Here's How to Know When It's Time to End a Relationship, According to Experts
Plus, how to initiate change before officially walking away.
Relationships—they’re complicated. Whether it’s between partners or friends, ups and downs are guaranteed. It’s part of life. At a certain point, however, if those downs occur more frequently or if you find yourself saying something along the lines of, “When we’re good, we’re great, but when we’re bad, we’re horrible” (yup, we’ve all been there), it’s time to take a step back and evaluate if it's time to end the relationship.
Look, it’s never easy to know when to end a relationship, and being in love (whether romantically or platonically) can make it hard to decipher signs that it’s time to call it quits. The point is, don’t beat yourself up. You don’t need to know all the answers. Just know that if you’ve ever wondered when to end a long-term relationship or contemplated how to break up with someone, we’re here to help you work through it.
We chatted with a few relationship experts for their top tips on when to end a relationship. Here’s hoping you find the answer you’ve been looking for by the end of this article.
5 Signs It Might Be Time to End the Relationship
1. If you feel like something is off.
Sometimes people will gaslight you and make you feel crazy for following your gut, but Katie Hood, the CEO of the One Love Foundation—whose sole mission is to educate young people about healthy and unhealthy relationships—says that doing so is essential when it comes to determining whether it’s time to make a change in a relationship or leave one for good.
“If you feel like something is off in your relationship, pay attention to that feeling and try to better understand where it’s coming from,” she says. “We’ve created our Ten Signs framework to help understand your feelings and be able to connect them to the unhealthy relationship behaviors that frequently drive those feelings. Maybe your frustration is because your partner is overly possessive of you. Maybe your sadness is because your friend belittles you frequently in front of your other friends." Once you can understand the source of your feelings, Hood suggests talking to your friend or partner openly and honestly to work together toward improving your relationship. And if you can’t talk to your friend or partner and have them understand how their behaviors are impacting you, it’s likely time to go your separate ways.
2. If there’s been a long-lasting lack of motivation.
You know when you’re in a relationship and you tell your friend or partner that something bothers you and you’d like them to work on it? When they don’t take it seriously and lack motivation after the discussion, psychotherapist Mariel Mangold—who specializes in relationships, marriage, and divorce—says that it’s a glaring red flag that it might be time to end a relationship.
“No one is perfect; we all have places we need to grow. But if we are dating someone who doesn’t think they need to grow or who time after time shows us they’re just not ready to put in the work to be better, that’s when I advise a therapy client [that] they may want to walk,” she says.
3. If you feel like you’re being manipulated.
“If you feel like you’re constantly walking on eggshells, it’s time to look at your options on if, how, and when to end your relationship,” Hood says. “Each person in a relationship should feel safe with each other while maintaining a sense of independence. When fear enters the picture or you’re being isolated from other family and friends, it’s especially important to reach out for help.”
4. If you feel threatened or abused in any way.
This goes both ways. Therapist and relationship coach Risha Nathan says that if you feel like you’re experiencing or inducing abuse in any relationship, you should take the initiative and walk away. Notice how she said if you’re inducing it as well? That’s because it’s a red flag if you feel the need to constantly nag and check in on a partner or friend. This means you cannot trust them, and that alone is reason enough to walk away.
5. If communication feels impossible.
It’s important to be able to bring up things that bother you without it blowing up into a huge fight. “So often I see clients who are so hyper-focused on the other person’s behavior that they lose sight of their own role and responsibility in the situation,” Nathan says, adding that it’s important to stay in your own lane and stick with your own feelings and needs without pointing out the other person’s behavior. If this feels impossible in your relationship—whether you or your partner are at fault—it might be time to consider ending it.
Just make sure you really tried to openly discuss everything first. “So many relationships end because of poor communication rather than unsolvable issues,” Nathan adds. “Unless you grew up in a family with amazing communication around feelings and had really healthy modeling of expression of needs, it has to be something that’s figured out as an adult.”
5 Ways to Initiate Change Before Walking Away
So long as your relationship isn’t abusive, it’s often worthwhile to exhaust all possibilities before throwing in the towel. Part of that exhaustion is brainstorming pathways to effective change in the relationship. “If you’re uncomfortable, it’s time for change. However, that doesn’t mean an exit,” Nathan says. Keep reading for five ways you can initiate change in a relationship you hope to save.
1. Talk about it.
And don’t just talk. Listen, too. “[The conversation] should never include blame, criticism, or statements like ‘you always’ or ‘you never,’” Nathan says, noting that including such statements can put your partner in a defensive stance as opposed to one favorable for positive change.
2. Look at your own behavior.
As tempting as it may be to point out all of your partner's or friend’s flaws, make sure you take a beat to evaluate your own, too. “Try shifting this focus,” Nathan says. “I encourage people to think about what they’re inviting in and allowing. This isn’t to blame or shame oneself but rather take responsibility for where you’re at. If you feel like you’re allowing something you don’t like or saying it’s not okay verbally but hanging around when you’re not seeing the change you’d like, you need to get clear on boundaries.”
3. Set boundaries.
Speaking of boundaries, if you don’t have any, Nathan says to create some. “If you ever feel like someone is not listening or respecting boundaries, you may not be setting them clearly,” she says. “Avoidance is not a boundary. Boundaries need to be both spoken and acted upon. If you shut down or pull away, take some time to figure out what’s going on for you so that you can re-engage in conversation.”
4. Remember that your friend or partner is not an evil foe.
“The person you’re struggling with is not your enemy,” Nathan says. “When people are on the same team, they can acknowledge that they don’t have to be on the same page in order to really listen and understand each other.”
5. Seek professional help.
If working through the above doesn’t do the trick, Nathan suggests couples therapy, family therapy, or friend therapy. “People often wait until things are so bad that they don’t know what else to do,” Nathan says. “But if there are any communication issues coming up at all, you can seek out resources to help have a better understanding of what’s going on [in] any timeframe of the relationship.”
When (and How) to End a Relationship
If you’ve read through all of the above and still feel at a loss, there’s a good chance it’s time to kiss your partner, friend, or whoever it is goodbye. While doing so may be incredibly painful—because yes, even when it’s the right move, it often hurts—Nathan reminds us that it doesn’t have to be dramatic and scarring. “You can release someone with love and recognize that although that relationship may not be serving you anymore, it can still hold meaning for you,” she says. “Don’t make fear-based or anger-based decisions. Make sure you’re calm and in your rational brain when making big decisions like ending relationships.”
In terms of actually ending it, remember the golden rule if at all possible: Be kind. Remember how much it’d hurt to get broken up with over the phone—so try to do it in person. Understand that every relationship takes two, so don’t place blame. And whatever you do, take care of yourself because, at the end of the day, breakups suck—whether it’s with your girlfriend, boyfriend, or BFF.