how to know when a relationship is not working

Ten Signs Your Relationship Isn’t Working: Break Up or Fix It

Breaking up sucks. There’s no question about it. There’s no way I can sit here and tell you precisely what to do. That’s a call that you alone have to make… which is exactly why it can be so hard.

However, there are certain issues in a relationship that are deal-breakers, and when you run into one of these that one question pops into your mind “Do I break up, or do we work it out?”

Well, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” answer here. In two separate relationships, two identical situations can mean two different things.

Whether you want to break up or work through things, The Art of Charm has your back.

How to Know When a Relationship Is Not Working

The following list of telltale signs of a failing relationship does not necessarily mean your failing relationship has to keep failing. We provide plenty of advice to patch up your ship and stay the course.

1) One of You Thinks the Other Is Needy

Relationships are great, but relationship success is two people coming together to make a greater whole while maintaining the individual mental health. One of the most important parts of that is being an independent person who holds his own.

The “modern” great relationship is based on two independent people coming together and working out an equitable partnership.

Each partner is expected to shoulder half the responsibilities, more or less, right down the middle. Each often has a source of income, and together they negotiate a 50/50 plan to divide household duties, parenting, and financial obligations.

There is a famous quote from Kahlil Gibran’s modern masterpiece The Prophet that speaks really well to the necessity to have space in a healthy relationship:

Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

Solution: Plan for time apart. Cultivate outside interests.

If you want to fix this, you need to hold up your end as the man in the relationship and lead by example. Find ways to spend time apart:

  • Start a poker night with the guys.
  • Volunteer at work for a business trip.
  • Start working out or pick up an old favorite or new sport to play.
  • Do whatever to create a bit of space between the two of you, which allows each of you to recover your own identity from time to time.

Reasons to Break Up: You lost your identity to the relationship

This happens when the two of you have a unitary identity and you can’t pull yourself out of it despite your best efforts. Any relationship expert will tell you that losing yourself is not good or healthy for anyone. If you can’t find your identity even after trying repeatedly, do both of you a favor and call it quits.

2) You’re in a High-Conflict Relationship

You guys are constantly fighting.

No matter what, it seems like the two of you can’t even do the simplest things without it becoming a huge deal. In fact, as we recently referenced in an infographic from The Art of Charm, constant fighting is the cause of nearly one-third of all breakups. That’s why it is one of the key signs your troubled relationship is not working.

It’s easy to see why: living your life walking on eggshells, wondering what’s going to cause the next big blow-up is miserable. At the same time, maybe you still love her and want to be together, but you just don’t want the fights.

How do you know if it’s possible to keep your relationship and ditch the conflict?

Solution: Counseling, mediation, and anger management.

Counseling often starts by helping you two figure out if you even want to be in a committed relationship. That process alone can be well worth the money spent. However, counseling also helps by providing a more objective intermediary.

It’s less a case of who’s “wrong” or “right,” but rather how you two can work better together and get over this rough patch.

Finally, consider learning more about anger management like these ten tips from the Mayo Clinic. When Anger Hurts Your Relationship: 10 Simple Solutions for Couples Who Fight which offers practical tips for high-conflict couples, such as behavioral contracts, relaxation techniques, de-escalating the argument, and how to be angry without being disrespectful.

Reasons to Break Up: You can’t stop fighting

Some relationships take on an emotionally sadomasochistic character. There’s no fixing these. They are what is called irreparably toxic. Put simply, the part of the relationship you like is the one that allows you to hurt and be hurt. You need counseling, but not with her — just by yourself.

Reasons to Break Up: Physical or emotional abuse

Let’s start with a couple of definitions so we’re clear on what this means.

  • Physical abuse is any act of hurting or injuring a person on purpose.
  • According to Psychology Today, emotional abuse is a pattern of behavior in which the perpetrator insults, humiliates, and generally instills fear in an individual in order to control them.

If one partner is physically or emotionally abusing the other, end it now. If you are the abuser, seek professional help so you save your future partner from the same issues.

If your partner is the abuser, eject. Furthermore, if you find yourself regularly dating women who abuse you, seek professional help to break the cycle. There are likely underlying issues to take care of and they might be blind spots for you so you won’t be able to see them.

3) Jealousy Is a Constant Undercurrent

It’s probably not that surprising that infidelity is one of the subtle signs your relationship is failing. Infidelity is a major cause of breakups, to the tune of over 36 percent. However, you don’t need to cheat to deal with some of the negatives associated with it, namely jealousy.

Jealousy can originate from one person, though more often than not, it’s a dynamic that involves you both. You worry when she talks to another guy, she worries when you even mention a woman. With that kind of energy in a romantic relationship, it can be draining as well as limiting freedom for both of you.

The question is how do you fix things and reverse the trend?

Solution: Become more comfortable with yourself.

The root cause of jealousy is almost always insecurity.

What this means is that the only way you can stop it on your end is to be more comfortable with yourself in your daily life.

  • Stop projecting your own insecurities onto the other person.
  • Focus on the good things in the relationship and strive to spend quality time together.
  • Stop thinking you can read her mind. This can disrupt the feedback loop causing constant jealousy in your relationships.

Reasons to Break Up: You can stop it, but she can’t.

Relationships are made up of two people, but you’re only ultimately responsible for yourself. Here, you can only lead by example.

If your partner refuses or can’t leave her jealousy behind to get on the same page (which could take months, not days or weeks), it’s time to start looking at making the painful choice to end the unhappy relationship.

4) One or Both of You Is Bored

Boredom is almost inevitable in relationships if the relationship lasts long enough.

It is easy to settle into a routine and routines and boredom go together like peanut butter and jelly. The question isn’t whether or not boredom is going to happen. It’s how you’re going to deal with boredom when it does happen.

Boredom is one huge sign your relationship is failing because one in five women broke up as a result of missing the single life, you need to take boredom seriously.

Solution: Do something new and exciting together.

“New and exciting” is super open-ended, which is the good thing about it: Maybe it means you take a trip around the world, maybe it means you take a dance class together or go on spontaneous dates.

The point is that you need to introduce novelty into how you’re spending time together with your romantic partner. This will strengthen the emotional connection and physical intimacy (depending on what you do).

It’s not that hard to do. In fact, the hardest part will probably be deciding from among many options.

  • Staycation: Go rent a hotel room and party all weekend.
  • Explore a New City: It doesn’t have to be far away or exotic. It just has to be somewhere you’ve never been before.
  • Do Something You’ve Never Done Before: Again, it doesn’t matter if it’s bungee jumping or eating sushi. The point is to do new things together.

I wrote a piece on Dating Ideas for the Adventurous that might help. Check it out before you plan your next adventure date.

Reasons to Break Up: Boredom isn’t the real problem.

Sometimes we think boredom is the problem, but it’s really not. The real problem is something else — anything else. It’s only when we begin addressing the problem of boredom do we realize that there was something else there.

If you think back to the beginning, I bet you’d be hard-pressed to find a time when you two were actually bored in each other’s company. You were likely either asking questions to learn about one another or doing fun things together. Have you learned everything you can know about each other? Is there nothing fun left to do in the world?

If you’re struggling to communicate with your partner about these issues, check out Conversation Magic and you will reignite the excitement you lost by mastering flirting and sparking fun and engaging conversation. You’ll feel like teenagers in love all over again!

5) Your Sex Life Isn’t What It Used to Be

Much like boredom, your sex life hitting the skids is almost a certainty. And that’s why this is one of the bad signs your relationship is failing.

Sex is not the most important part of a relationship, but it does strengthen the physical connection you share. And if one partner feels the lack of intimacy while the other partner ignores or refuses to do anything about it, don’t be surprised when that partner seeks physical intimacy elsewhere.

That doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it. It just means that you have to accept the inevitability and be ready for it.

So what’s the cure for a once-healthy sex life that isn’t what it used to be?

Solution: Try new things in the bedroom that maybe you’ve only talked about.

This can be anything from tantric sex to taking a BDSM workshop.

It really doesn’t matter.

The main thing is that you two need to have a frank conversation about your sex life. Note that it doesn’t have to be — indeed, should not be — some serious “relationship talk.” These types of conversations work best when they’re a sort of flirting.

Make it fun, not heavy.

Reasons to Break Up: You’re not into the same stuff.

You can have a meaningful connection where both of you have your emotional needs satisfied. But if only one person (or neither of you) is satisfied with the sex, the relationship won’t last.

For a sexual relationship to prosper, you need to be pleasing her and she needs to be pleasing you.

6) One of You Is Always Trying to Change the Other

No one likes it when someone else tries to change them.

It places stress on both of you and thus, the whole relationship. Not only does it cause stress, but it can also cause resentment, and resentment is toxic.

So if one or both of you is always trying to change the other one, what can you do to make the relationship work?

Solution: Accept that the other person is who they are and demand the same.

Men and women are not the same. Both of you need to accept this.

You should share the same values, or at least be on the same page with most of your values. But you shouldn’t demand that your girly-girl girlfriend enjoy your poker nights any more than she should accept that you like shoe shopping. In fact, our differences are what make sex and dating so exciting.

If you wanted someone you could control you’d be with yourself.

Let it go. Accept her for who she is. Both of you should be spending time doing things outside of the relationship.

Reasons to Break Up: One of you can’t let the other person be themselves.  

Start by asking yourself if you still love her.

If the answer is “yes,” do you love her but not think she’s right for you? Why not? Was she right for you when you first got together but now one or both of you has changed?

If she’s exactly what you’re looking for, but you’re still finding faults, you need to consider that maybe you’re being unnecessarily judgmental.

Everyone has flaws. Why are you picking hers apart?

There are a lot of reasons guys do this, but a lot of times it comes from setting unrealistically high standards for yourself, then projecting them onto other people.

That’s a problem only you can fix for yourself. Try talking things out with her or a professional.

7) There’s No Long-Term Potential

Some girls are fun but there’s nothing really there.

Good times, good sex, good laughs… but nothing more tangible than that. Presumably, if you two are more than “just dating,” you want some kind of long-term potential.

If you’re not feeling it, that’s a serious problem.

Solution: Evaluate why she is not a keeper.

Why don’t you two have any long-term potential? Does it come down to external factors or internal factors?

It could be something as simple as “we’ve never talked about it.” It could be as complicated as she’s Jewish, you’re Catholic and that’s important to both of you. Either way, you can’t fix it or even know if you can until you know what it is.

It can be difficult to communicate such personal issues, not least of all because you’re afraid of hurting her feelings.

Psychologist Marcia Reynolds urges you to avoid spitefulness, examine your motives for speaking up, and — of course — to ask her if she’s even interested in your opinion before offering it.

Reasons to Break Up: The difference between where she is and what you want is too great.

In the latter case referenced above, there’s nothing really to do about it. You can hang around until it runs its course, but that’s also preventing you from finding a more meaningful and permanent relationship.

8) You Don’t Trust Each Other

Trust is a difficult thing, and if one partner distrusts the other, it’s one of the clear warning signs your relationship is in rocky waters.

But maybe one of you is just not a trusting person or has had experiences in the past that affects your ability to trust. You might even be an untrustworthy person who is projecting how you lie or manipulate onto your partner even if they do not do that.

Whatever the issue is, you can’t have a serious relationship without trust. So how do you start building that?

Solution: Begin building trust in small ways.

Rather than looking for these grand gestures that build trust, look for small ones.

  • Keeping your world on small promises allows you to build trust incrementally. Simply being where you say you’ll be when you say you’ll be there can be an important step.
  • Be honest about when you’ve done something wrong and expect the same from her.
  • At the same time, be willing to forgive when you are the wronged party.
  • Share things about yourself that are personal, or even painful. That kind of vulnerability can help to build trust.
  • Have a trusted friend you can check in with. Sometimes all we need is a third party to tell us it’s OK to trust.

Reasons to Break Up: One of you can’t repair the trust.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter who’s the one who can’t trust. A lack of trust in a relationship means that there won’t be a relationship sooner rather than later. All you’re doing by maintaining things is digging yourself deep into something that is going to have diminishing returns and eventually come to an end.

9) You Never Go on Dates

It’s funny. They call it “dating,” but a lot of people who are don’t go on a lot of actual dates. This can lead to boredom. It can also lead to “falling out of love,” which was cited by nearly 40 percent of women as a reason for ending a relationship.

So you need to pay attention to this, even when you’re in a long-term relationship.

Solution: Pick a day of the week and make that date night.

While it’s definitely serious, it’s also one of the easiest things to go ahead and fix. Pick a night, make it a date night. No canceling for a night with the guys, a work thing, or even the Superbowl.

Date night is date night is date night.

This isn’t speculation: A 2010 survey showed that not only did couples with a date night have better relationships — the couples surveyed even had better sex lives.

Reasons to Break Up: Just don’t.

Seriously, if the only problem you have is not going on dates, there is no way to make this a break-up worthy offense. You need to step up, be a man and start directing the relationship.

10) You’re Wondering About Other Women

Maybe you’ve got some chemistry with a woman at work. Maybe it’s the girl who serves you coffee. Maybe you’re just daydreaming a lot about women that you encounter. The point is, you’re wondering about other women.

Solution: Realize it’s normal and not necessarily a reason to break up.

Guess what? You’re never going to stop looking at other women. You’re never going to stop wondering about other women.

Not only is it normal, but there are also ways to appreciate women that don’t involve breaking up or cheating.

Maybe you flirt a bit with the girl who makes your latte and that’s all. There’s nothing wrong with it. Just enjoy it for what it is but don’t take it too far and break energetic integrity with your partner.

Reasons to Break Up: You’ve cheated or think you’re going to.

There’s no reason to go there. If you’ve genuinely assessed the situation and you want someone else, it’s time to put a clean and honorable end to it. There are plenty of ways to break up with someone, but the important thing is that you be honest and make your feelings clear.Let us know some of the issues you are facing or have faced in relationships. Tell us why you’ve broken up with girls or why you’re thinking about it in the comments. And while you’re at it, check out our How to Break Up With Your Girlfriend podcast or our Getting Over a Break Up podcast for more great info on how to deal with the trouble on the relationship front.

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