset, but kind of for different reasons, they’re usually in these different positions in the relationship. When couples attend to this dynamic soon, and it might surprise you to hear this, but couples who tend to be the strongest couples, the most committed couples, they are the ones to take action on behalf of their relationships sooner rather than later: they will invest in their relationship, they will go talk to somebody, they’ll go to a couples retreat through their church, they will buy a relationship book and read it together. These are the couples that can correct very quickly. That surprises some people because I think some people have this idea that, if we are “working on our relationship, it means that something is bad and wrong, it means that we’re failing, and I don’t want to fail. So I’m not going to work on my relationship,” which is kind of this weird, twisted logic, but you would be amazed at how many people really feel this way. What happens in that case, is that people tend to avoid looking for productive solutions to correct this dynamic, and keep doing what they have been doing. 

What happens over time is that this dynamic tends to not just increase in intensity, but worsen over time. So the angry person tends to get more angry and the withdrawing person becomes more withdrawn and more dismissive. If you would like some advice on just how to start communicating again, under those circumstances, I did a podcast a while ago, specifically on How to connect with somebody who’s shutting down and also on the other side, How to communicate with a partner who is seeming angry all the time. I would encourage you to check out those. 

But what we know from research, Dr. John Gottman of the Gottman Institute in Seattle, amazing, he has been doing research into couples and families for years and years. He has all kinds of books out too, I highly recommend his books. He has identified that when couples start to really go off the rails, a few things begin happening and he called that, he observed that they were so serious, that he actually called these “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, because that is how serious they can be for a relationship. 

It is contempt and criticism. So contempt, summarized by somebody rolling their eyes like I can’t even believe you that his contempt. Criticism is, “Why can’t you ever blah blah blah, you never, you always—” on the one side. Then what he called stonewalling or defensiveness on the other side. So stonewalling, essentially meaning, refusing to engage about problems, refusing to have a conversation, shutting people down being like, okay, yes, we’ll talk about it later, whatever. Or also getting very defensive: “No, that’s not what happened. No, you’re just making that up, that is not what happened. Let me tell you what happened and no, that is not right. And let me correct you.” That kind of defensive quality really makes communication so, so difficult. 

As relationships unwind, and this does not happen overnight, this is not one fight. This happens over a period of not even weeks, but months and years is the progression. It’s almost like a cancer that just sweeps through a relationship. It’s so bad. But it becomes more hostile, more defensive, more dismissive, more angry, and that can be very, very challenging to correct. I think that it is almost impossible to correct that kind of slide without some sort of outside intervention because people are so darn primed to be mad at each other or to be dismissive of each other. It also does not mean that just because you’re experiencing that, that you can’t get back out of it. 

Maybe you thought I was about to tell you this is a sign that a relationship should end. It is actually not. This is what happens when two people still love and care about each other, they still want to connect, but they’re hurting each other’s feelings and they can’t connect. Just to share a personal story, I’ve talked a little bit about this before, but my husband and I got married in, oh my God, so long ago, 1996, I am that old, and we moved to Denver. We didn’t know anybody. We just moved. It was an isolating time, I think we were both going through a lot, my husband was trying to figure out what he was doing with his career and kind of struggling with some stuff. I just graduated from college and was kind of moorless and I think that we were both disappointing each other on the reg. It became really hard to talk to each other, and we descended into this kind of dynamic. I felt like he was always mad at me, and he felt like I would never talk to him. It was not pretty. 

Thankfully, we connected with a wonderful marriage counselor who really just kind of slowed us down and helped us, looking back, I think what really healed us and I think what is the truth with any relationship that kind of comes back from the brink is that she helped us have empathy for each other again, and certainly also be able to hear each other again, without getting defensive or without shutting down or exploding and all that which was super helpful. Really, just finding each other’s noble intentions, because I think that our intentions were both good, and we both wanted the same thing, to love and be loved, right? Like who doesn’t? But that was obscured in our dynamic. We didn’t even meet with her that long, I think it was only like six or eight sessions. But that was enough to get us back on a good path. That was years before I went to school for couples counseling, but it was so helpful.

I just say that because even if you feel like your partner is constantly defensive or shutting you down, or if your partner is mad at you all the time and contemptful of you, it does not necessarily mean that it’s time to go. It means that it’s time to see if it can be fixed, to sit down with somebody competent, like my husband and I did, and have those conversations and see if movement is possible. More often than not, when people are committed to each other, and when people still have enough love and respect there and like a desire to be in the relationship. If you are meeting with somebody who knows how to help you, don’t even get me started about all of the therapists who offer couples counseling who do not have training and experience in couples therapy, because I will get on my soapbox and bore you all to tears with my ranting. But anyway, that can be fixed.

Now, it is also true that, as I said, many people wait too long to do that. So I think, let me think, my husband and I moved to Denver, it was in the fall of ‘96. It was probably spring of ‘97 by the time we got in front of a couples’ counselor. Even though it was hard, and we were certainly mad at each other, and I was very upset with him and vice versa, we still loved each other. We hadn’t been married that long. I think that’s one of the reasons that it only took six or eight sessions to get us back into each other’s good graces: because our relationship, the foundation of our relationship, had not eroded to the point of no return. 

What does happen is that when this goes on for long enough people begin to tell themselves stories, create new narratives that explain the experiences that they’re having with the other person. So for example, my wife is always angry at me, nothing that I do is ever good enough for her. She is a perfectionist, she has unreasonable expectations. She’s always mad about something, and actually, she’s really judgmental, and I don’t think she’s a very good person. Just this whole narrative that really colors how people view each other. 

What’s really interesting is that when relationships deteriorate enough, it actually changes the way that people tell their origin story, like how they met in their relationship. So for example, the guy who’s claiming, right, my wife is so judgmental, and she has all these expectations, and she’s always mad, and she wants things that are just ridiculous. If you caught him three or four years before, he might have told the origin story of how they met at a wedding, and she was so fun and bubbly, they just hit it off. But if you ask him that, as the relationship is really deteriorating, and his upsetness has gone on too long, he might tell you, “Yeah I remember her, but she was kind of giving the side-eye to this other bridesmaid. And I remember—” even the way that they met, that story will be told in an unfavorable light, because again, it’s just like this yucky cancer, this virus that just impacts every level of the relationship. 

It’s when these stories begin happening that people start talking themselves out of any hope that the relationship can be saved. It becomes these global attributes of who the other person is as a person, and that they are irredeemable, and this relationship is not salvageable, and it doesn’t matter what I say or do, there’s nothing that we can do to fix this. That is a pretty good indication that a breakup or divorce is imminent, is when at least one person has stopped believing that this relationship can ever be what they want or need it to be. But even then, I think that there can still be opportunities to salvage a relationship. I mean, if somebody really has like a “come to Jesus” moment, and is like, “Oh, my goodness, I really need to show this person that I can be a better partner to them and really step it up,” sometimes even then, things can turn around, I’ve seen it happen. 

I’ve also seen it go the other way. Actually, this is probably a good segue now to kind of switch into some of those signs that a relationship is probably not sustainable. So, in general, there are a few reasons why a relationship probably can’t be mended. One of them is when it is really too far gone. This is such a sad situation. But I’ve seen it happen, where people are fighting for their relationship, and one person is continuing to ask for change, trying to be the change they wish to see in the relationship. They find that their partner is unresponsive, their partner is not following through with the things that they say that they’re going to do. They are making promises that they don’t keep, they are failing to meet this other person’s fairly basic emotional needs for conversation, for connection, for intimacy, for even emotional safety. Over time, the one partner stops again, just begins to change their narrative, and stops even wanting those things from their person anymore. They kind of withdraw their emotional attachment to their partner, really, I think in self-protection more than anything.

When that happens, and I think I’ve talked about this in other podcasts, but when that happens, fighting stops, it is often not dramatic anymore, it can sometimes feel calmer, but that fire has been replaced by ice. That is actually when a relationship is on the brink of ending. What is sad but true is that when people cross that line into not being mad, but really kind of not even caring anymore, and just sort of accepting like, this is who you are, and I don’t want to do this with you anymore. It is very, very, very hard to stoke life back into that because that’s when it just feels like a dead relationship and somebody is hard. They’re still going through the motions of it. But it’s really just a matter of time before that comes apart. 

If you are having heart-to-heart talks with your partner, and they are saying that kind of thing to you, like, “I don’t hate you, I just, I’m just done. I don’t want to do this anymore. I think we could both be happier elsewhere.” It’s not a fight, but it’s a very calm conversation, that is probably a good sign that it might be time to separate. You could still certainly go and talk to someone to see if there is an opportunity to make changes that would be meaningful to either of you. But it’s almost like, Swiss cheese that has so many holes in it, that it’s all holes and no cheese anymore. Like there’s just, you can’t fix it. So again, that’s a really, I implore you to not wait too long to get into couples counseling. Also, if you go to couples counseling, and your partner is saying things like, “This is what I need from you.” If you want to maintain this relationship, even if you don’t agree with it, even if it’s not important to you, you have to follow through with it, you have to be willing to meet them in the middle. Because if you can’t do that, it’s really just a matter of time, you do not have all the chances in the world, you will run out of chances.

I know that’s probably a hard thing to hear, but I’ve seen it happen, and I hate it and so I’m telling this to you so that hopefully you can be spared the same fate that I’ve seen some people go through. So anyway, there’s that. Other signs that this relationship probably actually is not sustainable, is if you are with someone who isn’t responsive to you over a long period of time. Now, again, when people get stuck in that yucky dynamic that I was talking about before, it is very, very hard for people to respond to each other, to have empathy for each other when they’re caught in that negative spiral. But if there is commitment, and there is still love, and there’s a desire to be in that relationship, and even with support, like a couples counseling kind of situation, you should still be able to see some responsiveness, you can observe your partner, trying, at least, to give you what you say you’re needing. 

If there is consistent failure to do that over a period of time, even if you’re attending to the negative dynamics that make it hard for somebody to be responsive to you, like say they’re mad at you, and if you’re addressing that kind of thing, and changing the way that you behave in the relationship and they’re still not responding to you. That’s a sign that it’s probably gonna be hard to fix. Also, it is true that sometimes when the fighting stops, and the dust settles, and we’ve addressed the dynamics, and people aren’t mad at each other anymore, there’s sometimes this sort of moment of reckoning, where people become aware that the other person is not maybe even who they thought they were in the beginning, that maybe their partner is really not able to be the person that they want them to be. Not out of maliciousness, not out of anger or resentment, but it’s really that their personality is different, their skill set is different, maybe they’re great at some things, but not good at others, you know, I see all the time. 

I hate to generalize, but I’m gonna do it anyway. Maybe a guy is a great provider, and he’s very reliable and he shows up on time and is good at all these things, and is very difficult to connect with emotionally, and that maybe the relationship feels kind of emotionally hollow in some ways, but all these other parts are working. But so there are these moments when people again, aren’t fighting anymore, but really just kind of recognizing this is who you are, and even at your very best. If you are trying really hard to meet me in the center and to do the things that I asked you to do, you’re never really going to get it, this is not a native skill set for you.

I’m ramping up here to share something else that’s really important. This is one of the top signs, in my experience, that your relationship probably isn’t sustainable. It might be better for both of you, if it does, and is that, in couples counseling, and I say this as a very experienced marriage counselor, and again, as a long-married person, there is often this hope that your partner can change. I know I certainly felt this way when my husband and I were not in a good place. I was very mad at him for not doing things the way that I thought that he should do and really wanted him to change, i.e., be more like me, right? Am I right? Yes. Over the course of our growth work, and over the course of our relationship, and over the course of being a marriage counselor for a long time, what I’ve really kind of arrived at sense is that one of the key strengths of a sustainable, healthy relationship is not based on another person’s capacity to change, but is rather based on our meaning—mine and yours— a capacity to have tolerance and acceptance and unconditional love for people as they are. 

Sometimes, when I’m bringing this up in a marriage counseling room, I have people looking at me like, “What do you mean? How am I gonna get my needs met in this relationship, if he doesn’t change?” It is shifting the focus off of your partner, and what your partner is doing or not doing, and really back onto yourself, and asking yourself, “Do I love this person for who they are? Is there enough here for me, even if the stuff that I’m annoyed with never changes? Do I love them? Do I appreciate them? Do I have respect for the things that they are good at? And the positive parts of this relationship? And can I—” not necessarily turn a blind eye, of course, but, “can I tolerate and appreciate and respect this person as they are, and let the things that I am unhappy about roll off?”

For example, to this day, there are still things about my husband that bug me, and I’m not going to go into them out of respect for him. I think that that’s true for every relationship. But I never feel mad at him about that anymore. It’s just sort of like, that’s the Matt experience. There are all these other things about him that I really love and appreciate. So the annoyances are just not that important. Now, in my younger days, it would have been very easy for me to focus and perseverate on all the ways that he was disappointing me. I, in that sense, would have had a very, and I did have a very different experience of the exact same relationship. 

But my ability to focus into love and tolerance and acceptance, then allowed him, I think, to feel emotionally safer with me, it made it easier for him to give me more of what I wanted. There’s sort of a genuine desire to make the other person happy when you feel loved and respected. So going back to that big question around whether or not your relationship is salvageable, I think it depends a lot on what you can bring to the table in that regard. So if the answer to that question is very genuine, “No, I cannot tolerate and accept the things that are happening in my relationship. I do not like this person as he or she is, I don’t respect this person, unless there is really massive, major change that they might not actually be able to do.” Those are all indications that this relationship might actually need to end because it would be healthier for you emotionally to just go ahead and cut your losses. 

But also, I mean, unless your partner is a straight-up psychopath, which I have also met I have that exists. I’ll talk about that at some point, but it’s also very rare. They’re also deserving of love and respect, they deserve to be prized by someone and cherished by someone. If you don’t love them, and don’t respect them, and don’t like who they are fundamentally, as a person, do not agree with their core values, don’t like their personality. It’s better for them too, for this to end. So those are a couple of concrete things to be asking yourself about whether or not this relationship is salvageable. 

There are certainly extremely toxic things that happen in relationships, so abuse, extreme hostility, criticism, total refusal to engage, I mean, and so like when things get pretty far gone, really ugly things can start happening. There can also be pretty extreme power and control things that happen in a relationship that really start getting into like a domestic violence kind of deal. Certainly, if you are in a relationship where you feel afraid of your partner, where you fundamentally do not trust your partner’s commitment to you or ability to be faithful to you, if you are being harmed in the relationship, emotionally, verbally, certainly physically, or if your children are being harmed, it’s time to go. Also if your partner has significant issues, mental health issues, substance abuse issues, that are putting themselves and/or you at risk, and they’re not willing to get treatment for them. I’m not saying abandon them in their time of need, but I would be real cautious. 

For much more information on that topic. I did a podcast a while ago that I think I called What to do if your partner has a problem? that really dives into those kinds of situations, because those can be heartbreaking. Certainly, if your partner is struggling with a mental illness or an illness of addiction, again, we don’t want to abandon people. There’s a time and place to be realistic about the relationship and then make decisions accordingly. So anyway, check out that podcast. But okay, so now that I’ve kind of given you a general overview on what’s normal, but scary, and what are actual indications that a relationship is probably not going to last, let me answer a couple of these specific questions that I’ve gotten from people. 

One comes from Jane who asks, “I frequently hear you say that sometimes marriage therapy or relationship help comes too late.” Yes. “My question is how to know if it is too late. Of course, you can guess that I’m in that situation where I worked on my relationship for years and begged my husband to go to counseling, but he refused. A few weeks to a month after I started going by myself and took my rings off, he decided to go to therapy, restart his medication. He has depression, anxiety, and ADHD, and tells me how much he loves me after months of barely acknowledging me. Now that he has done what I’ve been asking for so long, why don’t I feel better and impressed with these changes?” 

So just as an aside, this is a very, very typical pattern of a relationship that has gone too long. What I’m hearing in her story so far, is that she has, over time, withdrawn her emotional connection, I think out of safety needs and repeated disappointments, and just really stopped believing that it was possible and probably feeling very angry with her partner, I would guess. 

So she goes on to say, “We’re in emotionally focused couples therapy, which is fantastic. However, the time I felt best during this whole process was when the marriage therapist told me, ‘You say you can’t do this anymore, and you don’t have to do it anymore. You need a new marriage,’ to my husband. But I don’t see a new marriage, and I don’t feel emotionally safe. Although he’s trying. He every few days has ‘relapses of attacking me, lashing out, or other instability’. I know it takes time, but I feel deeply unhappy around him. At the same time, I feel tremendously guilty that I’m seriously considering giving up while he is purportedly trying. We have two children. I’m sure that this is too much information, but I would love to hear your take generally on what too late looks like and why it hurts so much to give up something that is so broken.” 

Then she has a follow-up question. She asks, “How long should I wait for someone to change? Particularly if present actions indicate they’re not changing? Also, is the ‘stress’ of this relationship potentially ending? And that’s why I’m behaving inappropriately, but this is not my true self. Is this a good reason for someone’s continued bad behavior?” So, Jane, yes, you are correct. This is actually what it looks like when it is likely too late. I’m hearing that you have gotten out of the pool of this relationship. Even though your husband is now trying, it doesn’t feel like enough, and that his relapses, his slip-ups that, I’m sort of hearing between the lines that you do not have patience for his continued efforts to work on himself. Because people don’t change overnight. You can’t just say, “Okay, I’m going to be different now,” and then be different. I mean, people changing does require time and effort. 

To answer your specific question, I mean, you said, “How long should I wait for someone to change?” I tell people, I mean, this might surprise you, but like, six weeks to three months. If somebody is really getting high-quality information of what they specifically need to do. So say you have a marriage counselor that’s trying to teach him skills and strategies, or he’s doing his own work around anger management issues, and he’s still doing that. That is an indication that he’s probably going to keep on doing that because it doesn’t take that long. Some people, I think, it’s never a black and white thing. 

I think that there are people who, unfortunately, even when they go to seek help, there’s a wide variation and the kinds of therapy that are actually helpful in helping people change their behavior. Something like cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, really anything that’s skills-based, as opposed to sitting and just kind of talking about your feelings and your family and getting insight into yourself is lovely, but it is not always a direct path to change. 

So, anyway, long-winded way of saying that if somebody isn’t at least showing progress in somewhere between six weeks to three months of real actual help, they’re probably not going to, and so then that question turns into, the one around, “Can you accept and love this person, pretty much the way that he is?” Maybe he does try, and maybe it’s better than it was, but that he still does have moments when he blows up or gets anxious, or his ADHD prevents him from being able to be kind of on top of things, and responsive in the way that you would like him to be? Are there enough other benefits of this relationship? Do you enjoy his company? Is he a good father? Is he a good partner in other ways that helps you remain committed to this person, despite his flaws and shortcomings? If the answer to that is no, yeah, this is probably over, in terms of your emotional attachment to him. 

Now, deciding whether or not to end a relationship can also be impacted by other factors besides just the way that we feel. I mean, if you have children, there might be practical considerations that would lead you to maybe maintain the situation, even though you feel differently about this person. I’ll just say this out loud: couples can change their relationships into different kinds of relationships. Say, we’re not really romantically linked anymore, we’ve decided that we’re not going to try to be this type of partner to each other, the romantic emotionally connected partners, and we can still live together and co-parent and be social partners, at least for a period of time, because that is what is better for both of us, and financially, and for our children right now. 

Some people might have judgment about couples who make that decision, but in some ways, you can look at it and see that as being a fairly selfless decision: “I’m going to postpone my need for a relationship that feels like it’s everything that I want it to be to prioritize the needs of my kids and the stability of our lives, at least for a while.” That is actually okay too. I just want to say that because ending a relationship also doesn’t have to be a binary all-or-nothing thing. There are shades of gray in that decision, as well. So I hope that I adequately answered those questions, although actually, you asked another one, which is, you know, asking, so what I heard is, “He’s saying that the stress of the relationship potentially ending is impacting the way that he acts. If I wasn’t ready to leave, that he would be behaving better.” So I hear that it feels like you’re kind of being blamed for his actions in a way that feels unfair and frustrating.

I guess there are two ways of looking at this: emotional safety tends to paradoxically help people make changes. On the other hand, people also sometimes don’t change when there’s a feeling of complacency. I see all the time when people assume that the other person is committed and unconditionally loving, that they don’t change. They tend to take the other person for granted and be like, well, you should love me the way I am. Then when that person finally gets fed up, and says, I’m not doing this with you anymore, and starts, like taking steps to leave, all of a sudden, they’re very motivated to change. So I get it. I think that at the end of the day, any change that people make needs to be intrinsic. It is up to us around what kind of person are we going to be. What kind of partner are we going to be? 

That change requires us taking responsibility for ourselves, and the way that we show up in relationships. If I were a marriage counselor sitting in the room with somebody saying, “Well, I can’t behave the way that she wants me to, because she is scaring and upsetting me with her desire to leave,” I would kind of need to put that back on them and say that we need to behave well, no matter what other people are doing or not doing. Can you manage your temper? Can you be emotionally connected? Can you be responsible, whatever it is that she’s looking for, on your own? What will it require to take that? If the answer is, again, no, that people are looking for the other person to change first and clinging to that idea, then that is also a good indication that the relationship may not be sustainable, because we can’t wait for the other person to change before we change. We need to take responsibility and ownership for what we’re bringing to the table. If somebody is very rigidly holding on to that and demanding for the other person to change first, that’s not gonna fly. So there’s that. 

Okay, so let’s talk about another question that I got. This one is from our blog, and I have to say, this is a person who was not happy with me, they will. She says, “I compliment my partner, I praise him, I say thank you. In return, I now have a husband who ignores me except when he wants to talk. If he asks me a question, he’ll answer it before I have a chance. He decides what I mean, what I’m about to say, and then he attacks me verbally, he claims to have a poor memory, but can repeat what I said perfectly. He tells me that I’m perfect, which I’m not, and then insists on teaching me lessons to prove that I am not perfect. Bottom line: he has changed. Don’t tell me that I should have done this or that or the other thing. I’ve been with him through work issues, including moving, his health issues, having a heart attack, and the only outcome is that everything is about him. He is cold and indifferent and can find fault with anyone.” 

She is saying that “I have done everything that I can do, that I know how to do, to have a better relationship with this person. And it feels like none of it matters. It feels like he is judgmental. He is cold. He is not empathetic towards me, that my feelings don’t matter.” This would be an example of the kind of relationship that probably can’t be repaired, there is not the desire to repair anymore. She goes on to say a spouse can move a mountain to help a spouse but when the other person attacks the very foundation of a relationship, no amount of showing vulnerability or being diplomatic will help. He stopped caring about anything but his world being perfect years ago. This is someone who has really crossed that line of caring in a big way, that she has experienced so much hurt and pain over the years, she is done trying, and that she is very angry and now experiences that profound contempt for him. 

I would expect that even if a couple like this does miraculously come into marriage counseling, that it is probably too late, and that that’s okay. Sometimes, recognizing that I am past that point of no return, where I’m willing to try anymore, and I do not trust this other person to be there for me, I don’t like this other person, it doesn’t matter what I do. Go ahead and take and take care of yourself. End it if you can, and certainly, again, practical considerations may slow you down, but in terms of maintaining the hope that this could be a different kind of relationship, I’m not seeing that potential in this situation. I think that that also needs to be okay. Because what we also know is that living in a place of being angry all the time, and resentful all the time, or feeling emotionally unsafe all the time, it takes a toll. 

It takes a toll on us emotionally. It also takes a toll on what we do with the rest of our lives, in terms of our own life satisfaction, our friendships, even our career goals. It also takes a toll on health, and sometimes people say, “Well, we want to stay together for the children,” but can’t do it in the peaceful way that I was describing before, and would invite you to consider, what are you teaching your children by tolerating a really toxic relationship? What are you modeling for your kids, when you are neglecting your own health or overeating or not doing the things that you need to do to take care of yourself because of the stress and anxiety and constant kind of pain and angst of this relationship? Really, in many ways, it’s much better to model for your children, this is what being a healthy person looks like. Yeah, we want to model for our kids, never quit, but also, to be balanced, there are some times where you should kind of call it, you know, and modeling for your children. What that can look like too.

Ideally, we can do that with a minimum of conflict and angsty and mud-slinging at each other. But then again, that comes back to taking responsibility for our own behavior no matter what, and being committed to showing our children modeling healthy endings, as well, and what it looks like when we take care of ourselves emotionally. Hopefully ultimately, what it looks like to have a healthy new relationship, perhaps in the future, that that’s okay, too. 

So let’s tackle another question. Now. This question comes to us from Facebook. This question is from another Jane, and she writes, it’s a long question. So I will summarize. She writes about a situation that we hear from very commonly, comments on our blog. I hear this on Facebook a lot. She’s in a relationship with a guy, it’s a long-distance relationship, and he is not engaging with her emotionally. He is not responding to calls or texts the way that he used to, she suspects that he might have an emotional connection to another person. When she has talked to him about her fears, he’s kind of dismissive of her, talks about being stressed at work, just can’t handle this right now. 

I will say, and this is going to sound like a very broad generalization here, but in a situation where you are dating someone, and they are treating you in this way, and you are trying to figure out if you should stay or go, and your staying requires them to change in some pretty significant ways in terms of being more committed to you or making you feel more loved or emotionally safe or even just texting you back. Go ahead and end it. 

That sounds harsh. But I think when it comes to dating the saying, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard this but “Fail fast.” They say it often in business: try something, see how it goes. But if it’s not gonna work, go ahead and be done as opposed to continuing to try to crank at it for more weeks or months or years. When you’re dating someone, it’s an audition. They are showing you what it is like to be in a relationship with them. Some people think that “Oh, well, if he was committed to me and we were married, then this would be a lot different.” That’s actually not true. 

People can change, certainly, and improve and learn new skills, and they’re always going to be who they are. If you’re experiencing, this person is not caring enough about you to even engage with you or return your calls, you can go ahead and take that as evidence that they don’t care enough about you to continue having a relationship with them. People will say all kinds of things, but at the end of the day, we need to look at what people show us, is the truth. 

If you’re confused between what people say and what people do, you can go ahead and assume that what people do is actually reflective of their truth and the way that they feel and act on that. Any of you who are in this kind of relationship, or are in an on-again-off-again, relationship, or going through a breakup and wondering if you can get back together, take a cold, hard look at the way that this person has actually behaved in the relationship, and err on the side of ending it and being done, and finding someone who loves you the way that you deserve to be loved, who is happy to be with you and excited to be with you, and who is ready to fall all over themselves to be nice to you and kind to you and to show you love in the way that you would like to be loved because you deserve that. Dating is the time and place to determine if that is possible. If you kind of feel like it might not be possible. Just be done. That’s my advice. 

Okay, I want to tackle one more question. I know this is like the longest podcast ever. Joe Rogan, he does some long podcasts too. Okay. I know it’s long, but I just, I’ve had so many questions, and I feel bad leaving some people hanging and just know that if I didn’t answer your questions, specifically, I hope that the questions that I have answered relate enough to your situation that they kind of, you got what you needed out of the response. But let me answer this one more. And this comes from a comment from our blog. 

I did a podcast a while ago about relationship questions, and somebody left another question for me here so thank you. This is again, another Jane. She says she has a specific question about her relationship. Let me see if I can get condense, okay, so they’ve had a two-year relationship, they have a lot of strengths she considers as a good relationship, and a couple of months ago, I found out that he took a girl home from the bar with the intentions of having sex with her, that they may not have actually done the deed, but certainly cheating behavior. She said that since then, they’ve been talking and talking, he’s cried, she’s cried, and that he has been very responsive. So that he’s tackling this with her non-defensively, that yes, he had been drinking, that they would like to work things out. But she doesn’t know how to get past it, and she doesn’t know if she should. She’s saying this is like a boyfriend-girlfriend situation, “Should I stay in the ring with this guy and risk getting my heart broken again. Because I don’t want to be with somebody who’s gonna cheat on me. So is this ruined? Should we break up? Or do you think that we can still have a good relationship? Or once people cheat once will they do it again.?

So this is, again, a very difficult situation. I think one that many people have in your situation. Again, when you’re dating, I would be a little bit more careful in what you do, I would if I were in your shoes, and I’m saying this, both as a therapist, and as a friend, I would need to see real results and evidence that I can trust this person pretty darn quick, like within the next even three months, and let’s see here, what based on what you’re saying you’re describing a situation where you are seeing evidence that there is the possibility to recover from this and have a very healthy, happy relationship. He’s being responsive to you, he’s talking with you about it.

What I would suggest that you do is get involved in some kind of relationship work. I mean, even you know, call it premarital counseling if you want to, but to really have honest conversations around, why did this happen? Are there things going on inside of him that maybe you didn’t know about or that you don’t currently know about that if you did have all the information might make it more likely to believe that he would cheat again. Then taking action on that, or the other side of this is that good decent people, especially young people, and I don’t know how old you guys are. But I don’t want to make assumptions. But I’m guessing kind of on the younger side, do stupid things. Sometimes. I mean, we all make mistakes. This certainly was like a capital M mistake, this is a really big one. If there are enough here, that would make you want to see if trust really can be repaired. 

Couples can and do come back from infidelity. I talked about that at length and another podcast, if you want to check it out. I think it’s something really creative, like How to recover from infidelity. But you can and it requires a lot of commitment. It is a long road. People in your position often feel like the trust has been broken, and they don’t know how it is going to be repaired. It is a process. So you guys would have to work together, I think with a support of a professional, that he’s going to have to be doing very specific things to show you that he is trustworthy and really be an open book for like ever, in order for you to feel safe with him, because he broke that trust once and you’re never going to feel as safe with him as you once did, now that you know what he is capable of. 

Again, that you would need to work through is there enough here for me to be able to work on trusting him again? Even if I never trust him again 100% could we still have a nice life together? Can I love him unconditionally, even though he did this thing to me? Or is this a time for me to cut my losses, and maybe have a partnership with somebody who is more reliable? This is such a tough one, and I can’t tell anybody what to do. But I’ve seen this go both ways. I have seen people who have these kinds of unpleasant experiences with a partner early on in a relationship and it’s a learning experience for both of them. Maybe there was something going on in the relationship that wasn’t being addressed honestly. Maybe there were risk factors that you guys didn’t know about. 

But when people put time and energy into growing and strengthening their partnership and having more open communication, they go on to have lovely lives together, and they’re just as safe and secure as anybody else in a relationship, yet the trust is never going to be quite the same. But you can still have nice lives. I have also worked with people who had betrayal of trust early on in a relationship. As is common, when it first comes out, the perpetrating partner will often say or do all kinds of things to mend and fall over themselves to say the right things and do exactly what you want them to do. This was actually shortly after they got married, and things are better for a little while. Then when she was pregnant, that happened again. 

She was pregnant at that time. So more cards on the table there, more skin in the game. They worked at it, that it was gonna get better, and it happened again. It’s now 10 years and a couple kids into this situation, and she can’t trust him as far as she can throw him. It impacts every part of her life and their relationship. That makes you wonder if you had to do that over again, would you make a different choice. So there’s always a risk, and none of us can predict the future. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. But then on the other side, do we believe in redemption, and do we believe in the power of people to heal and grow and, and use the power —I mean, this sounds so cheesy— but like use the power of love to heal themselves and be better people? Sometimes people can’t change for themselves, but for the higher purpose of a relationship and a family, they find the motivation to heal and grow. 

This is a tough call. Again, if I were in your shoes, I would get involved with a counselor who is experienced in infidelity and infidelity recovery and do some of the work and see what comes up. Give it three months, see how you feel, and then make a decision. But I tell you what, if this happens again, or if you are less than pleased with the amount of effort this person is putting into showing you that he is trustworthy, or if he is doing semi-sketchy things that you don’t feel good about and he’s telling you that it’s all in your head, and you need to lighten up and blah, blah, blah, I would go ahead and call it because, particularly before you’re married, and a couple kids and a mortgage into a relationship, now is the time. 

It will be as painful as it is to lose a relationship. It will be sadness and hurt feelings, as opposed to lawyers, and like child support and visitation. So the answer is kind of both: maybe give them another chance and see what’s possible for your relationship. But don’t spend too much time on it. If it’s unsatisfactory, you can go ahead and be done and be confident in that decision.

That is my advice. Okay, so I hope that this podcast has given you some insight into this breakup or stay together question. So we talked about what is normal and fixable. I wanted to talk a lot about that. Because really, again, there is a lot of hard stuff that happens in relationships, that is a solvable problem, particularly in the context of a long term committed relationship, or a marriage. If you’re in that sort of situation, I would encourage you to at least explore whether or not you can resolve that dynamic and resolve some of the underlying problems, improve your communication, be emotionally safer for each other, and then see what happens. 

My guess most of the time is that with the right kind of support, committed couples can shift that dynamic, repair their relationship, restore their trust, feel good about each other again, and move on into healthy, happy lives together. If, on the other hand, it has disintegrated your basic liking and respect for the other person. If they are consistently failing to change in response to what you’re requesting, despite having support for that change. That would be an indication that it’s not going to be different.

But the ultimate question is, can you love and respect this person as they are? Is there enough here for you? That even if there isn’t a major change, that you still want to stay? If the answer to that question is no, then I would invite you to consider, if not ending the relationship then changing the relationship. To summarize, again, if you are dating, if it’s a more casual type of relationship, and you are experiencing issues around anything major: commitment, trust, communication, loyalty, feeling cared for by the person, you don’t want to sign up to do that for the next 30 years of your life. Err on the side of ending. 

Okay, I hope that helps. I will be back in touch in a couple of weeks, if not possibly sooner because we have a lot of good stuff to talk about on the podcast these days, but I’ll be back in touch with you soon. In the meantime, send your questions,, check out that free online quiz I mentioned if you want to get a quick relationship assessment, or text R-E-L-quiz, all one word, RELquiz,  to 345345 and you’ll get access to it. In the meantime, you can reflect on what we talked about today and what it means for your relationship as you listen to the Velvet Underground and Pale Blue Eyes.

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Episode Highlights: Should We Breakup or Stay Together?

  • Two Kinds of Relationships
    • There are two kinds of relationships: normal but challenging and scary, and difficult.
    • It’s not always clear-cut, but once one partner is set on ending the relationship, it’s hard to save it.
    • You have to make calls on whether what’s happening is simply circumstantial or it recurs too much and is already a deal-breaker.
  • When It’s Too Late
    • You and your partner might not have understood each other at first due to the lack of communication.
    • It also happens that a partner takes the other for granted, especially when there are no complaints or when there is just constant compliance.
    • The rule of thumb is, if you can’t be accepting of the other person and you need them to change before you change, then it’s time to end the relationship.
  • How To Tell When Dating if you Should Breakup or Stay Together
    • There’s a saying in dating: fail fast.
    • Dating is an audition: how they treat you now is how they will treat you in the future. Their behavior towards you is unlikely to change.
  • No Longer Working– Should We Breakup or Stay Together?
    • If you’ve done everything you can to save the relationship, then it’s definitely time to cut ties.
    • Even if you say you’re staying in a toxic marriage for your children, it’s also important to remember to model what a healthy relationship looks like for your kids.
    • Model a good relationship for them, but also show them what a healthy individual looks like.

Marriage Counseling Questions | Couples Therapy Questions

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  1. Hi Dr. Bobby!
    I believe you touched on this topic in this podcast a bit as well as other’s; however, I have been in a 6+ year relationship and about a month ago I ended things with him. Long-story short, problems started in our relationship a few years ago and I didn’t know how to articulate those feelings and needs to him early on in the relationship. About 3 years in, I began asking for couples counceling, then started seeking my own individual counseling, reading relationship articles, blogs, podcasts, and books trying to educate myself how to handle different situations and better our relationship. I was not met with the same effort on his side which has caused a lot of unbalance in our relationship the last 2 years.
    Unfortuantely, it got to a point about a month ago where I ended things with him but was asked to give him one final chance. I decided I needed space from him and relationship so we are on a “break”. However, he is now reading a book I’ve been asking him to read, just starting to seek his own individual counseling, and scheduling couples counceling. All this is great news, right?! Then why am I feeling skeptical, in a self-protection mode, and like the work he is putting in NOW is coming from a place of trying to keep me hooked?
    I thought this is what I wanted to see and work on with him and now I’m feeling unmotivated to do MORE and put MORE effort into this.
    I guess my question is, are these feelings I’m having normal and can be worked through or something different?

    Thank you,

    1. Taylor, thanks for getting in touch with this question. Yes, unfortunately your experience is a common one: Wanting and hoping and trying and fighting for a relationship, in vain, only to call it quits… and then all of a sudden have your partner VERY MOTIVATED to do all the things you’d asked of him. Except that now, you just don’t trust / care / love anymore. I wish, for both of your sakes, that he’d been willing to do this work with you sooner. (That is why I’m constantly harping on the “don’t wait too long for couples counseling” soap-box).

      I don’t know if you can resurrect your feelings for him. It may be too late. If I was your therapist, I’d want to know things like: How committed are you to this? Do you have children together? What’s the risk of trying vs cutting him loose? Do you still feel angry? (Anger can actually be a good sign). Et cetera.

      If you would like to try and see if you can get back in the ring with him emotionally, I would encourage you to find a marriage counselor who excels in Emotionally Focused Coupes Therapy. On our team, Brenda Fahn, Teena Evert, and Seth Bender are all good choices for that. Here’s more info…

      But your feelings are not a switch that can be flipped on and off. It took you a long time to get here, and it will be a process to see if they can come back to life. Six years is a long time, and I can understand why you’d like to at least see if this can be mended. However, that said, if you two really get engaged with good couples counseling you should know within a period of 2-3 months of weekly sessions if movement is possible. If not, it’s probably a good sign that you release him back to the universe. IMO. All the best to you both, Lisa

  2. Hi Dr. Bobby!
    I believe you touched on this topic in this podcast a bit as well as other’s; however, I have been in a 6+ year relationship and about a month ago I ended things with him. Long-story short, problems started in our relationship a few years ago and I didn’t know how to articulate those feelings and needs to him early on in the relationship. About 3 years in, I began asking for couples counceling, then started seeking my own individual counseling, reading relationship articles, blogs, podcasts, and books trying to educate myself how to handle different situations and better our relationship. I was not met with the same effort on his side which has caused a lot of unbalance in our relationship the last 2 years.
    Unfortuantely, it got to a point about a month ago where I ended things with him but was asked to give him one final chance. I decided I needed space from him and relationship so we are on a “break”. However, he is now reading a book I’ve been asking him to read, just starting to seek his own individual counseling, and scheduling couples counceling. All this is great news, right?! Then why am I feeling skeptical, in a self-protection mode, and like the work he is putting in NOW is coming from a place of trying to keep me hooked?
    I thought this is what I wanted to see and work on with him and now I’m feeling unmotivated to do MORE and put MORE effort into this.
    I guess my question is, are these feelings I’m having normal and can be worked through or something different?

    Thank you,

  3. Taylor, thanks for getting in touch with this question. Yes, unfortunately your experience is a common one: Wanting and hoping and trying and fighting for a relationship, in vain, only to call it quits… and then all of a sudden have your partner VERY MOTIVATED to do all the things you’d asked of him. Except that now, you just don’t trust / care / love anymore. I wish, for both of your sakes, that he’d been willing to do this work with you sooner. (That is why I’m constantly harping on the “don’t wait too long for couples counseling” soap-box).

    I don’t know if you can resurrect your feelings for him. It may be too late. If I was your therapist, I’d want to know things like: How committed are you to this? Do you have children together? What’s the risk of trying vs cutting him loose? Do you still feel angry? (Anger can actually be a good sign). Et cetera.

    If you would like to try and see if you can get back in the ring with him emotionally, I would encourage you to find a marriage counselor who excels in Emotionally Focused Coupes Therapy. On our team, Brenda Fahn, Teena Evert, and Seth Bender are all good choices for that. Here’s more info…

    But your feelings are not a switch that can be flipped on and off. It took you a long time to get here, and it will be a process to see if they can come back to life. Six years is a long time, and I can understand why you’d like to at least see if this can be mended. However, that said, if you two really get engaged with good couples counseling you should know within a period of 2-3 months of weekly sessions if movement is possible. If not, it’s probably a good sign that you release him back to the universe. IMO. All the best to you both, Lisa

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