by: E.B. Johnson
As we move through our relationships, we grow and we change in numerous ways. Sometimes, these changes bring us closer together. In other moments, though, we can find they pull us apart. Has your relationship come to the point where major decisions are necessary? It’s time to admit that your partnership is trouble and get serious about what you want to do next.
When your relationship hits a tipping point.
It doesn’t always take much to push our relationships to a tipping point. More often than not, we come to that crossroads naturally. However, we come to the moment, it’s important that we learn to recognize it. Before we break apart or shatter the life we’re building, we have to be honest about what’s happening and honest about its effect on us.
Criticizing one another
Do you and your partner spend a lot of time criticizing one another and the mistakes you’ve made? While we should certainly want to help our partners learn from their mistakes, criticizing is the last action on a loving partners list. That’s because they have no desire to run them into the ground; no desire to make them feel bad for no reason at all. Rather than criticizing their loved ones, they know it’s far more effective to wait until they are asked for help.
No time for each other
Are you and your partner spending less time together? Do you feel like your partner is avoiding you? Or that your spouse is making excuses not to be alone with you? When you have no time for each other, it could show some serious divides. Maybe you’ve stopped communicating, or you’ve lost sight of what brought you together in the first place. Either way, this lack of time for one another will drive you further and further apart.
Humans are social creatures, and we learn and find security through our social interactions. This applies to our intimate relationships, too. You and your partner have to communicate in order to keep the chemistry boiling and the bonds strong (Eğeci & Gençöz, 2006). Have you and your partner stopped talking to one another? Do you have nothing to say or zero interest in hearing about what’s going on in their lives? This lack of communication is toxic and drives a serious wedge into the equation.
Compliments are a part of the affection cycle in our relationships, and they’re an easy way to remind our partners that they’re special to us. When you compliment your partner, you let them know that you’re proud of them or that you value whatever work they’re putting out in the world. Some people need this affirmation is a core part of their bonding agency. Without it, they can become insecure in their relationships and uncertain of their place in them.
Resentment not resolution
What happens when you and your partner fight? Do you eventually come to some kind of agreement, or is one person always left angry and with no resolution? Choosing your resentment over the chance to reconnect indicates a dedication to pride over a dedication to love. When we fight with our partners, we should always (mutually) seek to come back to the middle ground as quickly as we can. The longer we sit on bad feelings, the greater our resentment becomes.
When infidelity happens, it usually happens slowly as the current relationship erodes. One partner becomes unhappy and begins to see potential elsewhere. Over time, they chip away at their own resolve as they make justifications and comparisons between their fantasy and their reality at home. This partner makes the decision to face their partner, or stray. Those that stray can lose the trust (and the affection) of their loved one. It puts them at a major crossroads where serious considerations have to be made.
Lacking in excitement
Relationships need a sense of passion and a sense of buzz. When that goes wrong, we can find ourselves stuck in a stale partnership that brings us more grim frustration than it brings us joy. Is your relationship lacking in excitement? You need to find that spark in order to bring yourselves back to your sense of attraction. If that spark is gone forever, you need to be honest about how worthwhile that passion is in your individual lives.
How to decide the future of your relationship.
If you and your partner have been pushed to the brink, you need to look within and then come together to decide the future of your relationship. Do you still want the same things? Are you still getting what you need from the partnership and one another? We have to commit to the process of rediscovering what matters, then be honest about what we find on the other side.
1. Get clear on needs and wants
It would be pretty silly to make a big future decision without first consenting the core person involved in that decision — your inner self. Before you confront your partner or demand grand changes, you need to make sure you’re clear on what changes you want to make and what. To do this, we have to take a little one-on-one time to get clear on our needs and our wants. Then we can communicate them openly to our partners.
On your own, consider what’s important to you in a relationship. What do you need from a partner? What makes you feel happy or fulfilled in a relationship? Getting clear on your needs allows you to see where you aren’t getting those needs met.
Use some of this time considering your ideal relationship. When you close your eyes and imagine the perfect partner — what do you see? How do you feel? What kind of life experiences do you share together? This is the starting point that can help us realize the quality of our current relationship. Are you willing to settle for what you have, or are major improvements required? Be honest with the answers that you find for yourself and keep a journal you can refer back to for prioritization.
2. Clean up your own messes
When we’re dealing with a lot of stress and chaos in our lives, it can muddy the waters in our relationships. It’s important to make sure you’re addressing your own personal issues and not projecting hardships that don’t exist on to your partnership. Before rupturing your core support system, clean up your own messes and address your issues in and out of the relationship.
What problems are you currently facing in your life? Are you dealing with a lot of pressure at work? Has the chaos of the pandemic age cracked your sense of mental wellbeing? Before you blame your relationship entirely for all that’s gone wrong, take some time seeing to your needs.
Invest in a self-care routine and make sure that you’re nourishing your mental and emotional wellbeing. Don’t just get a massage and pat yourself on the back. You need to come back from self-care feeling emotionally recharged and mentally more resilient. Confront your issues and give yourself well-deserved calm and stability before you reach out to your partners. Are all your issues based on your relationship? Or are you taking your stress out on your partner?
3. Have an honest conversation
After making the decision to change things, and planning a course of action, you have to sit your partner down and be open and honest with them. Have you have made the decision to walk away? You are still engaged in a commitment to them. You owe them an explanation and a chance to explain how they feel and see themselves within the relationship.
Once you know what you want (and what you want to do) you have to sit your partner down and have an honest conversation. The next phase may be moving on, but before you do that, you have to let them know that your part in their life is about to change dramatically.
Find a comfortable place where you can talk openly and have enough respect for them to deliver the news in person. Pick your time wisely and try not to end things when you’re both especially raw from the stress and pressure of your lives. Tell them how you’re feeling and why. Express what you’ve decided and explain how you want to move forward. Speak slow, kindly, and without blame. Then, once you’ve said what you need to say — give them space to do the same.
4. Tie up loose ends
In general, one of the most painful parts of dealing with a fading relationship is the question of “what if?” We often look back and question if we made the wrong decision too soon, or if we lept into something we didn’t fully understand. In order to avoid this toxic “what if” trap, we have to make sure we’ve done everything we can to breathe new life into the partnerships that we put so much time, love, and energy into.
Just as you worked to sort your own issues out, have enough respect for the life you’ve built together to tie up loose ends before you give up. A crossroads isn’t always a sign that things have to end; only that they have to improve.
If you think that your partnership might still be worth salvaging, put in the work to salvage it. Work together to figure out whether you can find the middle ground. Are you capable of meeting one another’s needs? Are you both still willing to put in the effort it takes to get on the same page and back to the same goals? Give yourselves a shot to make it work and be honest about the results. A change is not always an ending, but you are the only people who can tell the right difference for yourselves.
5. Align your ultimate aims
Too many people spend their entire lives chasing relationships that are never going to work out. Rather than looking for partners who are building a future with the same things in mind, they settle for anyone who will give them validation. This is disastrous, and a pattern that can erode your happiness for years to come. Genuine love isn’t defined by superficial similarities or a willingness to settle. It’s proven by sharing the same goals and the same vision for the future.
Get serious about the point you’ve come to. Has the work you’ve put in resulted in the right changes? Have you and your partner been able to align your aims and get excited about building the same future again? If you can’t get your ultimate goals aligned, there’s little point in moving forward in unhappiness.
Our relationships are not made great by the superficial similarities that might bring us together. If you want that long-term, forever-after passion, you need to make sure that you’re both working toward the same things in life. The perfect partnership isn’t made by loving the same football team. It’s built on wanting the same things from your future; it’s built by wanting the same things from your relationship. If you can’t align your ultimate aims, admit it. This may not be the partnership for you. It may be time to move on.
Putting it all together…
As our relationships age we are often confronted with serious choices that have to be made. When your relationship begins to suffer or show signs of wear, you have to stop and reassess what you want and the direction you want to go in next. All of that requires radical honesty, as well as a radical commitment to doing what is right for both yourself and your partner. Take action now and decide the future of your relationship.
Get clear on what you want and what you need before anything else. It’s hard to pinpoint what’s going wrong if you don’t even know what needs aren’t being met. Clean up your own messes and take accountability for your actions. Are there steps you can take to improve your own life or your own outlook before you confront your partner? Once you have a handle on your own inner conflicts, sit your partner down and have an honest conversation with them. Address your issues and allow them to express their concerns. Ask yourselves if your relationship is still bringing you the happiness and support you need from it. It is our ultimate aims that determine the longevity of our bonds. Are you still heading in the same direction? Come to your conclusions honestly and openly.
- Eğeci, İ.S., Gençöz, T. Factors Associated with Relationship Satisfaction: Importance of Communication Skills. Contemp Fam Ther 28, 383–391 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10591-006-9010-2