If you’re to believe nearly every top 40 song or the average romantic comedy plot, “love” is the fuel that keeps the world going. No wonder we grow up thinking that a fairy tale ends well as soon as the protagonist is reunited with his lover.
But in reality, love is much more unruly. How do you know if your relationship is still worth it? Are there signs from which you can read whether your relationship is simply on the decline or that the love can no longer be saved? And if your relationship is irretrievably withering, what’s the best way to end it?
Sometimes it is clear that a relationship is not good for you: for example, if there is abuse or if you cannot trust a partner. But also healthy relationships that can go on and on at some point calmly and with mutual respect.
“First of all, I want to emphasize that no relationship is one hundred percent perfect,” says relationship therapist Kim Kromwijk-Lub from the relationship practice De Kim. “You often see with the younger generations that the idea is that the grass is always greener on the other side, which means that they change partners more quickly. It is important to remember that you first have to go through a lot together before you can properly assess whether someone is right for you.”
So you don’t have to panic at the first bump in the road. Not every negative experience has to immediately herald the end of your relationship. However, there are a few recurring signals that you can watch out for. According to Kromwijk-Lub, one of the first signs of fading love is that you become more and more annoyed with each other. You start to avoid each other, in conversations there is a short response and there is less interest in each other’s lives. “You also become more critical of your partner’s qualities that you may have even liked before,” adds Kromwijk-Lub. “Things like a toothpaste cap that disappears over and over becomes ‘proof’ to you that your relationship is no longer working. On the one hand, you pull away from your partner, and on the other hand, you look at everything wrong with your relationship with a microscope.”
Fantasizing about another life
Another possible signal is that you are less and less interested in doing things together. While you used to look forward to a long trip in the summer, now you long for a life without your love. You start fantasizing about how nice it would be to live alone, or how great it would be to “pretend to be single” this summer. If you find that these fantasies give you a lot of peace, it could indicate a rift in your relationship. But: these kinds of fantasies can also mean that you are in a troubled phase, which has nothing to do with your relationship. It is therefore important to analyze Why you so desperately want a different life – and how your relationship fits into it. Deep down, you often know what the answer to your relationship problems is. Often it’s not so much about acknowledging, but about letting go.
“Falling in love with someone else doesn’t have to be a signal that your relationship is no longer working,” says Kromwijk-Lub. “Sometimes it can simply be that someone else awakens something in you, or that you are bored. It doesn’t mean you can’t be happy with your partner anymore, but it could indicate that your relationship could use a little more passion.”
Another way you might notice that your relationship is on the edge is that you lie awake worrying a lot about what your short-term future looks like. The decision to end a relationship is an important decision. Even if you are not the one who wants to end the relationship, but feel that your loved one is moving away from you, such a situation can eat you up for months. Kromwijk-Lub compares it to feeling as if you unexpectedly get small whiplash for weeks.
“An impending breakup can also make you cling to what’s left,” adds Kromwijk-Lub. Such a breakup is accompanied by a lot of uncertainty. You may be afraid that you will make the wrong choice or that you will be alone forever without your partner. To avoid thinking about the mountain of heartache that awaits you, you focus entirely on your relationship instead.
Even if you don’t like being touched by your loved one as much as before, according to Kromwijk-Lub, this can be a bad sign. But here too, the fact that you suddenly shy away from intimacy with your partner can also be due to something else. Maybe you’re not feeling very well for a while, but that has nothing to do with your relationship. So, before ending a relationship, it is good to consider all facets of your life. “The signals we mentioned above need to add up before you can confidently conclude that your relationship is the problem,” she says.
Of course, it could also be that there is actually nothing wrong with your relationship, but that you are slowly but surely growing apart. If so, it can be hard to put your finger on the nagging love wound, because when did you grow so far apart that it really doesn’t work anymore? “People change every seven to ten years,” says Kromwijk-Lub. “If you got into a relationship at a young age, it may well be that at some point you don’t get along well anymore. What I always ask is: do you still enjoy each other? Is there laughter, do you still cuddle often? If you feels that you belong together, or if you feels that you actually still want to work on it: go for it. Don’t take the other person for granted. In my practice, I hear so often from people that they let go of each other far too quickly and that they regret it.”
When it is clear to you that there really is nothing that can be done about your relationship, how do you end it as effectively as possible? Firstly, according to Kromwijk-Lub, it is important to start a conversation without becoming too convinced of one’s own right. “We often have such strong beliefs about ourselves that we jump to conclusions about someone else. Respect each other’s needs, listen to what your partner is saying, don’t start a ‘well-being’ conversation,” says Kromwijk-Lub. “Keep to yourself and don’t point fingers too much. It’s also not recommended to gossip about an ex-partner. Even if it ended in a healthy way, it can still feel like another blow to your partner.”
Finally, heartbreak is a bitch, whether you were dumped or you are the one who did it. For some it can feel like an illness that consumes you physically and mentally, for others it is a karate kick that hits you in the stomach at an unexpected moment. According to Kromwijk-Lub, it is therefore important that you continue to take good care of yourself. You don’t have to be in a relationship to totally spoil yourself on Valentine’s Day.