Yes, it’s important to know when to call it quits, but you also need to know when to stick it out.
Even the happiest couples I know can tell you at least one story about the time they almost broke up. Those who have been together a really long time usually have even more of those stories, and with good reason.
Great relationships that have been going strong for decades didn’t get that way overnight. They went through their ups and downs over the years. They almost certainly came close to ending at some point. Ultimately, the people in those relationships fought for what they had and put in the work to turn things around instead of ending things. Something inside them told them it was worth it.
That said, there are lots of good reasons to break up with someone. You should never stay in a relationship that makes you feel bad about yourself or makes you genuinely unhappy. However, it pays to know when you’re thinking of ending an otherwise good relationship for a bad reason. The following are some solid examples.
1. The timing isn’t ideal.
I’m not sure I’ve ever been in a relationship where the timing was truly ideal. Most grown adults have a lot going on pretty much all the time — busy careers, family responsibilities, social obligations, and so forth. Plus, they’re making plans for the future while they juggle everything they already have going on.
No one really has the extra bandwidth to add a relationship, but when you genuinely want to make one work, you find a way. When you don’t, “timing” makes a perfect excuse to call it quits and move on. I’ve blamed plenty of break-ups on timing over the years because I couldn’t be bothered to put in the effort for that particular person. But something about my connection to my current husband just hit differently.
We were initially internet friends who weren’t looking for relationships because the timing truly was terrible. He was fresh out of a messy divorce and had just relocated for a new job. I was separated from my first husband and already dating other people, but definitely still married. I was also dealing with some gnarly family issues at the time, so I honestly didn’t know which end was up.
We had every reason not to start dating, but we wound up doing it anyway. We had even more reasons not to stay together once we were dating, and real life started getting in the way just like we knew it would. But we felt what we had was worth fighting for, so we stuck it out, even when it would have been much easier to give up. Sixteen years later, that’s turned out to be a good decision.
2. You’re afraid of commitment.
I’m pretty sure I was born afraid of commitment. The concept of “forever” is just unfathomable to me, and to this day, I still can’t imagine feeling the exact same way about much of anything clear up until the day I die. But I’ve also realized over the years that I don’t necessarily have to. That’s really not how life works, especially when other people are involved.
There was never any moment of clarity where I looked at my current relationship and went: “Yes, this is for the rest of my life.” I just took it one day, one year, and one challenge at a time. I kept getting up in the morning and choosing my partner, and he kept picking me back. Before I knew it, I’d done that over 5,000 times and had 16 years with the same person to look back on.
Relationships are just like the people in them — living, breathing entities that change and evolve over time. What matters is how you and your partner manage that process. Will you change and grow together or apart? Do you encourage each other to become the best possible versions of yourselves, or do you hold each other back? Are either of you banking on one static vision of your future together, or do you see life as an adventure you’re on together?
3. One or both of you are attracted to other people.
The world is filled with stunners. You’ll find yourself attracted to your fair share of them over the years, and so will your partner. You’ll both likely meet folks you easily could have pictured yourselves dating if you weren’t already with someone, as well. You might even catch yourselves wondering “what if” a time or two. What matters is how you respond to those things.
Noticing and appreciating other people isn’t a sign from the universe you’re with the wrong person. It just means you have a pulse and a working set of senses. The problems start when you allow your attraction to others to interfere with your feelings for your partner.
Anytime I’ve found myself looking over a partner’s shoulder and noticing someone else on more than a passing basis, there was always a reason. Often, that person represented something I wasn’t getting from my relationship — something that I would do well to bring up as a talking point with my partner. Sometimes, it was a signal to work harder at making myself happy.
As I got older, I learned to identify my needs better and ask for what I wanted in my relationships instead of expecting my partner to read my mind. I also got better at meeting some of my own needs instead of expecting my partner to take care of all of them. That’s something anyone who wants to be in a forever relationship will need to do at some point.
4. You don’t get along perfectly with their family.
As someone who grew up in a dysfunctional household, I spent a lot of time obsessing over other people’s families throughout my childhood and teen years. I saw parents who loved each other. I saw siblings who viewed each other as friends, even if they didn’t always get along. I wanted that dynamic for myself so badly, and I often fantasized about finding it one day through a future partner.
I’ve been married twice over the years, so I’ve had two sets of in-laws by now. Neither set was particularly thrilled to have me as part of the family, as they were very traditional people, and I wasn’t. I’m also opinionated and very independent. As it turns out, most in-laws — especially mothers-in-law — don’t exactly welcome people like me into the fold with open arms. Mine expected me to conform, while I expected them to accept me as I was. Neither of those things ever really happened.
That’s a pretty hard left from the fantasy in-law situation I pictured when I was young, but that’s also life. People aren’t perfect, and neither are their families. Some people luck out and get along famously with their partner’s family, but many people never quite find that common ground. What matters is whether you can all find a way to coexist together that works for you.
5. You’re not deliriously happy every second.
I know this may come as a shocker, but fairytales and romcoms are fiction, so they don’t play out anything like real life. There’s no such thing as “happily ever after.” No couple ever reaches a point where they’ve worked out all the kinks so well they never again have another conflict, fight, or problem. You’re not going to feel head over heels in love with your partner all the time, either.
In fact, there are going to be times you really annoy each other. You’ll undoubtedly have periods where you feel much closer than others. You’ll fight over things. Some of those things may always be sticking points to one degree or another. But there will be good times, too — incredible times. There will be days when you feel unbelievably proud to be with your partner and are fully aware that your life is infinitely better because they’re part of it.
It helps to make sure you’re well-rounded individuals outside of your relationship. It’s not your partner’s job to be everything you need and make sure you’re happy every second. Your happiness is your responsibility. Yes, your partner is part of the equation, but so are your hobbies, your career, and your connections to other people in your life.
6. You had a fight.
I get it. Fights suck — especially the really awful kind that finds both of you saying horrible, hurtful things to each other that you’ll probably never forget. But ending a relationship because of one fight, especially in the heat of the moment, is rarely a good idea. I’ve done it more than once before, and I’ve always wound up wishing I hadn’t. When you cool off, you realize you’ve done damage you might never be able to fix, even if you eventually get back together.
One of the most valuable skills any couple can learn to do is handle conflict without flying off the handle. Take a break from whatever it is you’re talking about. Come back to it some other time when you’ve both cooled off and feel like you can discuss it like rational adults. One thing that often works for me is writing my feelings out in a letter to my partner. It’s easier for me to say what I really mean, there’s zero chance of my being interrupted before I’m finished, and just the act of writing it all down diffuses a lot of the hurt I might be feeling.
However you and your partner choose to address conflict, fights can be opportunities to find out more about one another and come out of the experience stronger. That’s one thing I can say about the arguments my husband and I have had. We’ve never had one that didn’t teach each of us something new about the other person, even after 16 years together.
A lot of people think of love as that giddy, honeymoon feeling they have right at the beginning of a new relationship. It’s actually the closeness and connection you feel once you’ve been together long enough to have been through a few challenges together. It’s still choosing your partner even after they’ve started calling you out on your bullshit instead of putting up with it. It’s them still choosing you even though they’ve seen you at your worst, as well.
Love is a real thing. It’s messy, and awkward, and tough sometimes. But it’s also like anything else valuable in life— worth working for and investing in.