Use this guide to navigate your confusing, messy feels.
Breaking up with a partner is hard enough as it is, but the time you spend silently agonizing over whether you should pull the plug can be The Worst.
Shouldn’t realizing you no longer want to date someone be the most obvious thing in the world? Why is it so impossible to know for sure?!
WHY ARE YOU LIKE THIS???
WHY ARE YOU LIKE THIS???
Turns out, it’s normal to be indecisive about breaking up when you can’t quite figure out if the problem is the relationship or Y-O-U. Here’s how to tell the difference, based on your biggest complaint:
BREAK UP IF…
BREAK UP IF…
Your sex fantasies don’t end with sex. You can’t train your brain to literally only find your partner attractive and that’s normal and fine. Having ~thoughts~ about other people, even in the happiest of relationships, is something everyone experiences. But if you catch yourself imagining a happy life with the person whose bones you’re mentally jumping, or feel like you’d rather have sex with anyone but your partner, you may already be halfway out of this relationship.
STAY TOGETHER IF…
STAY TOGETHER IF…
You’re actually just due for an open convo about your sex life. Sometimes a (healthy, normal) fantasy about getting it on with someone else is actually just your brain’s way of telling you it’s time to mix it up. Especially in a long term, super cozy relationship, falling into a small sex rut can happen without either of you really noticing. Borrow a tip from Babeland’s Lisa Finn and print out (or pull up on your phone) a yes/no/maybe list of sex acts if you need a guide to this slightly-awk-but-very-steamy convo.
They’re keeping you from seeing your friends or hanging out without them. It could be love bombing—a manipulative tactic commonly used by narcissists—or just straight up excessive clinginess, but either way, it’s never cool for a partner to control your schedule, even if they seem to be doing so “out of love.” You should be totally free to live your own life, and anyone who tries to interfere is probably not someone you can safely date.
You’re actually just having a super stressful week. If every single phone notification—including those from your partner—is sending a tingle of anxiety down your spine, it’s probably not your relationship that needs a break, it’s your schedule. Tell your partner you’re having a wild week and need to keep communication on an as-needed basis. They should be understanding and maybe they’ll even offer to take some chores off your hands.
One person has consistently felt more “in it” than the other. It’s normal for feelings in a relationship to see-saw a little bit. But if it feels like your partner is super into you and you’re only kinda meh about them or vice versa, then this thing may have been doomed from the start. Unfortunately, you can’t force someone who totally doesn’t want to be in a serious relationship to suddenly want one. It’s not the right person if the timing is off, and that’s one of the hardest relationship lessons anyone has to learn.
You haven’t had a frank conversation about what you’re looking for yet. Feeling like you’re ON BOARD for a serious ‘ship and your partner totally isn’t? Tell them that! It’s not fair to project your private expectations onto someone else—they should be just as clued into what’s going on with your situation as you are. Have that convo, and then see how you feel after.
You feel unsatisfied regardless of the cool things you do together. If you and your partner have tried BYOB painting, rock-climbing, and weekend trips, and you still catch yourself disengaging from him or her when you’re together, it might be a sign to move on — particularly if you imagine how your lifestyle would be different without your partner, and the vision is appealing, according to Dr. Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D., chair and professor of counseling and counselor education at Northern Illinois University.
Think flying solo would make your social life superior, or help you enjoy your day-to-day more? A fresh start with a new partner could help you live the life you want.
You’re just sick of your Netflix routine. When you first started seeing your partner, you may have gone out to dinner more often or on more exciting dates, whereas now you’re more likely to stay in and watch TV. “There is a difference between feeling bored with your partner and feeling bored of your partner,” says Dr. Mariana Bockarova, Ph.D., who teaches “The Psychology of Relationships” at the University of Toronto.
She suggests challenging yourselves to switch up your date nights, pick new hobbies, or expand your friend group – anything to give yourselves a chance to bond over something new together.
Your partner triggers anger. “When you feel like you’re going to scream [every time] your partner starts telling the same dumb joke or boring story, then you probably need to sit down and talk honestly about [the relationship],” Dr. Degges-White says. If his or her mere presence irrationally irritates you even on good days, that’s a much bigger issue.
There’s something deeper and unrelated bothering you. If school is beyond stressful or your new boss has been making you miserable, you could be taking your anger out on your partner. “You might be experiencing a common defense mechanism known as ‘displacement’,” Dr. Bockarova says. “Because you aren’t, for whatever reason, able to take your frustration out on the situation at hand, you displace it on your partner instead.”
Keep track of exactly when you lash out – if it’s every time you’re hangry or you get a work email on the weekend, take note. And, you know, be nicer to your partner.
There’s truly never a time you want to bone. Does the very idea of sex with your partner kind of repulse you? That’s a pretty bad sign. “If you can no longer take any pleasure in even a memory of sexual satisfaction with your partner, something is definitely amiss,” Degges-White says.
You still enjoy being physically close to your partner. “Determine whether you still turn to your partner for comfort and care, even when you haven’t been in the mood for sex,” Dr. Bockarova says. If you always want to spoon together and generally feel pretty handsy with them, the issue may involve a temporary dip in your sex drive rather than problems with your partner.
“Pressure, stress, fatigue, external demands – these all take a lot of the emotional and physical energy that you would need for intimacy with your partner,” Dr. Degges-White says.
Medications like antidepressants might also be affecting your sex drive, she says, so you may want to schedule a doctor’s appointment before deciding to call it quits on your relationship.
You actually dread plans with your partner. “If you are actively avoiding [your relationship] by filling your time with friends, it may be a sign that you don’t want to fix your relationship,” Dr. Bockarova says.
Another thing to look out for, according to Dr. Degges-White, is missing every aspect of your old single life. If the time you spend with your friends is leading you to behave like you did before your relationship—like staying out with your squad until 4 a.m. or flirting with strangers—that should be a huge wake-up call that you’re not feeling this relationship anymore, she says.
You genuinely just miss your friends. When you first start dating someone, it’s natural to prioritize the relationship above friends for a while, according to Dr. Bockarova. As you get more settled, you might start to feel more social again, especially if you feel like you’ve let some friendships fall to the wayside, she says.
“In this case, spending more of your time with friends doesn’t mean that you love your partner any less,” Dr. Bockarova says. If anything, it’s unhealthy to expect your partner to also be your entire social life, so you having your own sets of friends should only help your relationship.
Your fights are straight-up toxic and hurtful. “If you find you are walking on eggshells just to avoid a fight, you feel isolated and alone after an argument, or if you criticize each other harshly, show contempt for one another, become defensive, or shut down, I would reassess whether this relationship is right for you,” Dr. Bockarova says. “When we feel our basic sense of respect as a human being is being eroded, fully recovering and restoring a healthy loving relationship can be nearly impossible to do.”
You both feel respected even when you disagree. Dr. Bockarova suggests paying close attention to how you fight – do you talk calmly? Are you able to be affectionate after an argument is over? Do you feel like you’re growing from the fights you’re having?
“You might just be having some trouble communicating your wants and needs, but still love, respect, and care for one another,” Dr. Bockarova says. This is especially true if you have one or two recurring fights that you haven’t fully resolved yet.
You want your partner to drastically change as a person.“Waiting for someone to change his or her internal qualities, like his or her values or personality, takes a tremendous amount of effort, will power, growth, and hard work,” Dr. Bockarova says. You have to ask yourself if you’d be willing to stay with them if they didn’t change this aspect of themselves. If not, it’s time to move on.
The change you’re seeking is situational. Dr. Bockarova believes it’s reasonable to wait for external changes, like a partner getting a job in the same city as you, only if you have reason to believe that they are realistically capable of making that change.
“If [they] value ambition and hard work, then waiting for [them] to meet future goals – like having income to travel, buy a house, or start a family—is well worth waiting for,” Dr. Bockarova says. Just remember: Even if your partner is determined and reliable, you still have a right to be frustrated or want a bigger change in your life. So if you feel like you’ve been waiting five years for your boyfriend’s comedy career to take off, you should never feel guilty for wanting something more.
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