When To Call It Quits In a Relationship

When To Call It Quits In a Relationship

When To Call It Quits In a Relationship

When To Call It Quits In a Relationship

As a Denver marriage counseling and online couples therapy “relationship expert” I often speak to people seeking relationship advice about matters of the heart. Knowing when keep trying, or when to call it quits in a relationship is always confusing. Even in a fundamentally strong relationship, when your relationship has been feeling hard it’s absolutely normal to have doubts and wonder when to end a relationship. You might wonder whether you’re compatible with your partner, or whether your relationship can be saved.

But if your relationship has been feeling frustrating, painful and unsatisfying for a long time — to the point where the relationship problems are starting to feel permanent fixtures — you might start asking yourself things like, “When is it time to break up?” Or, “When is it time to divorce?” Figuring out whether your relationship can improve or when it’s time to call it quits in a relationship is often the first step in knowing what to do, one way or another.

On this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast we’re taking a deep dive into the different situations that lead couples and individuals to wonder whether it’s time to throw in the towel and get a divorce, or if not, how to begin the long road of repair. Skip to the bottom of this post to access the podcast player and comments section, or scroll through for a few more insights and tips that may resonate with you if you’re trying to figure out how to know when it’s time to break up. — LMB

“Is My Relationship Over?”

All couples, even the most happy, fundamentally healthy and compatible couples will always be confronted by things that challenge them to grow as people. Most of the time, these opportunities first emerge as “relationship conflict.” Deep down, these moments are simply an chance to reflect on who you are, whether or not your current relationship skill set is working for you, and how you can make positive changes that benefit you, your partner and your family.

But these opportunities do not look like inviting “growth moments” that are framed so clearly. No. What they usually look and feel like are ongoing, sometimes even nasty and hurtful conflict between you and your partner. 

Most people are not aware of their “relationship growth opportunities” as they start butting heads with their partner, and getting feedback about things that are being perceived as hurtful or unloving. Instead they feel angry, defensive, attacked, or hurt. (And often express that, passionately). It is not obvious or intuitive in these moments that the frustration, hurt and annoyance can be a doorway to growth.

In reality, most couples can’t calm down enough and shift into a space of intentional understanding when they’re feeling triggered and upset. Not on their own anyway. They just go round and round, until someone eventually withdraws. [Read more about the joys of “Emotional Flooding.”] But if a couple can get involved in meaningful growth work together, ideally, an evidence-based form of couples therapy conducted by a legitimate relationship expert, all of a sudden that constant conflict reveals a treasure of new awarenesses, unhelpful old patterns just begging to be released, the chance to heal old wounds, new experiences that help you understand each other on a whole new level, and motivation to learn new communication skills and emotional intelligence strategies that will empower you in every aspect of your life — including your most important relationship. 

There is so much opportunity. But couples only have this aspect of conflict revealed to them when they are in a safe space and being guided by a skillful and knowledgeable marriage counseling or couples therapy expert who knows what they are doing. (Sadly, most don’t.)

But most relationships fail without ever having had the chance to do this kind of meaningful growth work together. They never get to learn and grow. They never get instruction and support around how to do things differently. Instead, couples fall into predictable, increasingly negative patterns of relationship conflict and then wind up making decisions about when to call it quits in a relationship because they haven’t been able to make positive changes on their own. They don’t see the path forward so they assume that the only solution to their relationship problems is the “final solution” of divorce or breaking up. And that’s really too bad.

So if you are asking yourself questions like, “When is it time to break up?” or “When to call it quits on a relationship” because of ongoing unresolved relationship conflict, and feeling stuck in a “pro and con” list, or feeling anxious about whether to get divorced, try this instead: Ask yourself a different question. Ask, “Is meaningful growth and change possible for us?”

Also, remember that it’s absolutely normal and expected for couples in distressed relationships to be (any combination of) hostile, emotionally unavailable, withdrawn, blaming, avoidant, passive-aggressive, not following through with household obligations, not meeting expectations, and generally being hurtful and annoying. People in distressed relationships do all of these things because their relationships are distressed.

So then the question next question becomes not “Should I end my relationship based on what is happening right now?” but rather, “If we were both feeling loved and respected in this relationship, and learned how to communicate, manage expectations, work as a team, etc., how could our relationship be different?”

If you’re like many people the immediate answer is, “NO! Not possible. I’ve told him 500 times how I feel and he always gets defensive and it never changes so we cannot grow. No.” That is often a reflexive answer based on the experiences you’ve had to-date, and often based on how your partner is functioning in the context of a distressed relationship. (i.e., Not their best selves!)

When I sit with my Denver therapy or online life coaching clients and really unpack this with them the true answer is more like,

“I don’t really know yet whether or not growth is possible for us. We are angry with each other. I haven’t been my best self either. We’ve never been in a situation where we worked with a relationship expert who used an evidence-based model to help us understand each other and ourselves, and who taught us new skills and strategies, and who held us accountable for making changes.”

If that is the case for you, too, the first step in getting clarity about whether you should call it quits is to find out for sure whether or not change is possible. Then you will be able to move forward with clarity and confidence, one way or the other.

When To Give Up On a Relationship

Of course, for some couples, growth and change is not possible. How do you know for sure if it’s time to break up, or when it’s time to divorce? Your answer lies in the action.

  • When you make a sincere effort to get you and your partner into a meaningful growth opportunity…. and they refuse to go.
  • Or, even if you meet with an effective, evidence-based online marriage counselor or Denver couples therapist together, your partner will not participate in a deep level. They might show up for the appointments but they may continue to blame you, engage in gaslighting, and deny any responsibility for the issues.
  • When the marriage counselor invites them to share their perceptions of the problem, your partner may give voice to a perspective grounded in an absolute lack of empathy for yours.
  • They may flatly reject any efforts of the couples therapist to help them unpack their feelings, or make links between what they learned in their families of origin, and how they are showing up in their relationship.
  • Furthermore, they may not be coachable, meaning that they are not open to learning new skills or trying to do things differently for the benefit of the relationship.
  • They may show you, through their behaviors, that they are more committed to continuing their own negative patterns than they are to staying married to you.

As frustrating as this is, it’s also okay. Positive, even. Because then you know for sure that this relationship is over. There is no hope. Nothing can change. It may not be the answer you wanted, but it’s an answer you can use to find solid ground and make a new plan for your life. You are free to go and find peace, love, and understanding elsewhere.

When To End a Relationship Vs. When To Grow?

Of course, when considering when to call it quits in a relationship there are additional complexities above and beyond the need to figure out whether or not growth is possible. For example, if you are married with a crush on someone else (or having an affair) it can cast a lot of doubt and confusion on your relationship. It would be to your benefit (and to the benefit of your spouse, honestly) for YOU to get involved in individual therapy or effective life coaching in order to get clarity about your next steps. Only if you’re committed to your relationship will any change be possible, and if you have an emotional attachment to someone else, it makes it really hard to work on your relationship.

When You’re Feeling Trapped In a Relationship

Another reality for many people is the experience of feeling trapped in a relationship due to practical circumstances, like co-parenting, financial inequities, or concerns about housing. If you want to leave your marriage but feel that you can’t due to concerns about how you’ll make it on your own, or if you have concerns for your children that lead you to stay, it’s important that you enlist the support of a professional therapist, life coach, or career coach to help you set meaningful goals and make a sustainable plan to move forward. (Even if it’s a long-term plan.)

When To Call It Quits In a Relationship… Or Not

Because all of these questions are often complicated and difficult to sort through, they’re worthy of exploration and discussion. If you’ve been twisting yourself into knots trying to figure out when to call it quits in a relationship, I hope you find some comfort in the knowledge that its extremely difficult to find a clear “stay or go” answer in the context of a messy, multifaceted situation. The answer to the question of whether to break up or stay together is often, honestly, “it depends.” 

Whether or not to end a relationship often depends on whether growth is possible (or not), for your partner. But it may also depend on whether or not growth is possible for you, too. It also often depends on what external or internal factors are creating barriers that make you feel forced to stay in an unhappy relationship. There may also be emotional factors at play that make you feel like you should stay in the relationship… even though in your heart of hearts you might not want to.

No matter what you ultimately decide, whether to end your relationship or whether to attempt a new chapter, the path forward is always first getting clarity about what is possible… and what is not. Only with that clarity can you have the confidence to take action — action that feels like it’s connected with your highest values and personal integrity — one way or the other. The process of getting this clarity can take weeks, months, sometimes even years. It may involve you and your partner working together to get this clarity. It may involve just you educating yourself, and giving yourself the time and space to do some individual growth work.

To help you get clarity on the variables that may impact your decision about whether to call it quits in a relationship, or whether to try to foster a relationship growth experience, I’ve devoted an entire episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast on the topic of how to figure out when to break up or stay together.

I’ll be addressing specific questions to help you figure out whether you should end your relationship, or keep trying like:

  • How can you tell whether growth is possible for your relationship, or whether it really needs to end?
  • Why do couples wind up breaking up prematurely, without knowing or not whether growth was actually possible?
  • What are specific indications that your partner, if given meaningful and effective opportunities to change, is able or willing to do so?
  • What are the signs that there is no hope for this relationship, and that is time to divorce or break up?
  • What are the sneaky, toxic relationship signs that can lead you to stay stuck in a relationship that is fundamentally not good for you, and unlikely to change?
  • What are the growth opportunities that YOU might need to engage in, in order to feel more clear and confident about your commitment to your current relationship…. Or more clear and confident that it’s time to end your relationship?
  • What if you want to break up or divorce, but are stuck because you feel guilty about it?
  • How do you handle leaving a relationship if your partner has a problem like a mental health issue, substance use disorder, or other issues?
  • What to do if you’re unhappy in your relationship and would like to divorce, but are facing practical realities such as co-parenting concerns or financial consequences if you separate?

All that, plus more insights, thought provoking questions, and actionable advice to support your path forward, whether it’s time to reach for hope and growth… or time to call it quits.

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

PS: Resources discussed on this episode include a link to my online “How Healthy Is Your Relationship Quiz” as well as www.thehotline.org.

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When To Call It Quits In a Relationship

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success

Music Credits: Brick Fields, “This Time Coming Soon”

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

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How to Develop Your Self-Identity and Experience Personal Growth in a Committed Relationship

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Know Yourself

Know Yourself | Being in a long-term committed relationship doesn’t mean that you lose your personal identity. In fact, the best partnerships are those that encourage personal growth in their significant other and vice versa. Let’s be honest, you being you is the reason why your partner fell in love with you in the first place! 

Falling in love and creating a life together is fun, challenging, and sometimes even consuming. It’s not uncommon that you may find yourself feeling a little lost in your identity from time to time. 

When you have been romantically involved with someone for a long period of time, feelings, thoughts, beliefs, dislikes, and passions often start to mend together. These mending moments are often beautiful and encouraging to a relationship that has worked so hard to be successful. 

However, when you move forward together in your partnership, it’s also important to continue to grow in your self-identity and to truly know yourself – developing your own personality, likes, and dislikes in order to continue contributing to your relationship and its success. 

The happiest and most successful couples do these five things to strengthen their relationship. Here’s how to develop your self-identity and experience personal growth in a committed relationship.

Learn Something New

Life can feel like it’s moving at a hundred miles per hour when you’re busy balancing work, family, friends, home, pets, health, and your relationship. And when the whirlwind of everything and everyone occupies all of your time and energy – it’s hard to see much further past the present moment that you are in (or attempting to catch up to). 

This idea of furthering your education may feel unrealistic or at the very least, impractical with current life events. 

The awesome thing about education is that you don’t have to “go back to school” or even enroll in a class (unless you want to and have the time to do so). All you need is to find a topic or area of study that you are interested in furthering your education. 

Then, support yourself in this learning journey by subscribing to a podcast, purchasing a book, signing up for a newsletter, or even meeting with an expert in whatever field you’re interested in learning more about. 

Then, while you are driving to work, running your weekly errands, or running the kids between afterschool activities you can listen to a podcast, read a chapter while waiting for swim lessons to end, catch up with a weekly newsletter over coffee, or grab lunch with someone who can speak to what it is you are interested in. 

Alternatively, if you struggle to find something that you are interested in learning more about – maybe connecting with an online life coach could help shed some light on areas of interest and beneficial pathways to your personal success.

This simple (and sometimes passive) way of learning will encourage personal growth and personal understanding while you continue to balance all that life throws at you. Not only will you be developing the way you see yourself and the world, but you will also open up new conversation between you and your partner. 

Have a Hobby That’s All Yours

You and your partner may have EVERYTHING in common, and that’s okay…but I promise you, if you take the time to find something that is ALL yours – it feels super rewarding. 

I’m not saying that you have to keep this new hobby from your partner but the more you treat it as your you time the more beneficial it will be. 

For those who have been in a long-term relationship (and I mean a relationship that literally feels like for-ev-er) it can feel intimidating and even difficult to find a new hobby that’s all yours. Try a few things out, if you decide you hate it – try something else. 

The more effort you put into finding that perfect you hobby, the more you will enjoy it and look forward to it. Remember, the whole point of this experiment is to fall more in love with who you are and to continue growing as the awesome individual that you already are!

Make Your Friendships a Priority

Yes, I’m looking at you →  “Well, I have friends but I only see them once a month if our schedules line up, and the kids are away at someone else’s house for the night, and my partner is also friends with my friends’ partners.” ←  Stop overcomplicating your friendships!

Making your friendships a priority is extremely important in any relationship. You need your gal pals or dudes who have completely different and often similar walks of life to challenge you, encourage you, comfort you, and keep you on your toes. 

If Finding Friends You Can Count On feels like a challenge, then it might be a good time to reassess your friendships and begin working towards healthier, more sustainable relationships. It’s important as adults that we prioritize our friendships, here’s more on:  The Importance of Healthy Friendships.

While your partner might be your best friend, don’t forget about your besties. They need you as much as you need them in order to grow as an individual and even flourish in your partnership. A good friend can offer support, accountability, and help you know yourself (or at the very least, remind you who you are when you need it the most).

Develop Your Idea of Art and Culture

For some, the love of art, music, and culture comes naturally. However, a lot of us are a little more generic and may find it difficult to stay interested or appear so at the dinner parties of our most artistic and culturally savvy friends. The thing with art is that there is SO much of it. There are so many fantastic forms of it – painting, drawing, live-action, music, graphic design…the list goes on. Art stems from cultures, lifestyles, fantasies, and often tragedies. Knowing not necessarily the history of art but knowing how it makes you feel is important. 

There is so much that we can learn about ourselves by the music we enjoy, the pictures we take, the food we cook, and the way in how we share these experiences with our world. 

Developing a keen sense into what you enjoy and why you enjoy it will not only promote a greater understanding of the self but you will also have a deeper understanding into areas of you that your partner fell in love with. 

I think we often get swept up in keeping up with the …… (insert your play on this here) and we forget all the little and big things that bring us joy and make you, well…you! If you have ever heard a song or watched a movie that you proclaimed “I use to LOVE this song/movie!” Then you know a little of what I am talking about. 

I encourage you to keep chasing after those passions that may even feel a little juvenile to you now with the chores, employment, family, and general life obligations. The thing is, this passion is still inside of you. Maybe playing guitar for that punk band in high school didn’t end up in a successful music career – but the art of playing guitar, appreciating music, and the drive to be better (or even the best) at whatever it was you were in love with at that time is still a part of who you are. Let that side of you show more and encourage yourself to grow in these areas as it ultimately created a big part of who you are today. 

Set Aside Time For Self-Care

I know you have heard this probably a million times (no exaggeration), but self-care is one of the BEST and MOST IMPORTANT things you can do for you and your relationship. Setting time aside to take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually will help set you and your relationship up for success.  

It’s easy to say “yeah, yeah, I get it…self-care, I got it – thanks!” It’s a lot harder to follow through with it and meet yourself where you need it the most. If you are finding yourself needing a little emotional vacay, check out: Emotional Self Care When Your Life is Falling Apart.

Self-care may be a habitual event for you – like drinking coffee and having quiet time before the family wakes up. Or it might be a little less traditional and change week to week. Whatever your body, heart, and mind are telling you, be sure to listen. Your ability to take care of yourself ultimately affects your ability to take care of others. 

If you find yourself getting irritable, depressed, angry, stressed-out, overwhelmed, or even just complacent – that’s your cue that it’s time for a little me time

Self-care doesn’t mean that you have to spend time alone. Self-care is different for everyone and if that means a weekend (or couple hours) to yourself, awesome. And if it means something entirely different, that’s great too. 

Here’s to YOU and the awesome individual you are in and out of your relationship. 

Xo, 
Lisa Marie Bobby

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

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