Inevitably, many LTRs hit a point that forces you to question the future of the relationship. Maybe you’ve started fighting more and miss the honeymoon phase, maybe you’re in totally different life phases and feel disconnected, or maybe you just feel bored and find yourself fantasizing about someone else. While every longterm relationship is destined to go through ups and downs, it can be difficult to know if you’re in one of those inevitable “downs” or if you’d be better off apart and it’s time to walk away. If you’re unsure whether or not to stick it out for the long haul or to start fresh, here are eight things to try that may help bring you clarity.
1. Have the conversation
Talking it out seems obvious, but many people struggle with communication and avoid confrontation out of fear of hurting someone’s feelings or discomfort being vulnerable. PSA: don’t assume a disagreement or challenge will disappear if you ignore it long enough. In reality, issues fester until they explode, or you might become so disconnected, it’ll be past the point of no return. Instead, sit your significant other down and talk about your future, your present concerns, and what you miss about your past relationship. Be really honest without being accusatory, and articulate that you’re feeling doubtful or disengaged.
The way you communicate as a couple and work through issues can say a lot about your future successful. If your partner dismisses you or becomes overly defensive or angry, the relationship may not be repairable (or worth repairing). If your partner makes you feel heard, communicates their feelings in response, and you come away feeling closer and more connected with a plan on how both of you can improve, it might be worth sticking with.
2. Try couple’s therapy
If you and your partner don’t have constructive communication or you find you’re having the same conversation over and over, going to couple’s therapy can not only help you work through issues, but will give you important skills to communicate in the future. Going to a therapist will not magically solve your problems, but they may be able to help identify patterns and habits contributing to the issues. Also, sometimes the issues with a relationship do not stem from communication and have more to do with what you want or debating what’s best for you. In that case, individual therapy can help you work through anxiety, stress, commitment fears, or any other other factor that may be stopping you from being content in your relationship or leaving an unhappy one.
3. Identify what you want versus what you expect
When we get into relationships, we expect the other person to serve as our “everything.” We believe our life partner should totally fulfill us emotionally, intellectually, sexually, spiritually, etc. Not to mention the expectations to make us feel loved, pick up their portion of the household chores or childcare, like the same movies/music/hobbies we like, and still be exciting and spontaneous in bed. In reality, expecting someone to be our everything is unrealistic and unfair.
Instead of thinking about what your partner should be, think about what you truly want. Once you identify which key principles in a partnership would make you happy (like loyalty, kindness, taking care of you, etc.), be OK working on the rest together, knowing that no one person will be everything you need. If they don’t check the boxes that will truly make you happy, you’re probably sticking around hoping they’ll change. Don’t stay in a relationship for the hopes of who someone could be.
4. Remember why you fell in love in the first place
Just because that immediate spark you felt at the beginning of the relationship has faded over time does not mean the health of your relationship has too. The routine of life can prevent us from feeling romantic, and busy schedules can leave us feeling disconnected. Longterm love requires attention, nourishment, and hard work. Period. While the beginning of your relationship might have looked like extravagant dinner dates and not being able to keep your hands off each other when you’re together, those things cannot sustain for the long haul.
A healthy relationship requires both people to put in the effort to keep the spark alive: plan a date night to reconnect, give each other random compliments, and try new things to keep sex feeling fresh. However, even though “the spark” might look different than when you first started dating, it’s also important to remember why you fell in love in the first place. It’s normal to miss the newness and excitement that the beginning brings, but your partner (and your relationship) should still contain all the main reasons you fell in love, like humor, kindness, similarities, etc. If you originally fell in love with your partner for traits they no longer have or because of the newness and excitement, it’s possible you fell in love with the romance, not with the person.
5. Locate the root of the problem
Identifying whether we should stick with a relationship or leave is often as simple as figuring out what the problem actually is. If you had a bit of a dry spell, why? If you’re fantasizing about leaving your partner, why? If you’re fighting more than usual, why? Take a step back to see your relationship as a whole, and figure out if the hard parts are temporary, or if they’re a signal of something bigger. For example, if one of you traveling a lot for work, extra stressed out, or going through a major life change, you might be experiencing some lulls or disconnections simply because of circumstance. The solution could be as simple as talking it through (see #1) and identifying how is best to work better together.
But if the root problem is fundamental differences like disagreeing on core beliefs or not being attracted to each other, it might be time to let the relationship go. Bottom line: acknowledge what you’re dealing with. Ask yourself what the environment of your relationship is like these days and if anything able to be changed or not. Once you can at least identify the root of your disconnection, you’ll be better equipped to decide whether or not there’s opportunity for things to improve.
6. Decide how much work you want to do
You’ve probably heard the phrase “relationships are 50/50” but that’s actually not true. A relationship is not the place to keep score or only give half of what you can and expect your partner to put in the exact the same amount. Instead, a healthy relationship is 100/100: both people want to put in their all for other. Of course, sometimes your partner will pick up the slack with the chores when you have an extra busy time at work, or you’ll give your partner a little more love when they’re going through a tough time. But you should both want to put in the work to make the other person feel loved and make your relationship work. If there’s any part of you that doesn’t really care or is more focused on the work your partner should do, it might be time to let the relationship go.
7. Imagine your future apart
Pause for a second and imagine your future without this person. You might have feelings come up like grief, fear, regret, disappointment, or anger. All of those feelings are a natural byproduct of any breakup, so instead, look past the emotions to see what life would be like without them when those emotions fade. Would you feel a sense of relief or freedom? Are you picturing loneliness? Would the rest of your future be empty, or do you see Saturday nights watching movies that you want to watch and a new person in your life? While it’s easy to romanticize life together in any relationship by picturing all the highlights, whether it’s marriage, babies, new homes, etc., it’s much more telling how you’d feel if you were apart. If there’s any sense of relief, excitement, or fear surrounding being alone, you might be in this relationship for the wrong reasons. If you can’t picture your life without this person and know you are your best self with them, then work on the issues together.
8. Listen to your gut
So you’re probably reading this article because you’re not sure whether or not to stay in the relationship but I’m going to make a guess and say that you actually do know. Maybe even the doubt of leaving or staying is an answer for you in itself. But deep down, you know what you need to do to live your happiest life, and whether or not that happiest life includes your significant other. Longterm relationships can be scary, so don’t give up on a happy relationship because there are a few bumps in the road. Likewise, if you’re in the relationship for any reason beyond happiness (whether it’s fear of being alone, comfort, or habit), you already know to leave. Listen to your gut and be brave enough to whole heartedly follow through with what it tells you.