I know firsthand how hard it is to recognize when it’s time to cut your losses and stop trying to make a relationship work. When you still have one foot lingering in the door, you want nothing more than for your partner to convince you to put the other one back in too.
But I also know from experience (and from John Mayer) that keeping one foot (or “half of your heart”) in a relationship when the other is already out is not fair to you or your partner. If you’ve caught yourself exhibiting any of the behaviors listed below, chances are you have a foot out the door and need to either put it back in and give the relationship a fighting chance or take the other foot out and rip the bandaid off.
1. You’ve badmouthed your partner to your friends.
I’m not talking about typical discussions about issues in your relationship. I’m talking about complaining to the extent that your friends wonder why you’re still dating – and you can’t give a good answer.
When your conversations with your friends become the “what ___ did wrong this week” show, it starts to feel like you’re leading a double life, especially if you’re not communicating these concerns to your partner.
Seeking recourse in your friends is a sign of communication problems in the relationship. Either you’re uncomfortable voicing your concerns, or your partner isn’t listening to you and you’ve stopped trying – in which case you’ve already given up on the relationship.
If you’re complaining about problems instead of trying to solve them, that’s a sign that the problems are too major to solve.
2. You’ve lost respect.
This one may seem obvious, but there’s a world of difference between being annoyed or angry with your partner and losing respect.
If you don’t think highly of your partner or don’t approve of their lifestyle, they’re going to feel judged and belittled and you’re going to feel dissatisfied and shortchanged. It’s a lose-lose situation.
3. You’re ignoring red flags.
Have you ever heard anyone say, “There were red flags, but I wish I had given him/her a chance anyway?” In my experience, people only regret overlooking red flags. They don’t regret heeding them – because that’s an act of self-respect.
It’s harder to keep this self-respect in sight when you’re in a long-term relationship than when you’re first getting to know someone. After all, you’re attached to the person and invested in the relationship’s success. You don’t want the red flags to be there.
But when you push red flags under the rug, they’re bound to pop up again at some point. If something wouldn’t be acceptable to you on a first date, its ramifications will only increase in a serious relationship.
4. You or your partner keeps promising to change.
There’s only so much you can want someone to change before you just want a different person. And there’s only so much someone can change.
Nobody should have to be different in order to be a desirable partner for someone else. If someone already wants to cultivate certain qualities and their partner helps them, fine. But relationships that are contingent upon someone changing stand on very shaky ground. People grow to resent each other when they can’t be themselves. And unless there are consequences to maintaining the status quo (i.e., an actual breakup rather than the continuous threat of a breakup), people don’t tend to stray from their nature or habits.
5. You’ve been on and off before.
How many stable marriages do you know that started off as perpetually on-and-off relationships? Probably none – because these shaky partnerships don’t last. If you’ve broken up before, it was probably for a reason. Sure, there are couples who break up once, maybe even twice, and manage to resolve the issues that led to the breakup. But if breaking up and getting back together becomes a habit, the source of all the breakups probably isn’t going away anytime soon.
Inertia, fear of being alone, hopes of rekindling a dying flame, or unwillingness to hurt your partner can keep you in a relationship you are better off without. Sometimes, these are just rough patches to work through. But more often than not, you’re on your way out for a reason – and chances are, even if you have second thoughts about the breakup, you’ll look back in a year and know it was the right decision. Perhaps you’ll even be able to say you’ve maintained a meaningful friendship or even just a cordial acquaintanceship with your ex because you had the courage to end it before things got too messy.