Relationship

The only guide you need on how to end a relationship

When it's time to break up, it can be hard to know how to do it in a way that is respectful and considerate. These tips will help you end your relationship with compassion and care.

Dating Expert James Mendoza October 20, 2022 • 20 minutes read
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When we enter into a relationship, we are hopeful and expectant. We believe that this person will fulfill our needs and make us happy. But sometimes, things don’t work out the way we want them to. If you find yourself in a relationship that isn’t what you hoped for, it may be time to end it.

While you may think it’s the end of the world, it’s not. Relationships end all the time, and people go on to have happy, fulfilling lives. Especially among young adults, who have yet to figure out what they want in a partner, [1] it’s not uncommon to have several relationships that don’t work out, with over a third experiencing a break-up within the past 20 months.[2]

So how do you know it’s time to pull the plug on a relationship? In this article, we’ll show you signs that it may be time to end your relationship and the ways to do it.

Relationships are not easy, especially in today’s world. Learn more about how to be happy and get advice on fixing your relationship in this article.

15 signs a relationship is over

Relationships are hard work, and even the best ones can come to an end. There’s no shame in admitting that a relationship isn’t working out, and it may be the best thing for both of you.

There are many reasons why a relationship may not work, and they may typically fall under one of the three broad categories: individual, relationship, and external factors.[3]

Of course, it’s not always easy to tell when a relationship is over. You may be in denial, hoping things will eventually improve. But if you’re starting to feel like your relationship is heading for a dead end, here are 15 signs that it may be time to end things.

1. You have different commitment levels

One of the most common signs that a relationship is over is when you and your partner no longer want the same things.[4] Maybe you’re ready to settle down and get married, but your partner isn’t interested in that level of commitment. Or, perhaps you’re happy with things the way they are, but your partner is pushing for more.

This can also manifest when either of you is labeled as “too clingy” or “too attached.” Those with high levels of commitment to the relationship are less likely to initiate a break-up, but their partners are more likely to end things.[5] If you and your partner have different levels of commitment, it can be challenging to find a middle ground.

2. You’re always arguing

Constant fighting is one of the most obvious signs that a relationship is in trouble. If you find yourself arguing with your partner all the time, it’s a sign that you’re not getting along. And if you’re not getting along, it’s likely that the relationship is on its way out.

Of course, all couples argue from time to time. It’s normal to have disagreements, [6] and it can even be healthy for your relationship.[7] But if all you do is argue, it’s a sign that something is wrong.

This habit of arguing all the time has likely affected the quality of your relationship.[8] If you’re constantly fighting, you’re probably not enjoying each other’s company much time. And if you’re not enjoying each other’s company, likely, the relationship is no longer fulfilling.

It might be time for a break if you’re feeling overwhelmed in your relationship. Here’s how to do it the right way.

3. You don’t feel emotionally connected anymore

When you’re able to relate to and share your feelings with your partner, it’s a sign of emotional intimacy, or in other words, dynamic interdependence. This is an important part of any relationship, as it helps you feel connected to your partner, increases mutual understanding, and makes both of you feel validated.[9]

However, if you find that you don’t really have this emotional intimacy anymore, it can be a sign that your relationship is not as close as it used to be. This is often one of the first signs that a relationship is starting to lose its spark, and you may find it difficult to find a reason to stay in the relationship.

Do you still share your feelings with your partner? Do you feel like you can really be yourself around them? If not, it may be time to end the relationship.

4. There is no desire to be physically intimate

Physical intimacy is often a way couples express their love for each other. It’s a way to feel close to your partner and show them how much you care. This can manifest in either sexual or non-sexual gestures, but either way, it can be a huge predictor of relationship satisfaction, attachment, and closeness within your relationship.[10]

Having no desire to be physically intimate with your partner is often a sign that something is wrong. It can mean that you’re no longer attracted to them, or it can be a sign that you’re no longer emotionally connected to them.

Of course, it’s perfectly normal (and even for married couples) to be less physically intimate than you were at the beginning of your relationship because of habituation [11] or when the “honeymoon phase” ends. But if there’s a complete lack of physical intimacy, coupled with other signs that the relationship is in trouble, it may be time to call it quits.

5. The trust is gone

Because trust is an essential requirement for any healthy relationship [12] it can be easily broken.[13] And once it’s gone, it can be challenging to get back.

A lack of trust can manifest in many different ways. Maybe you don’t trust your partner anymore because they’ve lied to you in the past. Or perhaps you’re unsure if you can trust them because they’re always doing things that make you question their motives. Either way, a lack of trust signifies that the relationship is no longer thriving.

Once trust is gone, it’s very difficult to rebuild and find a reason to be committed to the relationship.[14] If you don’t trust your partner, why would you want to stay in a relationship with them?

6. Other people suddenly seem more appealing

When you’re in a relationship, it’s normal to find other people attractive. But if you constantly think about someone else, it may be a sign that you’re no longer satisfied with your current relationship.

It could be that you’re just not attracted to your partner anymore. Or it could be that your needs aren’t being met in the relationship, so you’re looking for something else that can fulfill those needs.[15]

Either way, if you find yourself constantly thinking or looking at other people, it’s a sign that you’re no longer happy in your relationship. The obvious solution, in this case, would be to end the relationship and find someone who can make you happy.

7. Your goals and values no longer align

Sharing similar goals and values often brings people together in the first place. And couples often help each other achieve their goals by providing support and encouragement.[16]

But over time, it’s not uncommon for people to change and grow in different directions. And when this happens, it can be difficult to see eye to eye with your partner no longer.

When your goals and values no longer align, it can be a sign that you’re no longer compatible with your partner. And if there is no longer any congruence or similarity between you and your partner, it may be time to end the relationship.

8. You can’t imagine a future with them anymore

When you’re in a happy and healthy relationship, imagining a future with your partner is easy.[17] You can picture yourself getting married, having kids, and growing old together. But when you’re no longer happy in a relationship, it’s often hard to imagine a future with your partner.

Not being able to see a future with your partner is a tell-tale sign that the relationship is no longer working. And if you can’t imagine a future with them, it may be time to consider life without them.

9. Wishing you were single again

It’s not uncommon to have the occasional moment where you miss being single. This is perfectly normal and doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re no longer happy in your relationship.

But once the thought of being single starts becoming more frequent, it may be a sign that you’re no longer satisfied with your current relationship. It could be that you’re feeling suffocated or trapped in the relationship. Or it could be that you just don’t see yourself with your partner long-term.

If you constantly wish you were single again, it may be time to end the relationship and give yourself the freedom to find someone who makes you truly happy.

10. You’re apathetic and don’t care anymore

When you first get into a relationship, it’s normal to be head-over-heels in love with your partner. You care deeply about them and their well-being. But over time, it’s not uncommon for those strong feelings of love and cares to start fading away.

Perhaps you’ve grown apart from your partner and no longer have the same interests. Or maybe you’re just not as invested in the relationship as you used to be.

Whatever the reason, if you find yourself feeling apathetic and indifferent toward your partner, it’s a sign that the relationship is no longer working. And if you don’t care anymore, it may be time to end things.

11. Unwillingness to go to therapy

When relationships start to go south, therapy is often recommended as a way to help couples work through their issues. And in many cases, therapy can be very successful in helping couples improve their relationship, regardless of the nature of the problem.[18]

But there are also times when therapy is not enough to save a relationship. If one or both partners are unwilling to go to therapy, it may be a sign that they’re reluctant to do the work necessary to save the relationship.

In these cases, it may be best to end the relationship rather than continue trying to fix something beyond repair.

12. Unable to forgive and move on

All couples fight and argue from time to time. It’s perfectly normal to have disagreements with your partner. But what’s not normal is being unable to forgive your partner and move on from the argument.

The ability to forgive one’s partner is often viewed as a vital part of a healthy relationship.[19] And forgiving your partner doesn’t mean that you’re overlooking the argument or condoning their behavior. It just means that you’re willing to let go of the anger and resentment you’re feeling so that you can move on.

If you find yourself unable to forgive your partner, even after repeated apologies meant to repair the damage and rebuild trust, [20] it may be a sign that the relationship is no longer worth saving.

Love is wonderful, but it’s not always perfect. Here are some warning signs that it might be time to break up with your boyfriend.

13. Your self-esteem has taken a hit

A healthy relationship should make you feel good about yourself. It should be a source of support and love, not negativity and stress.[21]

If your relationship is causing your self-esteem to plummet, it may be time to end things. A relationship should make you feel happy and confident, not anxious and insecure.

When your relationship starts to make you feel bad about yourself, it’s a sign that something is wrong. And if you’re unhappy with how you feel, you should do something about it.

14. You’re constantly thinking about breaking up

Have you been having thoughts about breaking up with your partner? Are these thoughts occurring more and more frequently?

When we’re in a relationship, we often unconsciously weigh the pros and cons of staying together or breaking up.[15] But when the thoughts about breaking up start to outweigh the thoughts about staying together, it may be a sign that it’s time to end the relationship.

These thoughts may come and go at first, but if they become more persistent, it’s a sign that something is wrong. If you find yourself constantly thinking about breaking up, it may be time to take action and do it.

15. Your friends and family don’t support the relationship

The people who know you best often have a good sense of whether or not a relationship is right for you. Their approval probably helped you feel confident about the relationship in the beginning.[22]

But if your friends and family no longer support your relationship, it may signify that it’s time to end things.

Your friends and family know you better than anyone, so it’s important to listen to them if they’re expressing concern about your relationship. They may be seeing something that you’re not able to see.

Breaking up is never easy. But sometimes, it’s the best thing to do. If you’re unsure whether your relationship is worth saving, ask yourself if you’ve been experiencing any of the signs listed above. It may be time to let go and move on if you have.

10 ways on how to end a relationship

The time has come, and you finally decided that the relationship is not for you. But how do you do it? How do you end a relationship in a way that is respectful, considerate, and doesn’t leave any loose ends?

Knowing how to end a relationship is a key developmental task of adolescence and young adulthood. [23] Unfortunately, there is no one “right” way to do it. But you can follow some general guidelines to make the process a little bit easier.

Here are 16 tips on how to end a relationship.

1. Prepare in advance what you want to say

Before you talk, take some time to yourself to think about what you want to say. Write it down if that helps. This will help ensure that you don’t forget anything important and stay on track during the conversation.

If you’re unsure what to say yet, take out a notebook and write down all of the reasons why you want to end the relationship. This can help you clarify your thoughts, figure out what you need to say, and help you memorize all the points you want to cover.[24]

2. Find a good time and place to talk

You don’t want to have this conversation in the middle of a crowded restaurant or while you’re both watching TV. Choose a time and place where you can both focus on the conversation and won’t be interrupted.

It’s also important to choose a time when you both feel relatively calm and level-headed. Avoid talking when you’re both angry or upset about something else.

3. Be honest about your reasons

When you explain your reasons for wanting to break up, be honest. This isn’t the time to sugarcoat things or try to spare your partner’s feelings, and they deserve to know the truth about why you’re ending the relationship.

If you’re worried about the consequences of ending a relationship, remember that it’s always better to be honest and upfront than to stay in a situation that isn’t working. And breaking up isn’t always bad; it may even be a good thing for interpersonal growth.[25]

4. Give your partner time to talk

Once you’ve said your piece, giving your partner time to talk is important. They may want to ask questions or express their own thoughts and feelings about the situation.

Avoid interrupting them or trying to talk over them. Instead, really listen to what they have to say and be cooperative. This is an important part of the conversation and will help you both come to a mutual understanding of what’s happening.[26]

5. Be an active listener

When your partner is talking, resist the urge to start planning what you will say next. Instead, focus on really listening to what they’re saying. This means making eye contact, nodding your head, and engaging in other forms of nonverbal communication to show that you’re paying attention.

You may even want to repeat what they said to ensure you understand them correctly.[27] For example, you could say, “So, what I hear you saying is that you’re feeling overwhelmed and need some time to yourself. Is that right?”

6. Don’t leave things open-minded

It’s important to be clear about your decision and what it means for the future of your relationship. Avoid leaving things open-ended or saying that you’re unsure what you want. This will only lead to confusion and mixed signals down the road.

Instead, make it clear that you’ve made a decision and that there is no going back. For example, you could say, “I’m sorry, but I’ve made up my mind. I know this is hard to hear, but I think it’s time for us to break up.”

7. Avoid blaming your partner

When explaining your reasons for wanting to break up, try to avoid blaming your partner. This will only make them defensive and make it harder to have a productive conversation.

Instead, focus on explaining your feelings and why the relationship isn’t working for you. For example, you might say, “I’m not happy in this relationship and I need to move on.”

If you can, take some time to reflect on your own and admit to any mistakes you may have made in the relationship. By doing this, you’ll show that you’re willing to take responsibility for your own actions and it can help diffuse any anger or blame.[28]

8. Be prepared for a range of reactions

Your partner’s reaction to the news that you want to break up will depend on a number of factors, including their personality and how invested they are in the relationship.

Some people may take the news well and be able to remain friends, while others may react with anger or sadness. It’s important to be prepared for any reaction and stay calm, even if your partner becomes emotional.

9. Know when to walk away

If your partner becomes overly emotional or starts to become verbally abusive, it may be best to end the conversation and walk away. It’s important to remember that you don’t owe them an explanation and you have a right to end the conversation at any time.

If possible, try to do this calmly and respectfully. For example, you could say something like, “I’m sorry, but I think it would be best if we ended this conversation. I’m not going to change my mind, so there’s no point in continuing this discussion.”

If your partner tries to follow you or continues to try to talk to you, politely but firmly tell them that you need some space and ask them to respect your decision.

10. Set boundaries for the future

Once you’ve ended the relationship, setting some boundaries for the future is important. This will help you both move on and keep yourselves from falling into unhealthy patterns.[29]

For example, you might agree not to contact each other for a certain period of time, or you might decide to limit your communication to only essential matters. You might also want to avoid spending time in places where you know you’ll run into each other.

Breaking up with someone isn’t easy, but following these tips can make the process a little bit easier for both of you. Just remember to be honest, respectful, and prepared for anything. You’ll get through this.


The truth about dating: Books you need to read

If you’re looking for advice on how to have more success when it comes to dating, then you’ll want to check out these reads. Each can teach you something different about the process, from being more confident in yourself to reading other people’s signals correctly. So whether you’re just starting or have been dating for a while and could use help, check out these titles.

  1. Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships
  2. Love: The Psychology of Attraction: A Practical Guide to Successful Dating and a Happy Relationship
  3. Seriously, This Is Online Dating?: How to Love Yourself Harder and Date Smarter
  4. Single, Dating, Engaged, Married: Navigating Life and Love in the Modern Age
  5. Things You Should Already Know About Dating, You F*cking Idiot

References

  1. Shulman, S., & Connolly, J. (2013). The challenge of romantic relationships in emerging adulthood: Reconceptualization of the field. Emerging Adulthood, 1(1), 27-39.
  2. Rhoades, G. K., Kamp Dush, C. M., Atkins, D. C., Stanley, S. M., & Markman, H. J. (2011). Breaking up is hard to do: the impact of unmarried relationship dissolution on mental health and life satisfaction. Journal of family psychology, 25(3), 366.
  3. Le, Benjamin, Dove, Natalie, L., Agnew, Christopher, R., Korn, Miriams, & Mutso, Amelia. (2010). Predicting Nonmarital Romantic Relationship Dissolution: A Meta-Analytic Synthesis. Personal Relationships, 17(3), 377–390.
  4. Stanley, S. M., Rhoades, G. K., & Whitton, S. W. (2010). Commitment: Functions, Formation, and the Securing of Romantic Attachment. Journal of family theory & review, 2(4), 243–257. doi.org
  5. Barbara, A. M., & Dion, K. L. (2000). Breaking up is hard to do, especially for strongly “preoccupied” lovers. Journal of personal & interpersonal loss, 5(4), 315-342.
  6. Gurman, A. S. (2008). A framework for the comparative study of couple therapy. In Alan S Gurman (Ed.), Clinical handbook of couple therapy (4th ed., pp. 1-30). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
  7. Smetana, J. G., Campione-Barr, N., & Metzger, A. (2006). Adolescent development in interpersonal and societal contexts. Annual review of psychology, 57, 255.
  8. Hogan, J. N., Crenshaw, A. O., Baucom, K., & Baucom, B. (2021). Time Spent Together in Intimate Relationships: Implications for Relationship Functioning. Contemporary family therapy, 43(3), 226–233. doi.org
  9. Wallbott, H. G. (1995). “Congruence, contagion, and motor mimicry: mutualities in nonverbal exchange,” in Mutualities in Dialogue, eds I. Markova, C. Graumann, and K. Foppa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 82–98. Westman, M. (2001). Stress and strain crossover. Hum. Relations 54, 717–751.
  10. Gulledge, A. K., Stahmann, R. F., & Wilson, C. M. (2004). Seven types of nonsexual romantic physical affection among Brigham young university students. Psychological reports, 95(2), 609–614. doi.org
  11. Call, V., Sprecher, S., & Schwartz, P. (1995). The incidence and frequency of marital sex in a national sample. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 639-652.
  12. Simpson, J. A. (2007). Psychological foundations of trust. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16(5), 264–268.
  13. Kim, P. H., Cooper, C. D., Dirks, K. T., and Ferrin, D. L. (2013). Repairing trust with individuals vs. groups. Org. Behav. Hum. Decis. Processes 120, 1–14.
  14. Simpson, J. A. (1990). Influence of attachment styles on romantic relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59(5), 971–980.
  15. Joel, S., Impett, E. A., Spielmann, S. S., & MacDonald, G. (2018). How Interdependent are Stay/Leave Decisions? On Staying in the Relationship for the Sake of the Romantic Partner. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 115(5), 805–824.
  16. Zambrano, E., Pauly, T., Gerstorf, D., Ashe, M. C., Madden, K. M., & Hoppmann, C. A. (2022). Partner Contributions to Goal Pursuit: Findings From Repeated Daily Life Assessments With Older Couples. The journals of gerontology. Series B, Psychological sciences and social sciences, 77(1), 29–38.2 doi.org
  17. Baker, L. R., McNulty, J. K., & VanderDrift, L. E. (2017). Expectations for future relationship satisfaction: Unique sources and critical implications for commitment. Journal of experimental psychology. General, 146(5), 700–721. doi.org
  18. Hewison, D., Casey, P., & Mwamba, N. (2016). The effectiveness of couple therapy: Clinical outcomes in a naturalistic United Kingdom setting. Psychotherapy (Chicago, Ill.), 53(4), 377–387. doi.org
  19. Fincham, F. D. (2009). Prosocial Motives, Emotions, and Behavior: The Better Angels of our Nature.
  20. Schweitzer, M. E., Hershey, J. C., and Bradlow, E. T. (2006). Promises and lies: restoring violated trust. Organ. Behav. Hum. Decis. Processes 101, 1–19.
  21. Orth, U., Erol, R. Y., Ledermann, T., & Grob, A. (2018). Codevelopment of well-being and self-esteem in romantic partners: Disentangling the effects of mutual influence and shared environment. Developmental psychology, 54(1), 151–166. doi.org
  22. Manning, W. D., Cohen, J. A., & Smock, P. J. (2011). The Role of Romantic Partners, Family and Peer Networks in Dating Couples' Views about Cohabitation. Journal of adolescent research, 26(1), 115–149. doi.org
  23. Halpern-Meekin, S., Manning, W. D., Giordano, P. C., & Longmore, M. A. (2013). Relationship churning in emerging adulthood: On/off relationships and sex with an ex. Journal of Adolescent Research, 28(2), 166-188.
  24. Bohay, M., Blakely, D. P., Tamplin, A. K., & Radvansky, G. A. (2011). Note taking, review, memory, and comprehension. The American journal of psychology, 124(1), 63–73. doi.org
  25. Kansky, J., & Allen, J. P. (2018). Making Sense and Moving On: The Potential for Individual and Interpersonal Growth Following Emerging Adult Breakups. Emerging adulthood (Print), 6(3), 172–190. doi.org
  26. Galimberti, C., Ignazi, S., Vercesi, P., & Riva, G. (2001). Communication and cooperation in networked environments: an experimental analysis. Cyberpsychology & behavior : the impact of the Internet, multimedia and virtual reality on behavior and society, 4(1), 131–146. doi.org
  27. Weger, H., Castle Bell, G., Minei, E. M., & Robinson, M. C. (2014b, January 2). The Relative Effectiveness of Active Listening in Initial Interactions. International Journal of Listening, 28(1), 13–31. doi.org
  28. Fischbacher, U., and Utikal, V. (2013). On the acceptance of apologies. Games Econ. Behav. 82, 592–608.
  29. Cloud, H., & Townsend, J. (2000). Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships (1st ed.). Zondervan. amazon.com
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Dating Expert

James Mendoza

James Mendoza is a freelance writer who specializes in writing about relationships, marriage, and living happily as a single. After getting through two divorces and being cheated …

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