How to Know When to Break Up

Five Parts:Acknowledging Your FeelingsThinking of Your PartnerThinking About the RelationshipTaking ActionAdditional Help

If you're on this page, then you must be having some doubts about your relationship. Some amount of questioning and soul-searching is perfectly healthy for any relationship, but how do you know when that unsettling feeling in your gut is really telling you that it's time to end your relationship? Ending a relationship is never easy, even when you know it's the right thing to do. First, though, you have to be sure that it's the right choice by seeing if the tell-tale signs apply to you. See Step 1 below to get started.

Part 1
Acknowledging Your Feelings

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    Consider if there's something you have been reluctant to accept about your partner. Do you want him or her to change for you? And if so, consider that it would be fair for your partner to want you to change for them as well. Another thing you can try is to fully accept whatever it is you want them to change. Say it aloud: "I accept that he/she is a total slob." Then ask yourself: Do the benefits of the relationship outweigh that fact? If so, try accepting and dealing with your partner as they are, rather than trying to change them.
    • If this is something so big or bothersome that you simply can't get over it and the person won't change, then it may be time to end the relationship.
    • Maybe you and your partner come from different religious backgrounds. If your partner refuses to convert and so do you and religion is very important to you, then this may indeed be a deal breaker for you.
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    Think about your own issues. You may discover that you want to break up because you don't want to face certain issues in yourself, like insecurity or fear of abandonment, but they are sure to turn up in any relationship you're in. For example, maybe you've been cheated on before, and you're tempted to break up with this person before you get too attached and become vulnerable to being deeply hurt again. That's not a good reason to break up. You need to address your fears, rather than run away from them.
    • If you think your issues are the problem, then talk to your partner about them and see if you can find a way to work through them together.
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    See if you're only in the relationship because you don't want to hurt your partner's feelings. If you're the kind of person who's used to looking out for everyone else's needs, maybe deep down you know you don't want to be in this relationship, but you're scared of telling the person it's over. You have to realize, however, that you're not doing this person any favors by staying with them out of sympathy. Reading How to Stop Being a People Pleaser might help.
    • If you know that the relationship has no real future for you, then ending it as quickly as possible will be the best thing you can do for your partner, because you'll be giving him or her the chance to heal and find a more fitting relationship in the future.
    • Though it's ideal to end the relationship during a calm time, don't keep holding off because of a birthday, a wedding, Valentine's Day, Christmas with your family, or a million other reasons that would make it "inconvenient" to be broken up. This can go on forever and there is no perfect time to end a relationship (though some are, of course, better than others).
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    See if you're just in the relationship because you're afraid of being alone. Are you scared of being single? Another reason sometimes people are reluctant to end a relationship is because they don't want to be alone. But staying with someone as a "placeholder" is not only unfair to them, but also unfair to yourself, because then you're less likely to develop as an individual and find the right person for you. Read How to Enjoy Being Single and How to Be Optimistic for encouragement.
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    Be willing to accept that maybe you're just not that into your partner anymore. Or, maybe they're just not all that into you. No one knows exactly why we like or love the people we do. Sometimes we just don't connect. Or sometimes one person develops strong feelings, and the other doesn't. It happens. And it hurts, but it's not anyone's fault. Affection and love can't be forced. You might have been madly in love at some point, but how long ago was that? The sooner you admit how you really feel, the sooner you can do something about it.
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    Meditate. Spend some time sitting alone with your eyes closed, focusing on your breath. Though this may not lead to an epiphany about what you should do about your relationship, it can help you feel centered and more in touch with your thoughts. You may be too busy panicking that you haven't had a moment to sit down and really listen to what your mind and body are telling you.
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    See if you're embarrassed to bring your partner around. This is an important point. If your work or group of friends are having a happy hour, are you excited to bring along your significant other because you know how awesome he or she is, or do you make excuses for not bringing that person around because you hate bringing him or her out in social situations?
    • Sure, some people are more shy than others and some situations can be more fun without your significant other, but generally, you should be proud of the person you're with and feel excited to show him off. If you're not happy about other people seeing you with that person, then how can you be happy in the relationship?

Part 2
Thinking of Your Partner

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    Recognize if you are in a manipulative or controlling relationship. This kind of relationship is unhealthy. In order for the relationship to survive, the manipulative partner would need to dramatically change his or her behavior. If he or she won't, or can't, it would be wise to end it as soon as possible. If you feel like your partner is running everything you do and threatening you if you want to act independently, then you have a major problem.
    • If you are being manipulated or controlled, then this is one of the rare cases where you may not want to break up with the person face-to-face; if you're afraid of a violent reaction if you end the relationship, do it from a distance and have a friend help you pick up the pieces.
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    See if your partner does not respect you. If your significant other really cares about you, then he or she isn't going to demean you or be critical of you for no reason. If the person gives you constructive feedback to help you grow as a person that's one thing, but if the person is intentionally malicious, that's another. For example, if you drop and break something and your partner says something like, "You are an idiot, why don't you look at what you are doing for once in your life?" then that right there should be more than a sign that you need to leave that person and move on to somebody that will take better care of you.
    • Your partner's lack of respect may be more subtle. Maybe the person pokes fun at certain aspects of your looks, makes jabs about your career, or hints that you're not very good at something. That's still disrespect -- big time.
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    See if your partner is constantly berating you. It's okay to fight now and again, and fighting can even be healthy for a relationship once in a while if it helps you discuss your frustrations in a constructive manner. However, if your partner is always yelling at you, disagreeing with you, calling you names, and generally being cruel to you for no reason, then it's time to get out.
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    See if your partner is ashamed of your relationship. This is a huge red flag. If your partner is embarrassed to bring you around or even to say that you two are dating, then you have a major problem. There are few good reasons for the person to hide your love, unless the person is too young to date or has a good reason to hide the relationship from overbearing parents. But if the person wants to keep it a secret from your friends or acquaintances or refuses to hold your hand or look like you're dating in public, then it may be time to end the relationship. You want to be with someone who is proud, not ashamed, to be with you, because that's what you deserve.
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    See if you're always the one who wants to be intimate. If you are having a cuddling session, but you are the one that needs to start it off or try to spice things up almost every time, then you may be in trouble. Especially if you are going for the hello or goodbye kiss and you ask the person to kiss you, then there may be some real issues in the relationship. Don't be afraid to talk about it; maybe your partner has intimacy issues or doesn't want to touch you because you cheated. Whatever the problem is, you need to work on it or end things, because the status quo is not working.
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    See if they pressure you to do something you are not comfortable with. If they make you drink when you don't want to, have sex when you aren't ready, or even engage in reckless behavior like speeding, harassing strangers, or generally conducting yourself in a way that makes you scared, then it's time to end the relationship. The person does not value your wants and needs and you can find someone who actually cares for you.
    • It may take you a minute to realize that you have been doing something that you were not comfortable with, because you were just trying to get in the swing of things.

Part 3
Thinking About the Relationship

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    See if others have warned you about dating the person you're with. Though you shouldn't end your relationship just because your best friend vaguely thinks you can "do better," you should reconsider your relationship if all of your friends, family members, or even people you barely know go out of their way to tell you to get out of the relationship as soon as you can. If they have concrete reasons, like that the person really doesn't like you or treats you like a rag doll, then that's even more indicative of the fact that it's time to break up.
    • Of course, people may not understand how your relationship works and you can't go around basing the quality of your relationship on whether other people like the two of you together. But if everyone is telling you to get out, you should at least consider that they have a good reason for doing so.
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    See if things are moving too fast. Your relationship should grow at its own pace and you should take the time to get to know each other. If you just met your partner two months ago and you're already talking about moving in together or getting married, then you may both be obsessed with the idea of commitment, but not each other. If you feel like you're in over your head with the relationship without ever even taking the time to get to know the person you're in the relationship with, then you need to slow down or stop.
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    See if there's no talk of the future. Okay, so if you're fifteen, it's okay to never bring up marriage, moving, where you see your careers, if you want to have kids, etc, but if you're twenty-five or thirty-five or have been dating for several years, then the subject of the future should come up eventually and naturally. If you have been together for a long time and neither of you mentions anything more than a month in the future, then chances are it's because you don't see each other being a couple in the long-term. If this is the case, then you have to think about whether the relationship is worth pursuing at all.
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    See if your relationship is suffering from a serious problem. Though a series of less-serious signs can also indicate the need for a break-up, there are some signs that almost always indicate that you either need to end your relationship or seriously change your tune. If these signs apply to you, then it may be time to break-up:
    • You've suffered physical and/or psychological abuse, financial exploitation, sexual abuse or degradation from your partner past the point of damage to your health and safety.
    • Your partner constantly pressures you to do something you're not comfortable with, such as being part of a dangerous or criminal activity. Harsh ultimatums and threatening statements that create pressure to are all signs of a potentially dangerous relationship. Don't fall for the "If you really love me, you'd do this..." trick.
    • Endless strife or despair has taken over the major areas of couple functioning – communication, sex, finances and emotional support.
    • Jealousy becomes a major issue. A relationship becomes unhealthy if your partner tries to put restrictions on who you hang out with, when, and for how long. Your partner is not in control of your social life; you are.
    • Your partner has been involved in long-term alcohol or drug abuse/addiction that they can't break free from and your life, or your childrens' lives, have suffered markedly because of it.
    • You are involved in long-term alcohol or drug addiction that you can't break free from. You aren't doing anyone any good by staying in the relationship.
    • Your relationship was based on superficial foundations that no longer work, such as partying, shared hobbies, or sex without love, and you are ready to move beyond these things.
    • Your partner tries to control what you wear and how you look. It is your body, your face, your hair, and your wardrobe; you decide what to do with it.
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    See if your relationship is "on again, off again". A true loving partner should be loving all the time no matter what the situation is so, if your relationship is on and off, then it's time to leave because there is something wrong. Do not go back and fix the relationship because you are better without the headache as well as the heartache, and there are others that are waiting for you go find them.
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    See if you have conflicting life goals. If you see yourself as a marine biologist who will travel the world and your partner wants to be a teacher and to live in Texas near her family all of her life, then you have a problem. If you don't want to have kids and she wants to have seven and to get started yesterday, then you have a problem. If your dreams and visions of the future really don't line up -- and you have to figure out your next steps soon -- then it's time to get out.
    • If you're still a teenager, then yeah, your life goals may change and you have time to think it over. But if you need to start planning for your futures now and there's no possible intersection, then it may be time to rethink the relationship.
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    See if either of you has been unfaithful -- repeatedly. Cheating is never a good sign, whether you have a history of cheating or are cheating because you're unhappy in the relationship. Though you can learn to forgive each other, if it's a repeated thing, then chances are that too much damage has been done for your relationship to recover. This may be your way of sending each other a message that your relationship just isn't enough.
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    See if you've just grown apart. This is a hard one. You may have really loved each other when you were in high school or college, but now you find that you're just completely different people with different friends, dreams, and interests. If you find that the only thing you have in common is your shared history, and that it isn't enough, then it may be time to move on. This is one of the hardest reasons for a break-up, because it isn't anyone's fault, and you both must still have a lot of affection for each other, but that doesn't mean you should stay together if it's not right for the people you are today.
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    See if you keep secrets from each other. Any form of secrets or deception, even if you haven't gone as far as cheating, is a red flag that says that there's no trust or honor in the relationship. You shouldn't hide anything bigger than a surprise party from your significant other. This is different from not sharing your latest complaints about work with your significant other because you know it'll bore her; it's more like hiding the fact that you're interviewing for a job in a different state because you don't know what you'll do if you get it.
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    See if neither of you is willing to put in the effort. If you used to go on romantic picnics, hikes, plan elaborate dates, and take care of each other when you were feeling sick, but now you can barely make the effort to pick up your phone and answer your significant other's text message, then you need to put in more effort or end the relationship. If you or your partner just aren't trying any more, then you must feel that the relationship is not worth it, deep down.
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    See if you've started spending a lot of time apart. Maybe you and your significant other have already unofficially broken up without doing the dirty work. If you spend most of your weekends with separate friends, visiting your families alone, or just staying in and pursuing your own hobbies instead of hanging out together -- think of watching two different televisions in two different rooms -- then you may be already drifting apart without having the big talk. If this is the case, then it may be time for a break up.

Part 4
Taking Action

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    Never break up in the heat of the moment. If the relationship is not worth saving, you will be able to see that when both of you are calm. Additionally, breaking up out of anger can make it very difficult to find closure. Make sure you're feeling rational and have taken some time to really think about it before you have "the talk."
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    Try spending time apart if you need some time to think about it more. Agree to not see each other for a week or two, and be sure to clarify that you are still together and your relationship will remain exclusive during this time. Don't spend time together, don't talk on the phone, don't send each other messages. This trial separation might help you see how much you value the relationship...or don't. If it's difficult at first, but if you find yourself at peace without this person in your life, breaking up is probably a good idea.
    • If you enjoy the first few days but then find yourself missing this person and feeling like your life is incomplete without them, you should probably try to repair the relationship. See more details in How to Give Each Other Space.
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    See if your relationship is worth saving after all. If you've taken the time to think about whether or not you should end the relationship, then you can see if the signs of a good relationship apply to you, too. Here are some signs that you should fight to stay with the person you're with, even if it means that you have to take some drastic changes:
    • There is a core foundation of similar values and beliefs that you share, especially spiritual and moral values.
    • You still trust each other; you know your partner is on your side and have faith they will work with you for the greater good of your household.
    • Hard times have taken over suddenly without giving you time to find your center. Health problems, trauma, financial problems, addiction regressions and depression can come on in an instant and make things look really dark. Give it time, let the smoke clear, and try to be a friend to each other until it's over.
    • You are caught in a negative response cycle where negative behavior triggers more negative behavior. Break the cycle by gaining control of your own negative reactions, call for a peace treaty, and give your partner time to get a handle on their negativity.
    • You have a tendency to run from commitment at the first sign of trouble. Take some time to cool down and work to become friends again. Commit to friendship, remember what you used to like about your partner, and act like you care. It's good for you to see if you can stick through the problems for once, no matter how it ends up.
    • You have drifted apart slowly and suddenly discover you are living with a stranger. This generally happens due to neglect, so work on it - talk, listen, spend time together and see if you can rediscover love.

Additional Help

Breakup Opening Lines

Coping with Negative Reactions to a Breakup

Sample Ways to Get Over a Breakup


  • Ask some close friends or family. See what their stand is on your relationship. But remember, it's your decision completely.
  • Write down the pros and cons of staying in the relationship. If there are more cons than pros, the relationship should end.
  • Whether you are breaking up or your partner is doing it from his/her side, just go for it. If your friend is leaving you just because you can't live up to her/his expectations and you are forever running after her/him to make yourself perfect, then stop it. Say thanks to your friend for making you realize that you need to concentrate on yourself, not on him/her. Take criticisms positively and move on, with sweet old memories.

Article Info

Categories: Breaking Up