2 Ways To Deal With Breakup Threats (So Your Relationship Survives)

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man and woman sitting down having a calm serious conversation

No couple wants their relationship wants to end in a breakup.

But, if you’re on the receiving end of constant breakup threats from your partner after an argument, you’re going to feel confused, worried, fearful, angry, manipulated, and maybe even emotionally threatened as well.

The good news is that the way you respond can make a huge difference.

Relationship problems are normal. Breakup threats, however, feel like a hangover when you haven’t even had any alcohol to drink.

You and your partner were having a casual conversation that suddenly turned tense before morphing into a full-blown argument.

You seem to be miles apart on this contentious topic and a reasonable solution (that you both can be happy with) feels impossible.

And then one of you utters any of these words:

  • "Maybe we should break up."
  • "I don’t see how we can continue if we can’t agree on this!"
  • "If you disagree, I can‘t stay in this relationship."
  • "I’m leaving."

Then, doors slam. Phone calls are cut off. What just happened?

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The immediate aftermath of a breakup threat is confusion and chaos.

Your head feels like it’s going to explode with worry, anxiety, and maybe regret. You may not even be clear about exactly what happened because the emotions got intense and overwhelming. All you know is that one of you has threatened to break up with the other and you’re confused about what’s next. This sort of scenario could be all too familiar in many relationships.

Storming out of the house and declaring that the two of you are over has become a habit in your relationship. Even if the two of you always make up after the blow-up, repeated breakup threats are taking a toll on trust and connection, turning the relationship toxic.

Psychologist, Dr. Russell Lemle explains what happens when a person’s internal "alarm system" goes off and a physical or psychological threat is perceived:

"At the instant we register a threat, and a host of coping responses commence. Cortisol and adrenalin are secreted. Breathing and heart rate quicken, sending oxygen and sugar to our limbs to ready us for fight or flight. Neural activity increases in the brain's limbic section, generating threat-countering emotions and additional interpretations of danger."

The argument you and your partner are having — about money, his porn-watching, her ex, or anything else — can trigger the limbic system and lead to all sorts of misperceptions, overly-intensified feelings, and mistaken assumptions. All of these can cause one (or both) of you to threaten to end your relationship.

The urge to flee this unbearably uncomfortable situation comes from the perception of a threat, even if it’s not actually there.

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Here are a few reasons why people feel threatened:

  • Past experiences of violence or abuse
  • Unresolved disagreements about this topic or something else
  • The tone of voice, body posture, or another subtle cue
  • The use of particular "trigger" words
  • Similarities between this situation and worries or fears about what "could" happen
  • Overall stress and strain from work, other relationships, or health challenges
  • Generally weak trust or lack of intimacy

As you can see, there are a whole range of reasons why you or your partner might internally flip into "threat" mode. Many of these reasons have very little to do with what you’re actually arguing about.

In fact, some (if not all) of these are traits of a toxic relationship.

When words like, "I want to break up!" are uttered, it either means that:

  • The limbic system has kicked in and the person is feeling threatened.
  • The person really and truly does want to end the relationship.

The trick is to figure out which.

RELATED: Woman Threatens To Break Up With Her Boyfriend For Drinking From Someone Else's Cup At A Concert

There are 2 ways to deal with constant breakup threats in a relationship if you want the relationship to survive.

1. Keep your cool

Whether it’s your partner who tends to call it quits and storms off or it’s you, the sooner you can return to a calmer emotional state, the better. Don’t underestimate the power of a deep, cleansing breath and a pause before you say anything. This short pocket of silence gives you the opportunity to think about what’s true for you and to consciously choose words that won’t add even more intensity to a volatile situation.

Remember, keeping your cool does not mean you have to hide how you feel, go along just to placate your partner, or pretend that you don’t care. Keeping your cool means that you’re aware of what’s happening, you do care, and you want to resolve this situation in a kind and loving way.

2. Ask questions for clarity

As much as you can, adopt an attitude of curiosity with your partner. In an authentic way, ask questions like these to get more information:

  • "What can I do to support you right now?"
  • "Please help me understand what you really want?"
  • "Would you please repeat what you said in a different way?"
  • "Will you support me by ________?"

When the threat has passed, approach your partner without blame. Let them know that you want to move past the argument and to reconnect and rebuild trust and connection. Take ownership for your role in the situation while also being honest and open about how you feel when your partner threatens to break up with you.

RELATED: 7 Easy Actions Any Couple Can Take To Save A Relationship

Constant threats of a breakup can pave the way for toxic and unhealthy relationships so it's vital that you and your partner end this habit now.

This is also the best time to determine whether or not one — or even both of you — truly wants to end the relationship. As painful as it is to consider this since you're breaking up with someone you love, a break-up threat may signal that deep down inside, someone really wants it.

Answering the question, "Should I stay, or should I go?" is an important one. It’s okay (and helpful) to tell your partner that you feel confused, hurt, sad, angry, or manipulated when they say, "It’s over."

Ask your partner to create agreements with you to avoid future breakup threats. These agreements might involve taking a "time out" when one of you recognizes the first signs of the urge to flee. Together, you can even role-play and practice new responses to minimize the sense of threat when conflicts arise.

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Susie and Otto Collins are relationship coaches and authors who help couples communicate, connect, and create the relationship they desire.