Is it time to pull the plug on your struggling relationship?
There’s a scene in the classic movie Annie Hall where Alvy Singer and Annie Hall (played by Woody Allen and Diane Keaton) are flying back home to New York from Los Angeles, where Annie has had a wonderful time, and Alvy has had a terrible time.
They sit next to each other looking unhappy, until finally Annie turns to Alvy and says, “Let’s face it, you know? I don’t think our relationship is working.” Alvy replies, “I know. A relationship, I think, is like a shark. It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we’ve got on our hands is a dead shark.”
I’m a romantic at heart. I really, truly believe in love – to the point where I give people way too many chances and end up getting hurt worse in the long run. But the truth is, sometimes a relationship really is unsalvageable. Sometimes that shark really is dead.
Here are eight signs that your relationship isn’t going anywhere, and like Annie and Alvy, you’d be better off pulling the plug.
1. You don’t trust each other anymore
In a healthy relationship, you’re not afraid to be vulnerable and share all the secret and scary parts of yourself. But if you and your partner don’t trust each other, then you won’t feel safe enough to do that. California-based psychotherapist Andrea Wachter told The Huffington Post that relationships are built on honesty and trust. “It takes time and consistency to build trust. That means being true to your word and authentic about your feelings and needs and whereabouts.”
If either of you has been dishonest with the other to the point where trust has broken down, it might be tough to get it back. And if you never really trusted each other in the first place, or one of you violated the other’s trust in a truly unforgivable way, it could be time to say goodbye.
2. You’re no longer attracted to your partner
We’ve probably all had the experience of meeting someone and being really into them (likely at a dark, crowded party or bar), and the next time we see them, being appalled. What was I thinking? Ugh. But when this person is your partner – when one day you look at them and can’t imagine why you were ever attracted to them in the first place – it’s a bad sign.
Of course, none of us are gorgeous and camera-ready 24/7. When you live with someone, you see them sleep-rumpled and unshowered, you’re on more intimate terms with their smells than you ever wanted to be, and sometimes you wonder what happened to the shiny, first-date version of your partner. In a healthy relationship, though, seeing the warts-and-all version of your partner brings you closer and turns you on more, because you truly love them for who they are. If that’s not the case, your relationship might be beyond resuscitation.
3. Communication has totally broken down
You’ve tried talking things out face to face. You’ve tried putting your feelings into writing. You’ve tried couples therapy. You’ve tried everything. But no matter what you do, you just can’t seem to hear each other.
A YourTango poll of 100 mental health professionals revealed that communication breakdown was by far the most frequently named factor that led to divorce. The second most common factor was inability to resolve conflict. And how do you resolve conflict? By communicating. If there’s no communication, there’s really no hope for your relationship.
4. You rarely show physical affection
Many, many couples fall into sexless marriages for a long time before they finally break things off. And even though a sex-starved marriage is theoretically fixable, the hard truth is that most couples who stop having sex don’t manage to heal their relationships and start having a healthy, happy sex life again.
The importance of having satisfying, frequent sex with your partner can’t be overstated. Assistant clinical professor of OB–GYN and Psychiatry at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, Laura Berman, PhD, tells Fine Magazine that orgasms release endorphins, which in turn reduces stress and activates pleasure centers in the brain. Having those orgasms with your partner increases feelings of intimacy and helps keep you bonded to one another. And it’s not all about orgasms, either – couples who aren’t having sex are less likely to hold hands, hug, kiss, and engage in healthy, loving touch out of the bedroom as well.
5. The relationship makes you feel bad about yourself
If you’re constantly questioning yourself, wondering if you’re doing everything wrong all the time, feeling confused and doubting your own intentions, it could be a sign you’ve lost yourself to your relationship. Worse, it could be a sign of a toxic relationship. There’s very likely nothing wrong with you – but there could be plenty wrong with your relationship.
Relationship coach Patti Britton tells The Huffington Post that a relationship shouldn’t make you doubt yourself. “Relationships are meant to make you feel more like yourself, not less. Feeling insecure may be normal in the beginning of a new relationship, but over time, that instability should wane and a calming comfort will settle in.” If being with your partner doesn’t make you feel like your best self, it’s probably a sign that it’s not meant to be.
6. You have more negative interactions than positive ones
Relationship expert Dr. John Gottman says couples need to have five positive interactions for every one negative one. This doesn’t mean you have to go around being Mary Sunshine all the time, never having a negative feeling – but what it does mean is, you’ve got to find a way to express those negative feelings in a healthy way. That means learning to fight fair, and knowing how to express anger without damaging your relationship.
“Anger only has negative effects in marriage if it is expressed along with criticism or contempt, or if it is defensive,” explains Gottman. He says that when happy couples have a conflict, “they may be arguing, but they are also laughing and teasing and there are signs of affection because they have made emotional connections.” Once you start having those negative interactions, you’ve got to do a lot of repair – and at that five-to-one ratio, you might never be able to catch up.
7. You feel contemptuous of your partner
Contempt is the worst of what Gottman calls “The Four Horsemen” that bode ill for a relationship’s survival. He says contempt is the number one predictor of divorce, and once you’re going down that road, it’s hard to come back from it.
What does it mean to be contemptuous of your partner? Being disrespectful, mocking them, rolling your eyes, sneering, and outright hostility are all signs of contempt. “Contempt is poisonous to a relationship because it conveys disgust. It’s virtually impossible to resolve a problem when your partner is getting the message that you’re disgusted with him or her,” writes Gottman blog contributor Ellie Lisitsa. If you recognize yourself – or your partner – in any of that behavior, it’s a red flag of the worst sort.
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Comment: Do you see any of these signs in your relationship?