Is My Relationship Over? 6 Clear Signs That It May Be Time To Break Up

​​​Is My Relationship Over? 6 Clear Signs That It May Be Time To Break Up

​How do you know if your relationship is over?

This is a question that doesn’t have an easy answer-yet it is something that many people in relationships struggle with.

As a relationship counsellor one of my main tasks is to help couples learn the relationship tools to help them stay together. However having said this it is important to ​realise that for some couples breaking up may be the best option they have.

For these couples it is still important to break up in a healthy, non-damaging ways-especially when children are involved.

​As a relationship counsellor my main task (as I see it) is to help couples learn the relationship tools to help them stay together. However having said this it is important to release that for some couples breaking up may be the best option they have.

​​Often seeing a relationship counsellor to talk through these issues in a constructive way is a good choice even if you have already decided not to stay together. In the past I have helped many couples do exactly this.

So, what are some common signs that your relationship is over?

While there are many answers to this question, here are ​6 common signs that either your relationship is in serious trouble, or that it might already be over.

​​Sign 1: Emotional Distance

One of the biggest red flags between couples is that they start to withdraw from each other.There are many ways couples can do this. These include

  • ​spending more time with friends or family outside the relationship
  • not sharing details of your life with each other
  • spending more time on ​seperate hobbies and interests
  • ​sharing highlights and lowlights of your day with other people (not your partner)

​This process of withdrawal from each other can be gradual, but the effect on any relationship is significant.

​This process of withdrawal from each other can be gradual, but the effect on any relationship is significant. Couples feel less connected to each other, they spend more time apart from each other and levels happiness and bonding drop.

If this process is not reversed then in most cases a relationship will break up. Or if the couple stay together it becomes a functional relationship, rather than a loving, committed one.

​Sign 2: Increased Aggression or Arguments

​​While the presence of aggression or arguments in not a predictor of separation in most relationships, an increase in aggression or arguments (or a change in the type of aggression or arguments) can be.

As an example, of this, it is common for couples who are on the verge of breaking up to increase both the frequency and intensity of arguments. What may have been a minor irritation a few years prior becomes a major argument. And an argument that may have escalated to a certain point a few years prior now its even more heated.

According to relationship guru
John Gottman, one of the most corrosive features in arguments is the presence of contempt between couples.

​Contempt is when we are truly mean towards our partner or think of ourselves as superior to our partner.


For those not familiar with it, contempt is when we are truly mean towards our partner or think of ourselves as superior to our partner. Common examples of contempt include:

  • treat your partner with disrespect
  • mocking him or her
  • using sarcasm or condescension
  • using hostile humour
  • name-calling
  • mimicking, and
  • body language such as eye-rolling and sneering

​Contempt is such a strong predictor of divorce that once is takes hold it usually takes professional help for it to change.

​​​Sign 3: Fantasies of Escape

​​A third sign that your relationship may be over is when either partner is having more and more consistent fantasies of escape.

Common fantasies of escape include the “grass is greener” type of fantasy where you imagine being with another person that will make you happier than your current partner, or simply being single and escaping from your perceived problems at the time.

While fantasies of escape can be tempting, it is important to realize that “running away” is only one solution to the problem of a poor relationship. Perhaps a more mature solution is to try and fix the relationship first by addressing the major issues in it.

While fantasies of escape can be tempting, it is important to realise that “running away” is only one solution to the problem of a poor relationship. Perhaps a more mature solution is to try and fix the relationship first by addressing the major issues in it."

​While some people think that they have already done this, it is also important to realize that many of us have a tendency to focus on our partners perceived weakness or faults and overlook our contribution to relationship issues. In fact, for some people this “taking responsibility” of relationship issues can be almost impossible.

With couples I see I always try to get each member of the couple to focus on their own contribution to the relationship dysfunction-not ​their partners. In other words, it is important to always try to change ourselves before we change others.

Having said that, if one member of the couple has truly looked at themselves and tried to eliminate their contribution to the relationship dysfunction without success, it may be time f​or the relationship to breakup.

​Sign 4: Your sex-life (or level of affection together) diminishes

Establishing and maintaining a healthy sex-life can be challenging in any relationship.This is particularly true in longer term relationships where many factors can affect the quality of a couples sex life. These factors include:

  • amount of time each partner spends at work
  • communication levels between the partners
  • presence and age of children
  • sleep issues
  • general fatigue
  • menopause, and
  • arguments and conflict

While maintaining a healthy sex life is challenging for most couples, changes in the couples sex-life can be problematic-especially if a coupes sex-life (or levels of affection) have diminished to almost zero.

​​As with all of these signs, awareness of the sign is the first step in trying to change it. A useful second step is to seek relationship counselling.

As with all of these signs, awareness of the sign is the first step in trying to change it. A useful second step is to seek relationship counselling.

Some simple steps for couples to try to re-ignite their sex-life (or to increase levels of affection between each other) include:

  • working on improving communication levels. In fact, for many couples communication (and the emotional connection good communication brings) is the key to a healthy and active sex life. This especially applies to being able to talk to each other in non-superficial, “deep” ways.
  • sharing sexual desires and expectations. Having the maturity ​to be open with your partner about what you want sexually is key to a good sexual relationship. As someone said to me once “If you cant talk about sex, you shouldn’t be having it.”
  • making a plan. As strange as it seems, planning to have sex together in a relationship is one of the keys to keeping a healthy sex-life. Too many couples expect sex to be as passionate and spontaneous as it was when they first met. Unfortunately, this is almost never the case-so planning sex is almost always a good idea!

​Sign 5: You ​focus ​on ​your ​partners ​flaws (​not ​their ​good sides!)

We all know that frustrations can build up in a relationship.

One obvious sign of this is that you may find yourself thinking more and more about your partners flaws-and not their strengths.

For some couples this phenomena can be an example of what is called “
negativity bias”.

Negativity bias is the tendency many people to give greater attention and weight to negative information. Australian couples therapist
Clinton Power states it this way:

​The brain is Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive experiences.

When it comes to relationships then it is easy to remember all the negative experiences we have had with our partner and the flaws that we perceive these demonstrate about our partner. These frustrations build up, and before we know it we are thinking of leaving our partner.

A simple anti-dote to our common negativity bias is to learn to mitigate the negative qualities that we see in our partner with a more positive quality. I tell many of my clients that one of the best ways to do this is to use the word “but” whenever you think of a complaint about your partner.

​For example, if your partner is often late for events, but when he or she turns up at the event, they are the life of the party, it is most useful to think of the situation this way:

“My partner is often late, but when he or she turns up they are the life of the party.”

This mitigation of the negative quality can prevent the perceived flaw of your partner from becoming too strong in your mind.

Sign 6: Refusing to see a Counsellor

​If things aren’t going well between your partner and yourself and your partner refuses to go to relationship counselling, this may be a sign that your relationship is not going to work out.

American Marriage and Family therapist,
Christie Tcharkhoutian ​ puts it this way:

​​If your dynamic is toxic and your partner does not want to try to work it out, then that is a big sign that the relationship may be over.

It’s similar to when you are driving a car and the emergency warning that you have a flat tire goes off. If you keep ignoring it and never pull over to change the tire, your car is going to drive off the road and lose control.

In the same way, the dissatisfaction in the relationship and the healthy dynamics are your warning sign for your relationship. If you don’t pull over and get help through going to therapy, your relationship is going to get off track..

In my practice I see this dynamic most commonly with male partners of women who are seeking relationship counselling. In fact, I often get asked the question “How do I get my partner to come to counselling?”. While there is not always an easy answer to this, some options include:

  • asking your partner to make a small commitment, such as ​attending one relationship counselling session. If after this session, he (or she) can’t see value in relationship counselling he or she does not need to come again
  • emphasizing that relationship counselling is not about blame. In fact it is about creating a better, more positive relationship that will benefit both of you
  • asking your partner what would make the relationship better
  • researching relationship counsellors first and presenting your partner with some options
  • coming to relationship counselling individually first, so that your partner can see that you are trying!

​In Conclusion...

​​The above six signs are not the only signs that your relationship may be over. In fact, there are an infinite number.

However, as I tell many of my clients, even though there may be ​many signs that your relationship may be over, it is never too late to start working on it!

As a relationship counsellor I have helped many couples recover from what they thought were almost hopeless relationships. Sometimes this takes time and energy, but if both people are committed, you can create almost any type of relationship that you want!

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