How to Tell If You’re Heading Towards a Breakup.

Or, you are in a not-so-great relationship.

image by Benjamin Davies from

Despite the upcoming list, there are, of course, no guarantees in terms of “will this couple break up or not?”

Plenty of couples stay together long past their relationship’s expiration date. Loads of couples remain together who are glaring mismatches, who are dysfunctional or are not especially happy much of the time together.

People who stay together, even though they probably shouldn’t, do this for a number of reasons. Fear, shared history (which feels “safe”), anxiety over the unknown, laziness, security, comfort, not wanting to “start all over,” preferring the not-so-great thing they already know to the effort for forging something different with someone else, to name a few.

Emotionally mature, emotionally healthy adults, though, let go of a relationship that is no longer working. This is not to say they break up at the first sign of difficulty, challenge, or unpleasantness. Because there will be challenges that come in any relationship. There will be moments of anger, sadness, or disappointment which arise.

If, however, the majority of the relationship is high stress, upsetting, frustrating, and just not great? Courageous, healthy adults let go of it. Marriage vows or not, living together or not, whether they’ve been together for years or not. Emotionally mature and healthy adults let go of a relationship that is no longer working, in order to release both parties so that they can move on to something better and healthier for both of them.

Some relationships will last a lifetime, and happily as well as healthfully.

Many will not.

(The same is true of friendship and other close connections).

Both of these are good and healthy human relationship trajectories.

And, for those that do not endure over one’s lifetime, a relationship concluding is not suddenly evidence of its failure, like we as a culture make it out to be. We tend to use the duration of a relationship as a measuring stick for whether or not it is “successful.” This is silliness. Are our lives complete and utter failures because they end? Does the ending invalidate everything that came before it? Of course not. Thus, a relationship ending is not automatic evidence of it being a failure. Plenty of people stay married for life who are miserable. So, there is much more to a relationship supposed success than however long it lasts.

With all of that said, what are some signs a relationship is heading towards an ending?

Frequent criticism. If there is a high degree of criticism in your relationship, watch out. This will rapidly chip away at your good feelings for each other, as well as toward the relationship. According to Dr. John Gottman, one of the top relationship psychologists, this behavior is one of the “four horsemen” which indicates the death keel of a relationship (the other three horsemen are: defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling).

You begin to find much of what they do highly annoying. We all find certain traits in our partner (as well as, in our friends and other loved ones) irritating. This is normal. It’s because, within each of us, there is both good and bad, strengths and weaknesses. If, however, you begin finding a lot more about your partner to be bothersome, this is not a great sign.

You no longer listen to each other. This happens in many long term relationships. People think, well, I already know everything about this person. And so, their eyes begin to glaze over regularly when their partner speaks. They no longer listen carefully, with excitement and curiosity the way we all do when first dating. Do not forget: you never know your partner as well as you think. And even further, you will never know them fully. We will never know any person fully. This is because, within all of us, there are parts that are private only to us. It is also because each of us is ever-shifting and changing, every single day. So, it is a mistake to stop listening carefully, to any loved one in your life. There is always newness to discover in your romantic partner (and other loved ones too).

Friends do this too (not listening). You know them. The friends who talk, and talk, and talk about their own lives and their own problems, with hardly any interest in you and yours (other than obligatory). This is also a terrible “friend” practice and is (or at least, it should be for emotionally healthy individuals) a kiss of death on the “friendship.”

You cannot communicate (or if you can, it’s rare) effectively and maturely with each other. You know the couples who fight in public, those who cannot seem to communicate with one another maturely. Those who, when they argue, it’s clear neither one of them is listening and, instead, they are just talking at each other, both of them defensive and rigidly attached to their perspective. This is a key ingredient for a miserable relationship. One in which both people feel frequently disconnected, frustrated, and misunderstood.

You stop celebrating one another and being each other’s cheerleaders. This is some of the glue that keeps love alive. It is the match to the lantern of your relationship. It is a means of recognizing the person you love, reminding them that they are special to you, and letting them know that you are paying attention. That you care about the things happening in their life, their goals, emotional experiences, and achievements. When you love someone, you make sure to acknowledge and, even further, recognize these things. Even better, you make a big thing of them.

You no longer play and have fun together. This is a big one. Believe it or not, plenty of couples stop doing this. Instead, they live together, though with a wide emotional gulf between them. They stop laughing. They no longer joke, flirt, or play. They allow stress, routine, mundane, and boredom to dominate the relationship. This is a mistake. It can result in the death of romantic love. The couples who play together, they are far more likely to stay together. Play can be many things, from board games to hosting game nights and dinner parties. It can be travel, going camping, playing mini-golf, challenging one another to a baking or cooking duel, having drinks and playing trivia, you name it. Your imagination is the limit here.

An important note and sub-topic off of “playing together.” Make sure to insert novel experiences into your relationship sporadically as well. This helps to keep the spark between you alive. Novelty and adventure bonds you with someone. Experiencing something new, challenging, or exciting together will re-energize your connection and love with someone.

You no longer help each other or have each other’s backs. Another big one. When you love someone, your automatic reaction should be to care about what happens to them. To feel a sense of loyalty and protectiveness towards them. To want to help them, when and where they need it. Why do all of this? Because when you care for someone, you are highly concerned with and care about their feelings, what happens in their life, and the things they experience.

You do not have a high degree of respect for one another. This one is paramount. Plenty of people do not have much respect for their partner, though they may not even consciously realize it. Do you think your partner is impressive? A fantastic person? Someone to whom you look up? Do they have strengths and great qualities that you delight in? Do they ever make you feel inspired? Do you learn from them? Do you believe in their wisdom and insights? Do you trust them? All of these are crucial questions that relate to respecting another. If you do not have a significant level of respect for your partner, it’s game over.

Fervent writer. Ravenous reader. Impassioned with words. Relationship researcher. Social Scientist. Social Justice Advocate. Author.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store