How To Know When It's Time To Break Up
Love & Relationships

How To Know When It's Time To Break Up

Last month, Michelle Obama sent the internet into a frenzy by opening up about her marriage to Barack Obama. During her conversation with NPR's "Life Kit" podcast, she shared her thoughts on the glamorization of dating and its impact on the reality of marriage, how partnerships are rarely 50/50, and when it comes to the ebbs and flows of commitment "young people quit too soon." She later clarified her thoughts in an Instagram post:

"As an adult, I’ve lived in a number of places, but as far as I’m concerned, I’ve only ever had one real home. My home is my family. My home is Barack. But here’s the thing—our marriage has never been perfectly 50-50. One of us is always needing more or giving more. We have to be willing to listen to each other, honestly and without defensiveness. Only then can we evolve together. Over the years, a lot of young people have asked me about marriage. And my response usually goes something like this: You have to prepare yourself for long stretches of discord and discomfort. You have to learn how to make real compromises in the way you’ve lived as an individual. Glamorizing a relationship while you’re dating will lead you straight to difficulty once you’re married. You can’t paper over problems when you’re living with someone day in and day out.”

Her caption continued, “So you’ve got to ask yourself: What are you trying to get out of this relationship? Have you truly thought it through? Do you want a wedding or do you want a lifelong partnership? Those are two very different things. Together, you are answering the question: Who are we and who do we want to be?”

I completely respect everything she mentioned above because that is her experience of what it takes to sustain a long-term, successful marriage and that is what has worked for her. While I believe that what she mentioned is true, I think it’s important that we also get into the nuances between trying to make a relationship work with someone who is equally committed to the relationship as you are versus trying to make a relationship work with someone who has reached an expiration date in your life.

Not every relationship is meant to last long-term and that doesn’t have to be a “bad” thing. Some people come into our reality to show us who we are so we can learn and grow and some people come into our lives to spend a lifetime with us. As you are dating, it’s important to discern the difference.

To help you do that, I have compiled a list of eight signs that it might be time to break up with someone. Check it out and share your thoughts below in the comments.

1.When you spend the entire relationship trying to alter yourself or the other person to "make it work."


Our values connect us to our hearts. When we are not in tune with our values, we will alter ourselves just to be in a relationship with someone else. Now this most likely did not just start “out of nowhere." This is a learned behavior that kept us safe in our environment. As children, we are very dependent on our caregivers to be in “attunement” with us. Attunement means to be in harmony with us; to respond to our needs, and to mirror to us what we’re seeking and what we’re giving out.

If your caregiver was unable to attune to you, you most likely had to alter yourself in some way to get your needs met. For example, if mom was always consumed with work and came home in a “bad” mood, maybe you had to alter your good mood to cope with the unsafety that came with her “bad” mood. Another example, let's say maybe if you wanted to be an artist but your family of origin communicated to you with their actions or an overall lack of response, that your dreams and your interest were not “good enough” to receive love from them. As children, we don’t just “get over” that. We internalize this as a rejection of the essence of who you are, the rejection of your authenticity.

We then learn that we must be someone else outside of ourselves to receive love, approval, and validation. We develop this core belief that love has to be earned and you have to work really really hard for people to accept you, and not only do you alter yourself, but you will then try to alter other people who do not fit into your standards because that’s what you learned to do in order to connect. In your mind, that’s loving.

But the truth is you never have to alter yourself or anyone for love, you don’t have to disown your boundaries, or say and do things for others that create this internal conflict with you and your values. When we alter ourselves for love, we are in our most inauthentic expression, which attracts people who are attracted to our most inauthentic expression. Even if we’re unconsciously in our most authentic expression for the sake of survival, the tragedy is that we become a match to the very thing we say we don't want, which leads to more heartache and pain.

I made a post on Instagram a few weeks ago that said, “When you are performing for love, you attract people who are looking for nothing more than to be entertained.” If you cannot be yourself around your partner without feeling shamed, chastised, unworthy, or unloveable, it may be time to reconsider if this relationship is the right fit for you.

If your partner cannot be themselves around you without you trying to change them, it may be time to reconsider if this relationship is the right fit for you.

2.When there is emotional, verbal, physical, or sexual abuse present.

In relationships, we all have standards and boundaries in regard to how we would like to be treated. Standards and boundaries are not meant to push people out, but they are clear guidelines we communicate to others about how we would like to be treated and what helps us to feel safe in our relationships. Abuse of any sort is unsafe for your mind, body, and nervous system. If you find yourself hiding what’s really happening in your relationship from your friends and loved ones, you could be in an abusive relationship.

There are many reasons why people stay in abusive relationships, although there can be so many reasons to leave. If you or anyone you know is struggling to leave a physically abusive relationship, call 800-799-7233 or text START to 88788 for support.

I’m hoping in the future, we will have more resources out there for anyone dealing with emotional and psychological abuse. In the meantime, it could be helpful to speak with a professional for your safety as well as receive some resources to leave the relationship.

3.When there is an overall lack of accountability from your partner.

Starz Professor GIF by Power Book II: GhostGiphy

One of the things I’ve learned being a couples therapist is that if you and your partner are in conflict, it’s you and them against the problem, not you and them versus each other. When you get into conflict with your partner and they seem to deflect, withdraw, ignore you, or shut down when you’re explaining something to them that is hurting you, it may be time to reconsider the relationship and reconsider your options.

Most relationships fail when we make the other person out to be the “bad guy” rather than understanding that everyone is complex, and depending on what triggers us, we have different reasons for why we respond the way we do, oftentimes for protection and survival. Externalizing conflict in the relationship will help you to build intimacy through empathy, patience, compassion, and understanding but BOTH partners have to be open and willing to identify the childhood wounds that cause them to put up the defense.

When a couple fails to identify the childhood wounding that causes barriers to connection and when one-half of the couple blames their partner for their triggers, there is no room for accountability. If you or your partner has a difficult time holding themselves accountable, it’s helpful to assess how this defense mechanism will have negative effects on the relationship moving forward.

4.When your values and the mission for your life do not align.

Your values define the essence of who you are. When you start to compromise your values just to be in a relationship with someone, you are choosing them over choosing yourself, which leads to nothing but insecurity and resentment. Healthy relationships are not about putting one person's needs over the other, it’s about finding ways to honor BOTH people. The truth is, you should have never been put in a position to do that but so many of us learned to do this in childhood in order to maintain a connection with our caregivers, which we take with us into adulthood and reenact that same wounding in our romantic relationships.

When we don’t choose ourselves, we disown and reject who we are, which further damages our self-trust and confidence. When you are unclear on what your values are, you will fall slave to someone else’s standards (remember, not everyone's standards/values are for us, so you don’t want to go unconscious and give your power away for the sake of maintaining a connection with someone).

There is nothing “wrong” with people having different values, but it is our responsibility to consciously and intentionally put ourselves in relationships with people who align with our core values and find joy in meeting our needs. When we are in a relationship with someone whose purpose for their life is not in alignment with ours, we are holding ourselves and the other person back from something that could be a better fit for us and the other person.

It’s helpful to address any attachment wounding that may show up here, as well as any grief. As I mentioned before, this does not make you or the other person a “bad” person, you just have different values and that’s okay.

5.When the relationship is one-sided or their behavior is inconsistent and unpredictable.


Our relationships need to be consistent and predictable in order for them to feel good. Consistency and predictability offer a sense of safety and security in the relationship. When you are in a one-sided relationship, not only do you feel insecure but you are also drained physically, emotionally, and spiritually. You also can enter into this state of hypervigilance because the relationship is so unpredictable; you’re constantly looking over your shoulder waiting for something terrible to happen because you never know what you’re going to get from this person.

If you’re in a one-sided relationship, you may also find yourself getting excited when the other person is finally able to offer you the bare minimum. You start getting excited over basic things that a relationship actually needs in order to survive because you’ve spent the entire relationship starving waiting for breadcrumbs to fill you up.

If you resonate with this, this could be a prime indication that you are in a one-sided relationship. One-sided relationships tend to leave us feeling overwhelmed, stressed, resentful and drained. If you feel you are pouring more into the relationship than your partner and you’ve surpassed having multiple conversations about what your needs are and what makes you unhappy, it may be time to reconsider the relationship.

6.When you’re constantly creating a fantasy around the relationship, or you're only interested in their “potential.”

In relationships, it is not enough to believe in who you want a person to be, you have to believe in who they are in the present moment and who they want to be overall. When we are only interested in someone's potential, we are creating a barrier to true intimacy and connection with them. To love someone is to accept them for who they are and assess if that version of themselves that they’re presenting in the present moment is in alignment with you.

When we put all of our hopes in someone's potential, we are believing in something that does not exist. Loving someone is about meeting them where they are. If you are unable to accept the essence of who they are in the present moment, it may be time to reevaluate the relationship.

7.When you only feel seen, loved, and desired when you’re having sex.


Oftentimes when we are not getting our emotional needs met in a relationship, we begin to put other forms of connection on a pedestal. When our needs are not getting met, we become desperate to be seen, loved, and desired, even if that connection is only temporary. If you are being deprived of love, consistency, respect, support, etc., your needs are not getting met in your relationship. Sex is the fastest way to achieve what feels like a “connection” to another person. This is why when people start to feel distant or disconnected from their partners in relationships, they may try to connect through sex first. It’s the fastest and easiest way to feel…something.

When we are operating from an “I guess I’ll just take what I can get” mentality when it comes to relationships, we are communicating that we are willing to do any and everything to avoid losing connection, even if the connection is not good for us (a deep fear of abandonment). With this mentality, we also disown our boundaries and our standards, which is crucial when it comes to communicating how we would like to be treated in order for someone to have access to us.

This may stem from childhood where maybe you had a caregiver who was very inconsistent. Maybe sometimes they were able to show up for you and other times they were caught up in their own problems. As a child, this becomes very confusing. Nevertheless, this becomes the pattern that plays out in your romantic relationship.

So in having sex with this person, although it may feel like it, it’s not really about the person or the sex. It’s about the high that you get finally feeling loved, wanted, and seen in the act of having sex. You're attached to the feeling the person gives you, not necessarily the person (especially if the relationship is unhealthy).

If you find yourself using sex as a coping mechanism to distract yourself from reality and soothe feelings of abandonment/rejection/loneliness or unworthiness in your relationship, it may be time to reconsider and really think about if this is a relationship dynamic that is sustainable for you.

8.When the only reason you’re still together is because of “history” or because you do not want to disappoint yourself or other people.

People stay in relationships for a plethora of reasons. Some stay for the sake of comfort and some stay for the sake of not disappointing their loved ones (family, friends, and children). But love does not require you to tether yourself to someone who is not for you. When we are staying in a relationship for the sake of other people, especially for our children, we communicate to them that relationships are about sticking it out regardless of how you feel and regardless of how you are being treated. You are teaching them to disown themselves (especially if the relationship, is less about irreconcilable differences and more so about abuse).

This is unhealthy because what we are communicating is that our feelings and our needs don’t matter and we are willing to disown ourselves in an attempt to control someone else's perception of us and the outcome of our relationship to soothe our own anxiety.

It could be helpful to work with a professional when it comes to any shame or guilt you feel around leaving a relationship that no longer serves you. When we live our lives to avoid disappointing other people, not only are we showing up inauthentically but it eats away at our self-trust and self-confidence. It creates a barrier to intimacy because we are unwilling to open ourselves up to receive support.

If you find yourself having a difficult time leaving a relationship because you’re afraid of what other people will think/say/feel, it could be helpful to do some work around how you’re perceived and core beliefs around a relationship not working out.

If you believe that the ending of a relationship means you failed, you may have a fear of failure or maybe some inner work to do around reframing why a relationship ending even means that you or the other person “failed.” If you were able to walk away from the relationship and integrate the lesson from it, how exactly did you fail?

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Featured image by Vladimir Vladimirov/Getty Images




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