How do I know if it’s time to leave my relationship?

As a couples therapist, I spend my days encouraging people to work on their relationships.  With support and hard work, it’s remarkable how much progress some couples can make. You can heal betrayal, improve communication and become better connected.  

However, sometimes it’s not possible or healthy to remain in a relationship.  Sometimes it’s in your best interest to leave.

Deciding to leave

Deciding to leave a relationship is one of the most difficult, scary, big, intimidating and intense decisions that you can make.  The longer you’re together, the more your lives are intertwined and the harder it is to leave. If you’re married, have kids, own property or a business together you’re not just ending a relationship, you’re uprooting your entire life in major ways.  And that’s hard.

Working on your relationship

If you’re honest with yourself about how difficult it is to end a relationship, spending some time in couples therapy may sound more appealing.  Couples counseling is hard work. You’ll move into uncomfortable territory and you will be encouraged to look at your part in the problem. You’ll have to be honest about your wants and needs.  Over time you’ll get better at listening to your partner. Your relationship will deepen and you’ll learn alot about yourself in the process.

But sometimes couples therapy is not the answer.  

When is it a bad idea to work on your relationship?

While couples therapy can be extremely helpful for some people, it doesn’t work for everyone.  There are situations when it may not be useful to work on your relationship. It may be time to end things.  It won’t be easy for the many reasons discussed above, but it may be right.

When is it time to leave?

While leaving a relationship is a highly personal and complicated decision, below are some suggestions of times when it may be a good idea to bid farewell.  Leaving will be hard, so make sure to have support from friends, relatives, and a therapist. Additional support is especially important if you don’t feel safe in your relationship or you’re worried about potential violence.  

Here are some scenarios when couples therapy may not be the right option.  Keep in mind these are just suggestions and leaving a relationship is highly personal and nuanced.  If you’re in doubt, get some professional help from a therapist you trust.

Relationship deal breakers

  • You don’t want to do the work.  Healing a relationship that is in distress takes a lot of commitment and hard work.  Be really honest with yourself. Are you ready to do the work? If not, that’s ok. But have some courage and tell your partner the truth.
  • They’re not willing to meet you halfway.  Again, working on a relationship takes a lot of time, energy and commitment.  If your partner is not willing to meet you halfway, you can’t fix it alone. It would be like rowing a boat into the current. Alone.  Eventually you’ll tire yourself out.
  • They’re not willing to take responsibility for their part in the problem.  It’s rare that the problems in a relationship fall on just one member of a couple.  If your partner is not willing to look at and address their part in the problem, they’re not ready to meet you halfway.  
  • There’s emotional or physical abuse.  There’s never room for emotional or physical abuse in a relationship.  It’s never ok for your partner to put their hands on you, or vice-versa.  It’s never ok to use hurtful or abusive language with your partner. If this is happening, get support from a professional as soon as possible and make sure that you’re safe.  It is possible to come back from physical violence, but you should certainly seek skilled professional support.
  • There’s out of control substance use that is not being addressed.  Out of control substance use or compulsive behavior, like gambling, needs to be addressed before there will be any meaningful change in your relationship.  Depending on the situation, this can happen along side couples therapy or it may need to be addressed before working on your relationship.
  • Your partner is using finances to control you.  Power and control can be destructive forces in intimate relationships.  If your partner is not willing to own this behavior and change it, it could be time to find a way out.  The last thing you want to do is open up and be vulnerable with someone who will use it against you.
  • Trust has been broken and there’s no effort to repair it.  When betrayal happens in a relationship a couple has the opportunity to work through it and become stronger.  It will be difficult work, but it is possible. However, if your partner is not willing to take responsibility for their mistakes, it will be a challenge to make much progress.  

In summary

Take an honest look at your relationship.  If you’re experiencing any of the warning signs listed above, seek additional support.  Deciding to leave a relationship is huge. And you don’t have to do it alone. Find professional help.  Asking for help doesn’t make you weak, it makes you smart.

Tom Bruett

Tom Bruett

Tom Bruett, LMFT is a licensed psychotherapist with an office in San Francisco, CA. Tom feels passionately about helping people have better relationships. The purpose of this blog is not to provide advice or to take the place of working with a mental health professional. For more information please visit the homepage.