Most of us have been in a relationship that lasted a little (or a lot) longer than it should have. Breakups suck, so who can blame us for wanting to avoid them? Still, staying in a dysfunctional, unhappy couple longer than necessary can be even worse than ripping the band-aid off and just calling it quits. And watching someone else be in denial about the state of a romance that’s clearly been dead or dying for awhile is a special kind of agony. You want to shout: “There are so many other great people out there! You don’t have to settle for a nonexistent sex life, petty bickering, or constant tension!”
Below, nine women who’ve successfully pulled the plug on flailing relationships offer their insights as to exactly what pushed them over the edge to end it.
Our inability to move on from the past meant it was time to end it.
Your Conversations Repeat Themselves.
“It’s not healthy when you keep arguing about the same things over and over instead of resolving them, or there’s a fixation by one partner on past relationships or even friendships with other people. The inability to focus on the present relationship and to move on from the past was definitely a sign for me that it was time to end it with my ex.” –Anna, 28, Washington, D.C.
You Feel Like They’re More into it Than You.
“Every serious relationship I’ve been in has invariably come to an end because the other person was clearly serious while I was wondering if I could do better—no one wants to say it, but that’s usually the truth, isn’t it? This is going to sound mean, but I would come to the conclusion that the things I admired about the person weren’t enough to outweigh my perception of their shortcomings and eccentricities. Red flags were when I found myself checking out or flirting with other people, deliberately not looking at my phone for hours and hours, and at times not feeling any physical attraction. I’d end it because I didn’t want to waste that person’s time, and because I didn’t want to settle.” –Amelia, 30, New York City
A red flag is when they start to disinterest you sexually.
The Physical Spark is Gone.
“It’s definitely concerning when you’ve been in a serious relationship with the person you supposedly love, and you realize you’re just not in the mood for sex, or even hope you don’t have to have it. A red flag is they start to disgust, repel, or just disinterest you sexually, and their fetishes or sexual preferences no longer appeal to you. Also, when cuddling becomes forced and not your go-to position in bed, and sleeping next to each other becomes more stressful than relaxing and natural, that’s worth paying attention to. I remember one of the clear signs when I was at the end of my relationship was not being able to sleep well together at night—losing that ease that comes so naturally when you’re truly comfortable with each other.” –Jen, 25, Los Angeles
You’re Lonely Even When You’re Together.
“When I started feeling like my boyfriend of four years and I were no longer on the same team, I knew it was really time to get out. Instead of taking each other’s sides during disagreements with family members or rooting for each other when one of us was stressed out or struggling with something, it felt like we were each very much alone. We lived together, and yet I was lonely in our relationship.” –Caitlin, 26, New York City
“It’s time to rethink the relationship when little things really get under your skin.”
They Go from Annoying You Sometimes to Constantly.
“It’s probably time to rethink or end the relationship when little things that normally wouldn’t bother you really start to get under your skin all the time. For example, when I moved into my ex-boyfriend’s apartment, I was the one cooking all of the time. That didn’t bother me, but what did was when he would comment and criticize. I remember once, he was annoyed that I didn’t fully wait for the oven to preheat to reheat pizza. It was a small thing, but it really bothered me, and it was one of many things bugging me. When it gets to this point, arguing over the proper way to reheat pizza—something so trivial but that we both love—it’s time to take a break or move on!” –Sarah, 26, Boston
Your Values Clash.
“I recently got out of a relationship with someone who had a very strained relationship with his family, and as a result, was very disinterested and uninvested in my family, who I’m close with. Every family has problems! I accepted his relationship with his family and the distance, but the unwillingness to accept or understand that family is important to me really put a strain on our relationship. When major values like that are out of sync, whether it’s family, faith, empathy, or whatever, that’s hard to overcome. ” –Kristina, 25, New York City
I decided to end things when I realized I didn’t want the life he had planned for us at all.
Your Future Visions Aren’t the Same.
“When I moved to Manhattan after college, my boyfriend and I continued to date long-distance. Eventually, I realized that he had built an entire life for us—including a condo in the suburbs near both of our families, but far from my New York City career. It was as though he thought my city life was a phase, and eventually I’d snap out of it and realize I belonged with him, in the house he had furnished for our life together, but without my input. It was hard, but I decided to end things when I realized just how much I didn’t want the life he had planned for us—at all. Months later, he would offer to ‘give up everything he had worked so hard for’ to live in New York with me. I declined.” –Kate, 29, New York City
Your Partner Doesn’t Seem Invested in What Matters to You.
“When the relationship is unbalanced in that it’s either all about him or all about you, that’s a lose-lose situation. I’ve been on both sides of this with the same person and I wish I paid attention to it earlier. When your partner doesn’t prioritize what’s important to you, but expects you to prioritize everything important to him—hanging out with his friends, meeting his family, traveling where he wants to, or even simple plans on a Saturday night—but creates a big ordeal when you mention anything that you want or is important to you. When you’re expected to go along with whatever he expects and wants, but he doesn’t feel any of those obligations, that’s a huge red flag and makes it hard, if not impossible, for the relationship to endure.” –Isabel, 27, Portland, ME
When I started feeling bad about myself because of things he said, I realized I had to leave.
You Never Feel Relaxed Together.
“I finally knew I had to pull the plug when my relationship no longer made me happy and felt like a constant struggle. My ex had a lot of anger and resentment towards me and the issues I thought we’d resolved, and when that manifested in constant fights and stress rather than relaxing times and love, I knew I had to make a change. Ultimately, when I started feeling bad about myself because of things he said, I realized I had to leave. It’s not worth losing yourself or constantly feeling bad about yourself because you’re stuck in a relationship that’s past its expiration date!” –Sam, 30, New York City
Originally published October 2016. Updated October 2018.