Self, Heartbreak

When Is It Time To Break Up

It might be one of the hardest and most important questions of a lifetime. When is it time to call it quits on a relationship? I get asked that question regularly and most of the time, by the time that question is on the table, a break up is imminent. However, with break ups and in life, timing is everything and getting that timing right is the difference between feeling good about what you did or lamenting the “could have beens” for years to come. The answer is unique to every situation, however, I have three guidelines to at least start to evaluate your options or lack there of.

So, you know it might be time for a break up when...

1. Only one person is still working on the relationship. We have all heard the stories of miracle relationships that came back from the brink where the love of one partner was enough to rekindle the flame after the other partner had checked out. We’ve heard those stories because they are the thing good movies and TV are made of. However, in reality, when one partner goes emotionally MIA and isn’t willing to become present in the relationship again, chances are very high, it’s over, or at least it should be.

Lots of things keep a person in a relationship physically, when they aren’t there in their heart or head. Often times those things are kids or money. However, if only one person is carrying the weight of trying to keep the relationship alive, eventually that weight becomes too much or the efforts just flat out fail.

I was once in a two year relationship that literally would not end. We were living together and to be quite honest, he wouldn’t leave. I realize how bizarre that sounds, however, it was the truth of the moment. To say the least, I’d checked out, and no amount of counseling or talking was going to get me back in the game. He tried. Therapists tried. I didn’t. When I talk about that break up, in my mind it happened a year before we really physically separated. In his mind, it was weeks after he finally moved out.

2. You can’t let go of the resentment. Being in relationship when resentment is running is like being broken down someplace between the corner of purgatory and hell. It’s painful because it singes you constantly. However, it’s often a bit like the old adage of the frog boiling in the pot, slowly. You don’t realize you’re getting cooked until it’s too late.

I always tell people if you’re going to stay you have to forgive and forget EVERYTHING. However, sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t. When you can’t that doesn’t mean you’ve failed, it just means, the relationship is probably over or at least it should be.

My ex-husband had multiple affairs. Honestly, I didn’t fully forgive the first one, but by the sixth or seventh resentment was the primary operating system in our relationship. Nothing he could say or do was going to change that. I simply could not let it go - nor should I have. So, the relationship was over. Staying in it would have been punishing for both of us.

3. You’ve reached out for professional help and it didn’t change anything or made things worse. We all know that when we are sick we get medical care. So, it only stands to reason that when a relationship is sick we should get professional help too. There are a thousand excuses not too, like the expense of it, or a hesitant partner. However, I can’t think of a single excuse that stands up to the cost and pain of a break up.

Getting professional help leaves you with a sense you tried everything. You gave it your best shot. If you reach out for help and it doesn’t help at all, you can leave the relationship behind without regret, knowing you did your best.

I once walked into a therapists office in a desperate attempt to save a relationship only to have that therapist expeditiously point out the obvious and facilitate a break up that was long over due in the period of one hour. Shocking? Hell yes. Relieving? Yes indeed. I felt comfortable that even a professional saw the writing on the wall and that we hadn’t failed to try everything.

Like I said, there is no one size fits all rule for making a decision like this. If and when to break up is a massive decision that has implications that are serious and go on for a long time. However, those implications don’t have to be bad, just serious, so it’s not a decision to take lightly. That said, a relationship that ends doesn’t have to mean it failed. It can just be over, and that’s ok. Truth of the matter is many relationships do end, making room for even better relationships to come.

Lisa Hayes C.Ht. is the author of the books, How to Escape from Relationship Hell and The Passion Plan.   She is also the host of The Relationship RX Show. For more information and resources about marriage and relationships visit or subscribe to her FREE newsletter Relationship RX.