"How do I know when it's time to call it quits on my relationship?" I often hear this question from my clients.
Unless there is physical danger in staying in the relationship, I generally advise my clients to stay until they understand and heal their end of the relationship system. We take ourselves with us when we leave, so leaving without healing the fears and beliefs that got us into an unloving or abusive relationship will likely result in another relationship failure.
When you are able to take loving care of yourself and make yourself happy, and if your relationship still suffers from one or more of the following symptoms, then it may be time to leave.
1. Physical Abuse
Most of us know that it is dangerous to stay in a relationship with a physically abusive partner. No matter how much you feel you love your partner, and no matter how often he or she says they are sorry after being physically abusive, ongoing physical abuse is dangerous and has nothing to do with love. If your partner physically harms you, it's time to leave.
Of course, leaving is often hard, so it is likely that you will need help with this. In fact, leaving may cause even more danger, so you need to make sure you will be safe once you make the decision to leave. Once you leave, it's important to not have contact with your partner except in a safe situation such as a therapy office. If your partner is open to therapy and anger management, there may be hope for the relationship, but many abusive people are not open to honestly facing themselves.
2. Verbal/Emotional Abuse, Overly Controlling Behavior
If you are experiencing verbal abuse, such as frequent anger, rage, blame, sarcasm, criticism, judgments, threats and other abusive means of undermining and controlling, it may be time to leave. Again, it's vital that you heal your end of this relationship system before moving on.
If your abusive partner is willing to attend therapy for themselves and with you, there may be a chance of healing this relationship, but if he or she is closed and unwilling to learn, grow and heal, then you need to accept that no matter how wonderful and loving you are, or how much you change your end of your relationship system, he or she is unlikely to change. You do not have control over getting another person to see what they are doing and decide to change. Accepting your powerlessness over your partner is a big step in dealing with your end of the system.
3. Child Abuse
If you have children and you discover that your partner is sexually, verbally and/or physically abusing them, or has abused them, it's time to leave. If you are with a partner who has children and you discover that he or she is abusing their children, then you need to take action to protect the child or children, as well as to leave. You are the advocate for your children and their children, and you need to do all you can to create a safe environment for them.
If you find out when your children are adults that one or more were sexually abused by your partner, you need to consider leaving. Staying with a partner who has sexually abused your child is extremely unsupportive of your child and of yourself -- since you cannot be in integrity while staying with a partner who has harmed your child.
4. Financial abuse
Financial abuse can include:
- Your partner refusing to work, after having agreed to work and contribute to the household
- Your partner over-spending and putting you into debt.
- Your partner gambling and putting you into debt.
- Your partner using money to control you.
If your partner is using you financially and/or putting you into debt, you might want to legally separate as a way of gaining control over your own finances. Sometimes partners can remain in a relationship but legally separate finances, so that money cannot be used in any way against you. If you have been enabling your partner financially, then you have some inner work to do to heal your end of the system.
5. Substance Addictions
If you partner is an alcoholic or a drug addict and this is causing you pain, then it may be time to leave. Again, you need to accept your powerlessness over him or her and focus on taking loving care of yourself. If you are an enabler, then you need to receive help with this through a 12-Step program and/or therapy so that you don't repeat this in your next relationship.
If your partner is addicted to food in such a way that he or she is causing himself or herself illness and expecting you to take care of them, you might want to consider leaving. These substance addictions indicate a deep level of self-abandonment and again, unless your partner is willing to deal with themselves in a 12-Step program and/or therapy, this is not likely to change.
An affair does not always need to be the end of the relationship. Much healing can occur if both people are open to learning about themselves and each other in the wake of an affair. However, if your partner has constant affairs and this is painful to you, you might want to consider leaving. Having constant affairs indicates the likelihood of sex addiction, which has many ramifications in a relationship. Also, this can be dangerous for you, relative to STDs.
7. Different Paths
Partners sometimes go off on different paths. Often, this is not a problem, but sometimes it becomes a major issue. If you are learning and growing and your partner is not, you may find that you have no way to connect with your partner. Some people can find the connection they need with friends, but if this lack of connection with your partner feels very lonely for you, you might consider moving on.
8. Lack of Support for Being All You Can Be
Is your partner threatened by your desire to expand and be all you came to the planet to be? Does he or she try to thwart your growth and dim your excitement about your direction in your life?
We all want and need support for what brings us joy and fulfillment, and if your partner tries to diminish you or hold you back, you might consider leaving.
9. Different Needs for Intimacy
There is no right amount of emotional or sexual intimacy in a relationship, but sometimes partners' needs are so different that it causes much loneliness for one of the partners. If you desire more emotional and/or physical intimacy, and your partner is avoidant or resistant to intimacy, you might consider moving on and finding a partner who is more available. If you feel very lonely in your relationship, this may be a sign that it is time to move on.
However, I want to emphasize once again that before you decide to leave a significant relationship, you first need to explore your own end of the system. If you are needy and demanding, you might be pushing your partner away. It's very important to work on healing your own neediness and then see where things are between you and your partner.
10. One Foot Out the Door -- Fear of Commitment
If you want a committed relationship and your partner is continually threatening to end the relationship, or shows other signs of a fear of commitment, you might want to move on. A partner with one foot out the door can create much anxiety for a partner who is ready for a committed relationship. However, if you keep attracting unavailable people, you might want to question your own fear of commitment. It's easy to think you are available and the other person is not, but if you find yourself not attracted to truly available people, you need to do your own inner work to explore your own unavailability.
I want to stress again that, no matter what happens in the end, unless there is physical danger, staying in the relationship while you explore and heal your end of the relationship system will serve you well. Once you have healed your end of your relationship system, it will become very clear to you whether or not your relationship has a chance of becoming loving and caring, or whether it is time to move on.
Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is a relationship expert, best-selling author, and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® self-healing process, recommended by actress Lindsay Wagner and singer Alanis Morissette, and featured on Oprah. To begin learning how to love and connect with yourself so that you can connect with others, take advantage of our free Inner Bonding eCourse, and join Dr. Margaret Paul for her 30-Day at-home Course: "Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships." Discover SelfQuest®, a transformational self-healing/conflict resolution computer program. Phone or Skype sessions with Dr. Margaret Paul.