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by Ryan Rivera

One of the hardest parts of maintaining a struggling relationship is knowing when to break up and knowing when to stick together. All relationships take work. All of them have their little annoyances and disconnects. Over time, there are going to be fights and there are going to be times when you’re not sure the relationship will work.

But there is a difference between fights that are meaningful – fights that actually indicate that a relationship may not work – and fights that are simply a part of building towards a successful relationship. So how do you tell the difference between a relationship that’s struggling but worth fighting for and a relationship that may be nearing its end? How do you know when to break up?

When to Be Together, and When to Stop

Sometimes breaking up really is necessary. Sometimes it’s not. The following are some questions to help yourself recognize when to break up and when to stay together.

  • Are Any of the Problems “Unforgivable?”

There are those that stick by people that do terrible things to them, like abuse, cheating, etc. If you know for a fact that you cannot forgive the cause of your fighting and anxiety, then the relationship may be over. If you’re fighting about leaving the cap on the toothpaste, then chances are in a few months that issue will be forgiven. When something cannot be healed – like the trust you have in your partner after infidelity – then you’re not going to be healed in the future.

  • Are You Willing to Work on Yourself?

Assume that your partner never changed. Are there things you can change about yourself to improve your relationship? Are you willing to make changes to yourself instead of expecting your partner to be the one to be different? Your answer to these questions tells you a lot about how you see the future and what you can expect to happen.

  • What Are You Fighting For?

It’s also important to note with yourself what relationship you’re trying to save. There are couples that start out together that have a nice, but not great relationship. Then time lets them become comfortable with each other simultaneously as the fights start. Ask yourself if you’re fighting for a purpose. Are you trying to get things back to the way things were? Or are you trying to turn someone that was never your ideal partner into your ideal partner? Fighting to make your relationship great again is very different than fighting to make your relationship great for the first time.

  • How Long Have You Been Together?

It’s also important to understand how time works in relationships, and it’s not the way you think. What’s important in a relationship is time in the presence of each other. Not on the phone. Not on Skype. Not on any Video Chat service. The only time that counts is time that you spend with the other person around.

This is because relationships do not grow stronger – or grow at all – when you’re not around the other person. When you’re on the phone talking about your day, you’re less likely to fight, less likely to annoy each other, and less likely to grow closer. It often seems like your relationship is growing because phone calls and video chat conversations are often very loving and caring, but relationships grow stronger when you’re in the other person’s presence.

So if you’re trying to keep your relationship alive because you’ve been together for a “long time,” make sure that you’ve actually been together. If you’ve only been able to see each other every other weekend, or infrequently for an hour of dinner, then the “long term” relationship you’re trying to save may not truly have been long term at all.

Understanding When to End and When to Go Forward

Breakups are always an issue with relationships. Ideally, you manage to become a perfect couple that is as loving and amazing as you need it to be. But not all relationships succeed. Figuring out when you need to keep fighting and when it’s time to move on is important for yourself and your potential as a couple.

About the Author: Ryan Rivera has seen the way relationships can create anxiety over the future. He writes about causes of anxiety at

One Comment

  • Dr. Ken Newberger says:

    I appreciate your article as you tackle a difficult issue. My approach when working with couples is a little different. I tell clients up front that I will help them reconcile. If they are on board with that, there is no question throughout the process of what the goal is. If in the end, the don't find peace with each other, they can always decide to call it quits. This framework, however, takes uncertainty regarding the goal out of the process.
    Ken Newberger, Ph.D.

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