What is a Bad Relationship? How Do You Know When to Break Up?
It’s not always easy to recognize what is a bad relationship once you’re in one. A lot of the time, everybody else seems as though they can see it, but why can’t you? Here are a few signs to know when it might be time to break up–or at least rethink why you’re with the person you’re with.
1. MOST IMPORTANT! You’re Being Abused, Physically or Mentally, (or Financially) There is no excuse to stay in an abusive relationship. If you are afraid your partner may abuse you, or you have already experienced abuse by your partner, please get help NOW!
2. You can’t stand the sight of each other, but you can’t let go. Misery may love company, but it is fair to keep each other trapped from a happy life? Weirdly enough, unhappy couples can even stay together out of spite and to keep the other from finding happiness. You might see this after infidelity and to punish the guilty party. Another huge influence is religion, family pressure, or being from a culture that frowns on divorce. This is a difficult consideration, and it’s a matter of personal conscience whether or not to leave.
3. You (or your partner) are constantly finding fault. There is no such thing as constructive criticism. If you are criticizing or being criticized, there is nothing constructive; you are not building up your partner or they you. A good relationship is built on kindness and mutual respect.
4. You can’t ever be yourself. Walking on eggshells so as not to upset your partner. This is no way to live your life, and leads to having to change yourself when you’re around that person. (Which leads to the next point.)
5. You have forgotten who you are. Submerging your true persona to keep the peace.
6. You feel you are substituting for a parent (or a therapist) most of the time. It’s not your job to change your partner, or they you. Often, we choose our partner subconsciously to help heal wounds from the past (more on that below).
7. You’re not your best you. When a partner brings out the worst in you, and knows which buttons to push, you don’t have to react. However, in these instances, it’s hard not to! Remember you are only responsible for your own feelings and response—it’s helpful to literally count to three before you react and say or do things you will regret.
8. You don’t remember what you ever liked about your partner. When there has been “too much water under the bridge” and too many hard feelings, it makes it difficult to remember that you once loved this person. It may be too late to recapture that love. Only you can decide whether that is the case.
9. You have lost your voice (or never had it). When you always have to give in to a strong personality. You may not have an option of speaking your truth with your partner. If they are not open to hearing what you have to say, or become upset or violent, it’s best to leave.
10. You’re just not happy and can’t say why. This is when you need to listen to your intuition! Sometimes that’s enough to help you make your decision.
Points to Ponder
Do any of these sound familiar?
- The “Stockholm syndrome.” Becoming resigned to and justifying staying in a bad relationship or situation just because it’s familiar and comfortable. I’ve thought a good bit about this phenomenon, and have written about it here: What is Stockholm Syndrome?
- I don’t deserve the best relationship: “I’m not worth more than this.” This could be an indication of some long-term issues with self-esteem. I encourage you to find a therapist who can help you explore and understand these issues. You will be more likely to seek out healthy relationships if you feel happy and confident about yourself.
- Forgiving yourself for your past. Remember that we all make mistakes and it’s not helpful to beat yourself up for them. Don’t let your partner guilt-trip you for it.
- Knowing what and what not to tell your partner. They’re not your therapist—you’re allowed to keep some things to yourself and not feel guilty for it. Nothing good can come of discussing old boyfriends/girlfriends or other private matters from the past. If it doesn’t benefit the current relationship, keep it quiet.
- Forgetting what happiness is and feeling you don’t deserve it anyway. Again, this touches on the issue of poor self-esteem and our reasons for being afraid to leave a bad relationship.
- Having no pattern for a happy relationship—repeating learned behaviors. Many times, the only relationship role model we had was that of our parents, and it’s easy to bring those same behaviors into our current relationship. It helps to be aware if this is the case. For instance, you might find yourself craving drama and excitement in your relationship so you “start something” just to get that adrenalin pumping—is this because you always saw a lot of strife and fighting in the family when you were growing up? Remember: just because it’s familiar doesn’t mean it’s good!
- Losing your voice: stuffing down emotions and forgetting where you put them. This is easy to do if you haven’t taken the time to know who you really are apart from your partner. I encourage you to learn to listen to your “truth,” meaning that you start paying attention to how you really feel as you go through your day. For example, do you notice a “yucky” feeling in the pit of your stomach or tightness in your chest when your partner acts or speaks to you in a certain way? This is an important indicator of what your true feelings are. Remember though: you don’t need to REACT right away to every emotion you have.
- What does attraction mean to you? Do you really know what you want in a partner? Attraction and chemistry are real, but have you ever thought about why you are attracted to the same kind of partner over and over again? For example, do you always choose the bad boy or the stray? It may have a lot to do with your self-image, e.g., do you see yourself as not worthy of a nice guy (or girl), or do you see yourself as a “fixer”? These are important to be aware of when choosing a partner; otherwise, you’ll continue to repeat bad relationship patterns the next time around.
- Feeling you’ll never measure up: making decisions due to poor self-esteem or old unhealed wounds. Often, I’ve noticed that we choose a partner based on childhood issues of self-esteem and/or conflict with one or both of our parents. Are you continually choosing a partner like your father or mother? If so, it helps to know it in order to realize that you will never resolve those past issues with your current partner, and it’s not fair to them, either. I recently read an article in which the author theorized that we choose a mate similar to the parent we’ve been in conflict with–hoping to heal those old wounds. Unfortunately, most couples do not know this is why they are attracted to a certain type of person, and blame their mate for being just like their parent!
- When you can’t ever be yourself: conforming to others’ expectations. It’s difficult to have a happy relationship if you can’t be yourself—sometimes it’s necessary to step away from any relationship and get the help you need before embarking on another romantic entanglement.
- You don’t know how to set boundaries: it’s ok to say NO! Many of us are taught that it is selfish to say no to others. This could be a case of co-dependency and putting up with bad behaviors. Believe me, it is very freeing to decide what you will and WILL NOT tolerate in a relationship.
- What about cheating? Zero-tolerance or tolerated? What constitutes cheating? I personally have a no-cheating policy when it comes to relationships. Many of us have been misled into believing that everybody does it and they just have to put up with cheating because they’re afraid they’ll never meet someone else if they leave. Believe me, it’s not true! This goes back to setting boundaries and feeling that you deserve the best for yourself. If a partner values you enough (and has been raised with good standards of how to treat a partner), they will stay loyal to you. Loyalty to me means no cheating (either physically or emotionally) with ANYONE outside the relationship. A good relationship requires nurturing, and that can’t happen if you (or your partner) uses someone else as an emotional outlet.
- Codependent behavior: dealing with an addict or abuser. This is a very important subject unto itself, and there is a lot of good reference material out there. My favorite book on codependency is “Codependent No More” by Melody Beattie.
Can This Relationship Be Saved?
Failure to Communicate
It’s not always a bad relationship that you’re dealing with—sometimes couples have a relationship that is all right, but it could be better. Remember that two people trying to blend their lives together isn’t an easy thing, especially if you have different expectations for what constitutes a good relationship, so the two of you might have to sit down and figure out what will make things work better between you.
Now, if you didn’t have a stellar role model for a relationship (like most of us didn’t growing up), you will most likely have to become educated about what a good relationship is, and how to know which issues are minor and not really deal-killers. One of these issues that you can learn to overcome is your communication style and how you expect to be shown love by your partner.
For instance, some time ago, a friend gave me the book, “The Five Love Languages,” to read. From reading that book, I finally understood that not everybody speaks the same love language. For example, a woman may define feeling loved as having her mate buy her nice and expensive gifts, and if her partner enjoys showing love by showering her with gifts, then they are on the same wavelength and understand each other.
On the other hand, what if she feels that LOVE means spending time together and talking about feelings, but he thinks talking about feelings is a waste of time and instead considers that by him going to work and earning a good salary to support his wife and kids, THAT alone is showing love. Many times, if we don’t speak the same “language” or understand our partner’s way of showing and expecting love, it leads to resentment, anger, and accusations that “you DON’T CARE about me!” or “you DON’T UNDERSTAND me!”
Nobody is really at fault here; it’s just that neither person has ever learned that there are many different ways of expressing love and it’s not just the way you see it in the movies!
How much easier it would be if there was a handbook to make sense of all of this confusion. Well, there is. I do highly recommend “The Five Love Languages,” because it’s a good read and easy to understand, and will encourage those couples who are dealing with a “failure to communicate” about the different ways they expect their partner to show love for them.
During my divorce and subsequent years in the single and dating world, I have read an extensive amount of books and articles about dating and relationships, and encountered a host of amazing people on the same journey. Carolina Robin, for instance, has been one of my role models. I would like to thank Carolina Robin for her support and encouragement during some very confusing times. Read my breakup story here
You can check out Carolina Robin’s articles on dating and relationships. She is also the founder of a successful work-from-home blogging business called Pajama Affiliates.
These are some of the resources that may help you in coming to terms with the end of a relationship and searching for a new, happier one.