A relationship is all about compromise, balancing your needs and desires with those of your partner. But when you love each other, you don’t begrudge them for having to make these sacrifices—it’s all part of the unique way you show one another affection and commitment. Compromise only becomes a problem when the negatives outweigh the positives, when you feel you’re losing more than you’re gaining by being in this relationship and you start asking yourself “is it over?”
Even if you feel like you’re aligned on the big issues, sometimes the little disputes, disagreements, and arguments can turn into a much larger problem, especially if they’re happening regularly. Maybe they leave their socks on the floor next to the laundry basket—and have done so for as long as you can remember. Maybe they always forget to do the dishes when it’s their turn. Maybe they never say ‘I love you’ when you head out to work in the morning.
On the surface, you might chastise yourself for getting worked up over something that seems so small. But really, what might be going on is that these apparently minor issues are the manifestations of deeper, more profound incompatibilities—different values, priorities, principles—and that’s why they get to you. When there are no obvious red flags in the relationship, such as abuse or infidelity, working out whether your problems are still serious in their own way can be difficult. All relationships take work—but at what point does nurturing something you love turn into a perpetual chore performed out of obligation? When do you start asking “is it over?”
First, you seriously need to talk to your partner. Sit them down and lay out how you feel in clear terms. If you feel neglected, say you feel neglected. If you feel disrespected, tell them. Even if you feel fundamentally unloved, they need to know—today. They might be amazed at how their actions have been hurting you, mortified even, and resolve then and there to change their ways and work harder to make this thing work the way you both want it to. Even more egregious problems can be worked through if both partners are willing. But on the other hand, your concerns may fall on deaf ears, no matter how somberly you lay them out. Or your partner might nod along and say the right things, only to resume their negative behaviors the very next day as if no conversation had ever taken place.
One surefire way of putting things in perspective is going to a professional and objective third party, such as a couples therapist or sex and relationships coach, who will help you understand your feelings and clarify both to yourself and to your partner what’s troubling your relationship. They will be able to help the two of you identify your goals, both personal and collective, then work toward them with clear milestones on the horizon.
Consulting a neutral outsider in this way is pretty much always of at least some benefit, but sometimes couples attend these sessions only to feel like they’re doing something to remedy their issues. And actually, one outcome of attending therapy can be to make you both realize that this thing just isn’t working out, and that you’d be better off amicably going your separate ways.
Of course, the decision to stay or leave is rarely clear-cut: We have mortgages to pay together, mutual friends, a pet, shared hobbies—maybe even children. It’s worth noting that sometimes it’s better for children in the long run for their parents to separate in a civilized manner but to coparent and play equal roles in their upbringing. In the end, it can be less damaging while they’re growing up to have parents who live apart but are happy, rather than with a mom and dad who create a toxic or hostile home environment with their neverending arguments and resentment.
No matter the problems in your relationship, you can’t deny your own feelings forever. It can be all too easy to “stick it out” for reasons besides your own happiness and wellbeing, but ultimately only you can decide what’s best. Whatever you choose, it’s best to formulate your thoughts and path forward sooner rather than later. If you conclude that separation is unfortunately the right decision, it’s tempting to put off the upset and upheaval, but it’s probably better to get it over with.
On the other hand, if you want to stay together but know things have to change, start today. Have that conversation. Reach out for help if you need it. Talk to friends and family; get the perspectives of those who know you best and only want what’s right for you. You deserve happiness as much as anyone else—and certainly as much as your partner.
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