When to End a Relationship, According to 12 Experts

Share on facebook
Share on pinterest
Share on twitter
Share on email

Sometimes, no matter how hard couples may try, their relationships don’t work.

So, when is it time to end a relationship?

We asked experts to shed some light to this question.

Table of Contents

Victoria Shaw, Ph.D., LPC

Victoria Shaw

Psychologist | Licensed Professional Counselor

So many of the people I work with know when to pull the plug on a dysfunctional relationship. So often it is hard to let go because we remember how things were when they were good or feel that we have invested too much time and energy into the relationship to let go.

But not all relationships are meant to last a lifetime. People’s needs and wants can change over time, and sometimes the relationship was not that healthy and strong, to begin with.

Here are some signs that it might be time to end the relationship:

You fight most of the time

All couples disagree from time to time, but if your fights are more frequent than your peaceful moments, it’s probably a sign that all is not well with the relationship.

If your fights involve excessive blaming, shaming and/or name-calling, or if one or both partners become physically aggressive then you should definitely end the relationship.

If you’re not ready to leave for good, it’s still best to at least consider taking a time out until one or both of you can get the support you need to stay safe.

You feel like you must always walk on eggshells around your partner

You are constantly afraid of setting him or her off. Your relationship should not feel like a minefield. Healthy and effective communication means that partners can share their wants, needs, and concerns without getting attacked for doing so.

You cannot agree on significant life goals

This involves where to live, how to manage your finances, or whether or not to have children. All human relationships involve some degree of compromise, but if you and your partner have reached a stalemate with regards to these important life choices, it may be time to move on.

Waiting around for a financially irresponsible partner to “grow up” or, for a partner who fundamentally disagrees with you about having children to change their mind, is not conducive to a healthy, equal relationship and may make it more difficult for you to eventually reach your own personal goals.

You feel like you are more yourself when you are not around this person

It is normal to grow and change in the course of our relationships. Over time many couples will naturally adopt some of each other’s interests, values, behaviors, and perspectives. Problems arise when we feel like we have to change or leave important parts of our personality behind in order to maintain the relationship.

Negative feedback from other people around you

Another sign of trouble is if your friends consistently complain that they do not like who you are when you are with your partner. Oftentimes, outsiders are more apt to see troublesome patterns than those who are involved in an unhealthy relationship.

Your partner is controlling or domineering

You don’t feel that you have equal say in important joint decisions. A healthy relationship is a partnership where both people should have equal say about the issues that affect them.

If you feel that your partner does not respect or consistently overrides your opinion, or if you are afraid to speak up for fear of repercussions, then you are probably better off on your own.

Your partner engages in self-destructive behaviors

You may tell yourself that it’s not that bad, that s/he will get better, and/or that things will change, but problems like these do not go away on their own, and usually get worse and not better.

Few things are more difficult and painful than watching someone you love self-destruct. Don’t fall into the trap of staying in this relationship to try to save your partner from themselves.

There are resources available for people who want to heal from substance abuse and other self-destructive patterns, but no matter how hard you try, it’s not realistic or healthy for you to continue trying to help someone who does not want to help themselves.

You recognize that the only reason that you are staying in the relationship is to avoid being alone

There are many advantages of being in a relationship, such as companionship and the ability to share expenses. But just because your current relationship is not working out does not mean that it will be the last chance to be part of a couple.

Moreover, the healthiest relationships are ones in which both members are comfortable with themselves and their lives, regardless of whether or not they are in a relationship. It is hard to have a healthy relationship with another person when you are clinging on for dear life.

You feel like the relationship is over, but you are worried about hurting the other person’s feelings

No need to put your partner’s needs ahead of your own in this situation. Although it might hurt his or her pride initially, there is no sense in staying in a relationship that you don’t want to be in.

Both you and your partner deserve to be with people who fully embrace and value the relationship. Anything less than that is not fair to either of you.

Related: Warning Signs Your Relationship Is Over

Christine Scott-Hudson, MA, MFT, ATR

Christine Scott-Hudson

Licensed Psychotherapist | Marriage and Family Therapist | Owner, Create Your Life Studio

You must end a relationship where you are being abused

Are you being emotionally and verbally abused? Because it is not physical, emotional and verbal abuse are not always visible.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is elusive. Emotional abuse is communication that is intentionally trying to make another person feel bad, wrong, or unloveable.

Emotional abuse involves behaviors, including isolation, verbal assault, humiliation, intimidation, or any other treatment which may diminish the sense of humanity, identity, dignity, and self-worth of the recipient.

One type of emotional abuse is isolation.

The abuser isolates you from your friends and family out of fear you will talk to them about the abuse, and receive validation that the behavior is not healthy.

They live in fear that they are not good enough and that you will one day recognize it and leave them, so they try to keep you from discussing their behavior with any outside party.

Once they have successfully isolated you, the abuser can get their adrenaline fix of knocking you down verbally and emotionally in order to feel powerful themselves.

Getting away with their toxic and abusive behaviors requires secrecy. Not getting caught in the act helps ensure their privacy. After a while, they become masterfully skilled at finding hidden opportunities to punish and destroy you for their own sick needs.

Another specific form of emotional abuse is chronic verbal aggression.

People who suffer from emotional abuse tend to become more withdrawn, more isolated, less confident and may become depressed, anxious, or even suicidal.

Verbal Abuse

Verbal abuse often leaves the recipient reeling and dysregulated, while the verbal abuser feels calmer and regulated after the outburst. It follows the same pattern as the Cycle Of Violence: The Tension-building stage, The Blow-up, and The Honeymoon period.

Questions to ask yourself after a specific verbal interaction to examine the possibility of verbal abuse has occurred:

  • Check-in with your own feelings. How do you feel?
    • Do you feel mocked?
    • Do you feel ridiculed?
    • Do you feel deeply insulted?
    • Do you feel like you are “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t?”
    • Do you feel like you can’t win?
    • Do you feel othered?
    • Do you feel like the scapegoat?
    • Do you feel like your privacy was invaded?
    • Do you feel isolated?
    • Do you feel intimidated?
    • Do you feel disrespected?
    • Do you feel rejected?
    • Do you feel ridiculed?
    • Do you feel bullied?
    • Do you feel harassed?
    • Do you feel verbally assaulted?

Examine the nature of the interaction. Describe it at its core essence.

Were you shouted at? Screamed at? Raged at? What did the person’s face look like as they were communicating? What did their body language indicate to you? When was the timing of the interaction? What had just happened? Was it in front of people? Or was it in private? Did you feel any tension building? Is this out of character, or has this become a pattern?

You may not even realize that you are being abused, especially if you grew up in an abusive, alcoholic, and/or dysfunctional family system, it may seem totally normal to you. Children who grow up in chaotic family systems such as these have been primed for continued emotional and verbal abuse. Additionally, emotional abusers may hide behind a cloak of “just being brutally honest with you.”

The difference between brutal honesty and verbal abuse is that verbal abuse ignores the needs and feelings of the recipient, whereas brutal honesty just ignores their feelings.

Examine the overall quality of communication with your partner.

  • What does your body say? Check-in with your own somatic cues. Are you shrinking back away from your partner? Are you wanting to run out of the room? Do you feel shocked and frozen? Are you clenching your fists?
    These somatic signs point to being in a state of fight, flight, or freeze and suggest that your body doesn’t feel safe. Not feeling emotionally safe is a sign that you perceive a threat in the wisest, oldest part of your brain, your reptilian brain, that is designed to keep you safe.
  • The second step is to get quiet and to describe the overall flavor of your interactions. If you had to narrow down the feeling you are left with after communicating with your partner, what is the most salient feeling? Do you feel teased? Are you being put down? Do you feel made out to be “bad,” or “wrong?” Do you feel “shamed?”
    Try to reduce your feeling of overwhelm down into one or two essential core feelings. Keep a log of these leftover feelings after discussions and time spent with your partner. You can keep a somatic awareness log in your smartphone, or in a journal.
    The point is to examine the feelings you are left with after interactions with your partner over time. We all have arguments or say something that goes too far once in a while. What you want to pay attention to is the feeling you are left with after most interactions.
    Pay close attention to texts and phone calls, as well. How do you feel after spending time with this person? Sift through the interaction and notice what remains.
  • Look for discrepancies between how your partner speaks to you in public and in private. Notice if there is a large chasm between the way you are spoken to if other people are around and the way you are spoken to behind closed doors.
  • Notice the quality of communication you are having with yourself. Since you have been with this partner, have you been speaking to yourself in a loving way? Or, have you been more critical and mean towards yourself?
    If you are being emotionally and verbally abused, it is likely that your partner’s critical gaze will spill over into your own self-talk. If you are a shell of the person you used to be, it is important to think about why this change has taken place and to recall when the changes took place. Pay attention to your own self-talk.
  • And lastly, ask yourself, would you want your partner to babysit a young, impressionable, innocent child? Would you feel comfortable allowing a young child with fragile self-esteem to be spoken to the way your partner speaks to you?
    If you would feel a protective instinct towards a young child in the company of your partner, then, you should feel that same protective instinct towards yourself and your own inner child.

Celia Schweyer

Celia Schweyer

Dating Expert, Dating Scout

When the relationship hinders your self-growth

When you’re in a relationship, it doesn’t mean that you have to forget your self-identity. A relationship should boost your self-growth and help you become a better person.

But when the time comes that you’ve unconsciously assimilated who you are with who your partner is, forgetting your dreams and passions, and you know within yourself that you don’t like who you’ve become, that means that there is something wrong with your relationship.

When you have to make a conscious effort talking to your partner

Communicating with your partner should be one of the easiest things to do in a relationship. Both of you need to lay yourself open to each other. When you dread having a conversation with your partner because of unwanted reasons, may it be emotional or physical, you know you’re going to have to end it sooner or later.

The moment you start thinking that a conversation with your partner is a burden, it means your relationship is at the edge of a cliff—it can be a signal that you need to end it.

When you are not happy anymore

Some people just wake up realizing that they don’t love their partner anymore or they are not happy with the relationship at all. It happens. And just in case it happens to you, the best thing to do is be honest to your partner.

Do not pretend that you can still fix it by yourself because with that, you will just hurt your partner and yourself even more. It’s not healthy staying in a relationship that keeps you from being happy.

When there’s more negative than positive in the relationship

There is no perfect relationship. But when fighting, screaming, and crying wins over the peaceful moments, happiness, and peace, it is time to let go. If it has become toxic that you’ve never stopped thinking about ending the relationship, that’s a clear sign that you should.

Relationships are there to enhance your life rather than bring you down. Once it has become too heavy to bear, it is probably not meant to last.

Robyn Koenig, ACC, CPC, ELI-MP

Robyn Koenig

CEO & Founder, Rare Find | Certified Professional Dating Coach

Being in a relationship can be hard but it shouldn’t take a miracle. It’s easier to avoid looking at potential issues than face them head-on for fear that it may not work out. Being brave and putting yourself in a place of choice can give you the power and self-confidence to take action whether it’s to move in or to move on.

Here are some signs that you may want to end the relationship:

You justify all of their actions or inactions around situations that you may not agree with in order to make them look good

This happens a lot in social situations when you may decide to protect them in front of your friends because you care about them like your partner more than if you agree with how they reacted. This comes down to knowing your values and staying true to them even when it may cause conflict.

You put on an act when you’re around them

You may be feeling like you’re not really being yourself, in order to please them and accommodate the kind of person they want. The energetic attraction is an effortless feeling, a connection that is based on authenticity and shared values.

You’re afraid you can’t make it on your own and it’s easier financially to stay together

This is a very common reason people stay together. The fear of moving on and gaining your own sense of independence far is a small price for the tremendous value of putting your happiness and self-empowerment first.

Charese L. Josie, LCSW

Charese L. Josie

Licensed Clinical Social Worker | Owner & Founder, CJ Counseling and Consulting Services

I work with many couples and individuals and a major question is when should one or both parties decide to end the relationship. I have them examine a few key factors.

Have you done your work? In this, I explore with couples or the individual the presenting problem and what they have done to work through the issue. I educate them on how to use specific and behavioral terminology when expressing themselves.

Often times, people focus on behavior and anger/frustration and fail to verbalize what they need. If they have not learned to effectively communicate, they must do this first.

Do you know what you want? During this phase, I ask each individual what they need from their partner. Often times, people just know they are unhappy and want their partner to change.

When I ask for specific information, this is a challenge for most. I educate them on their emotional needs and assist them in identifying what truly matters in their relationship. This is sometimes different than what they initially thought.

How much time have you invested in the relationship? It’s common that we find it difficult to balance work, children, the home and other important aspects in our lives. We inadvertently put our partner last and couples often grow apart emotionally. They become strangers; thereby the simplest discussions are difficult to have.

Couples should go on dates

Try to have less threatening conversations to establish a friendship.

Related: 3 Creative Date Night Ideas to Help You Reconnect With Your Spouse

Know your deal-breakers

Couples often stay in a relationship because of children, the invested time, embarrassment and financial concerns. This should not inhibit one’s decision to know that if one of their relationship ‘deal-breakers’ has been broken, there is not much that can be done to repair the relationship.

Once couples have fully taken the time to make some changes and be a better person and focus solely on one’s behavior (not their partner’s), then they have earned the right to end the relationship.

It’s crucial for our emotional health and well-being to make every attempt to end a relationship with less bitterness, anger, and unresolved feelings. These should be resolved in the steps listed above.

Rori Sassoon

Rori Sassoon

Relationship Expert | Co-owner, Platinum Poire

Some red flags that indicate it’s time to end a relationship:

If you regularly feel exhausted emotionally and mentally

You need to see if it is your relationship that is taking the toll on you. When your relationship doesn’t feel good anymore it is time to consider the end.

You are not feeling like yourself

If you are feeling like you have to limit yourself, your self-expression or are “walking on eggshells”, it may be time to call it quits.

You are not growing together

If one of you has a growth mindset and the other partner does not, you may evolve past your partner. Couples who grow together, glow together.

You care about them but you don’t like them as a person

If you feel this way about them, you’re not doing them a favor by sticking around. Find someone who is a better match for you and so will they.

When the relationship adds no value to you

A healthy relationship will add value to both partners. When you are in a supportive environment you will thrive. This is something that both partners deserve.

Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, M.Ed.

Karen R. Koenig, M.Ed., LCSW

Author | Psychotherapist

Ending a relationship is more art than science and involves both cognitive and emotional responses to a person. Here are some criteria for readers to use:

If there is sexual or physical abuse going on

Don’t wait for it to happen a second time. Immediately is when you need to bail.

If there is drug or alcohol addiction that you see at the start of a relationship

Ask yourself if you’ve chosen yet another person with substance abuse problems, if this has been your pattern. If so, get out quickly. If substance abuse happens when you’re more involved with someone, encourage counseling and see what the abuser does.

If the relationship is very good and s/he makes a concerted ongoing effort to change, wait and see. If the relationship wasn’t great, to begin with, say goodbye and good luck.

If there is emotional abuse going on

Including cheating, you can play things out a bit longer—but not too long. What you’re looking for is a pattern of mistreatment, especially one that is denied or unacknowledged. If you’re sure you’re being mistreated, don’t tolerate it. If you’re unsure, seek feedback from intimates or a therapist.

If you really don’t love someone

And if you know you never will, time’s up for the two of you.

If a partner refusing to go to therapy on his/her own or with you will not be workable

If someone doesn’t love you or can’t overcome his/her fears to change, give up and move on.

Joanne Ketch

Joanne Ketch

Licensed Professional Counselor | Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

One way to frame the decision on ending a relationship is to consider your energy; how does it feel, where is it going?

When you think about the person, do you feel excited, comforted, calm, angry, resentful? When you think about making plans to spend time together, do you feel “drained”? Does it take time, intentionality, and energy in order to be around and prepare for time together?

If you live together and your partner’s car pulls up, do you feel happy and relieved, or dread? How about when your partner leaves for work? How does your energy feel when you think about conversations, dates, or other events you’ll be attending together?

Is your energy for other roles and people compromised by the relationship?

Are you less “you” at work or with family or friends? Do you have less energy for hobbies, or self-care such as exercise, meditation, or good sleep hygiene?

Evaluating the relationship through the lens of “energy” is a helpful and often accurate tool through which to make informed and healthy decisions about continuing in a romantic relationship. I find with my clients, they more often regret not leaving sooner than they do staying longer.

Adina Mahalli

Adina-Mahalli

Certified Relationship Expert, Enlightened Reality | Mental Health Consultant, Maple Holistics

If you dread seeing your significant other

If you get annoyed every time you see their name pop up on your phone, it might be a sign that the relationship needs to end. Or if you and your partner have way more time filled with heated arguments than with a fun and pleasant conversations, it’s time to bid each other adieu.

If you find that you yourself are changing for the worse because of the relationship

If you don’t like the kind of person you’re becoming, whether it be greedy, selfish, or a bad friend, it’s time to get out before too much damage is done.

If your partner does not treat you with respect

Respect is the #1 ingredient needed for a healthy relationship, and it should be at the core of every interaction you have with each other. So, if the respect if lacking, it’s time to end things.

Dr. Sherrie Campbell

Sherrie Campbell

Clinical Psychologist | Inspirational Speaker | 
Author, But It’s Your Family: Cutting Ties with Toxic Family Members and Loving Yourself in the Aftermath

Relationships should end when they no longer make you happy

If a relationship is not adding to your life, then is likely taking from it. Sometimes no matter how much we love or care about someone, their presence in our life created more stress and heartache than love. A relationship should bring you peace, not problems.

Dr. Laura Louis

Laura Louis

Licensed Psychologist, Atlanta Couples Therapy

  • You are being abused. Abuse in a relationship can take form physically, emotionally, and psychologically.
  • When the person disregards your feelings. For example, if they cheat for continue to cheat on you.
  • If you and your partner don’t have a shared value system. As an example, if one person is an Atheist and the other one is a Christian, and they have no respect for another person’s views, that’s a sign that it’s time to break up.

Abigail Brooks, LPC, LCPC

Abigail Brooks

Christian Relationship Coach | Founder, Wifey Bootcamp

When you find that the relationship is leading to toxic and unhealthy behaviors

The signs of a toxic relationship are:

  • One person is controlling the relationship making unrealistic demands.
  • No one is willing to make any compromises in the relationship to benefit the other.

Now that you know the signs of a toxic relationship it is important to evaluate your current relationship if you should end it. I would recommend doing so within the first six months. By this time you should know if the relationship is healthy one or should you end it.

There are questions to ask yourself to determine if you should move forward to end your relationship:

  • Do you share the same values?
  • Do you share the same goals?
  • Do you share the same beliefs?

During the first six months, your conversations should be around your core values and beliefs. You also should be discussing your short and long-term goals and the plans you have to meet these goals. Only if you share the same values, goals, and beliefs do you know that your relationship has a strong foundation that could possibly lead to marriage.

If you find that you both do not share the same values, goals, and beliefs this is a clear sign that the relationship will need to end.

You will not be able to change a person’s values, goals, and beliefs without controlling the other person. If you find yourself in this situation, it is likely you are in a toxic relationship. It is best to end the relationship and not force something that was not meant to happen. Keep your peace of mind and end the relationship sooner rather than later.