By Jordan Dann, MFA, LP, CIRT
Jordan Dann, MFA, LP, CIRT, is a licensed psychoanalyst in private practice in New York City working with individuals and couples. She is a graduate of the Gestalt Associates for Psychotherapy, an IMAGO couples therapist, and a Somatic Experiencing practitioner.
Any relationship that we are in long-term goes through seasons, especially if we are committed to another person and have invested our time, love, and energy into the relationship. No relationship is perfect, despite how much we romanticize them. Even the most satisfying of relationships needs conscious attention and nurturing to ensure health and growth.
Many people leave relationships because of their unresolved attachment issues that get displaced on the other person. Additionally, people leave relationships because they haven’t done the internal work to understand that mature attachment requires self-awareness and conscious communication.
Being able to know when a relationship is truly over means being able to tell the difference between what is yours and what is your partner’s. That isn’t always easy, but the following signs will help you to reflect on when it’s time to let go.
You have expressed your experience, unmet needs, and desire for growth with as much honesty and clarity as possible.
This is the most important sign. I so often have clients who feel unhappy in their relationships, but when I explore their communication with their partner, they reveal that they have not been honest and direct about their feelings.
Start by being honest with yourself about what you want. If you want the relationship to work, you have to honor your partner by giving them the opportunity to respond to your needs.
What is stopping you from expressing your feelings directly? When you say what is true for you, you support yourself, what the other person does or says in response is just more information for you to assess whether you think the relationship is viable or not.
If you and your partner struggle to communicate, you may want to seek couples therapy. For anyone who is unsure whether to stay or go, working with a couples therapist can help to clarify both of your feelings.
There is no emotional connection.
The foundation of a strong relationship is two people who feel safe and cared for, which supports their ability to be vulnerable and open with one another. Vulnerable openness occurs during conflict and means that I can set my perspective aside and care about your experience without being defensive. Vulnerable openness means I can share my most tender feelings about you, myself, or the world, and I feel safe to do so.
When you find that you are hiding your feelings, finding excuses to avoid time together, or fantasizing about leaving the relationship–these might be signs that you no longer want a deep connection. Similarly, if you find that you aren’t laughing, being silly, and playing with one another, this is also an indication that your emotional bond is weakening.
Physical intimacy and affection don’t appeal to you anymore.
Great relationships start with great sleep.*
Sexual desire has seasons throughout a relationship. In committed partnerships, factors like age, changing sex drives, life stressors, children, and more can change the rhythm on sexual connection. That said, if you still crave your partner’s touch, you like looking at their body, like the way they smell, or long for more physical intimacy (of all kinds), then these are signs it might be something to work on.
However, if you find that the thought or sight of your partner turns you off, then it is most likely a sign that the relationship needs work–or that it’s time to let go.
It’s hard to agree on anything.
Another strong indication that you’re heading for a breakup is that you don’t see eye-to-eye anymore. When you’re dealing with constant conflict, and both people feel continually misunderstood and hurt, this begins to wear away on any positive connection.
Any expert will tell you that if you’re fighting constantly, and there are few minutes of peace or secure connection, you have to take this seriously and respond accordingly. Conflict is an inherent aspect of any healthy connection, but when you can’t connect about anything, it’s an unfortunate sign that the relationship has broken down.
You are preoccupied with the idea of another relationship.
It’s absolutely normal to be attracted to other people or have sexual fantasies about others, but if you don’t have an open relationship and you’re having these thoughts in secret, it’s possible that your needs aren’t being met in your primary relationship.
When fantasies or affairs are taking time and energy away from your partner, you’ve opened an exit. Exits come in many forms and ultimately drain energy out of your partnership. If you’re having an affair, you’re already leaving your current relationship. Be honest with yourself about what you want. It’s time to begin a conversation with your partner about your relationship.
The trust is gone.
Trust is essential for secure attachment. If you have experienced infidelity, secrecy, or repeated boundary violation, trust is hard to rebuild. If you feel like you can’t trust your partner, it’s either something to repair, or it’s time to let go.
If you want to rebuild trust, both people need to focus not only on trust, but explore the root of the issues which led to the breakdown in the first place.
Your goals and vision don’t align.
A fish may love a bird, but where will they live? Often our hope or wish for partnership, combined with our attachment histories, can cloud our ability to be with the reality of someone else’s difference.
Children, professional goals, finances, geography, quality of life–all these factors create the daily fabric of connection. Compromise is an inherent part of healthy connection, but no matter how much you care for each other, if you want very different lives or have different visions, it’s important to be honest about what you’d have to give up to stay together.
When to work on it vs. when to walk away.
All relationships go through seasons, and as people change, so do their attachment needs. Not every relationship challenge is a reason to call it quits. Therefore, it is crucial that you are able to identify the difference between relationship issues that can be addressed, and habitual issues that you or your partner refuse or are unwilling to address. By practicing ongoing awareness, you can develop your capacity to notice when a relationship challenge turns into a problematic pattern that needs to be addressed and decide when it’s time to walk away.