How to tell if your relationship has jumped the shark

Finding a new show is a lot like dating: you want to sample the goods, read multiple reviews, and check out the cast before you commit. After so many early cancellations and time slot changes, your heart is weary to attach any emotion to a pilot episode.

Once you have made the commitment to a new series, you remain cautious. Don’t get too attached, it could get canceled, it’s happened so many times before. Time goes on, and things are good for awhile, until something changes. You do your best to ignore the signs of decline, to ignore the public’s opinion of your cherished show. But there comes a point where you can no longer lie to yourself, and that point in time has a name: Jumping the Shark.

For those of you who’ve never heard this term, Jumping the Shark is used to define that moment on a TV show when everything changed for the worse. Coined back when the show Happy Days humiliated their perennial cool-guy character (Fonzie) by having him jump over a shark on a motorcycle, it’s now used to reference any ridiculous moment on TV that clearly a reaction to a ratings drop.

It’s when silly decisions are made out of panic, and the quality of the series deteriorates. Do you see what I’m getting at here? Relationships have a tendency to Jump the Shark too, and it’s crucial to catch the warning signs before everyone loses interest. Here are the warning signs that your relationship is headed for shark-ridden waters:

When you start doing recaps of your best moments

You know when TV shows do episodes that are entirely recaps of past episodes? That’s not a good sign—for a show or for relationships. In real partnerships, the recaps come in the form of repeating the same Netflix-and-pizza plans night after night, going to the same restaurant you once had a romantic night at long ago, or generally just reliving (even in conversation) those magical moments early on, without ever making new memories. Relationships need to move forward to survive. You need to make new memories and not get stuck in reliving the past. That being said. . .

When a new character comes out of nowhere (or it’s guest stars galore)

On TV, when a show is in a downward spiral, network execs panic and add a new character (think a 5-year-old smart aleck kid, or in the ’90s, Heather Locklear). They may even trot out a string of guest stars for a ratings boost. Yeah, this totally happens in relationships too. When you’re sick of being alone with your partner, or feel burdened by the elephant in the room that is your couples baggage, you start corralling a constant cast of new characters into your daily life so you don’t have to really be alone together.

If you find yourself inviting friends over a lot, to the point where you find that you can’t remember when you last had a date night, you may want to hold off on opening that joint checking account. Sharing friends can really strengthen a relationship, as long as you are moving forward together. But begging your friend to stay for dinner to avoid an awkward night of silence is not a good sign.

The bad vacation episode

We all saw this go down on The Brady Bunch. Remember when they went to Hawaii and it was awkward and weird for everyone to watch? If you find yourself on a vacation gone wrong—the kind you’re not laughing about, but hoping will desperately end, you might have a problem. Traveling, even when mishaps happen, should bring you closer together. But if you find yourself pining for your home, feeling disoriented and generally uncomfortable in your new surroundings with your partner, you may have a problem.

The will they/won’t they plotline goes on forever   

Uncertainty is a constant in the beginning stages of a relationship, it adds to the excitement. But every relationship, and every great TV show, eventually meets a fork in the road when the characters (or humans) will either move forward, become deeper and more invested or stay in arrested development. Like a series whose characters are exiled to high school forever or a sitcom couple who, after 4 seasons, still hasn’t gotten together, a relationship that’s stopped evolving stops making sense. Everyone loses interest. If you’ve been stuck too long in situation where you don’t see a future together, but you’re afraid to be apart, you’re heading towards a shark jumping moment—and that ain’t good.

But wait, there’s good news. There are many people who believe that a show can come back from Jumping the Shark, as long as show creators catch it in time. This also applies to your relationship, so recognizing the warning signs are really crucial. There’s always time to turn things around with a little creativity. Any good TV writer will tell you you’ve got to come back to the foundation of your show—what made it special in the first place—rather than look for quickie stopgaps to save it. That is, if you don’t want to see it get canceled.

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