This is not a happy post. In fact, it feels kind of strange writing it as a therapist that works with people every day to save relationships of all shapes and sizes. However, it’s important information and more and more, people are staying in relationships that are unhealthy for them and everyone around them.
Disclaimer: These Five (5) signs aren’t all encompassing, but they are common trends that occur whenever working with people who are trying to decide whether to leave or not.
This may be the “no brainier,” but I have to put it anyway. One (1) time of abuse is too many. If you are experiencing physical, emotional, or financial abuse, you should probably consider leaving your relationship. Never put yourself in danger and make sure (especially if there is physical threats) to have an exit plan in place to get out.
Abusers rarely ever change. Unfortunately, when we love someone we get a Healing Fantasy that one day they will wake up and everything will be the way that we want. I am sorry to say, it likely won’t be. You will find yourself lingering in a relationship limbo where you aren’t getting your needs met and you are being injured by abuse. If you need help, The National Domestic Violence Hotline can work with you to obtain some resources.
Don’t waste your life in a Healing Fantasy hoping for change. If you are unsure as to whether you are being emotionally abused, some of my clients have found this article helpful.
2. Getting Things That You May Want Or Need Is Like An Act Of Congress
Every relationship requires compromises. You won’t (nor should you) get everything that you want; but neither should your partner. Even in relationships that are influenced by cultural gender roles have a measure of compromise. What I am talking about here is a situation where you feel like you can’t ever get anything you want. Even little things. Here are some examples that have happened in my work with clients:
Dana’s relationship with Tom was lacking intimacy (in her opinion). She begged Tom to come up to the bedroom and cuddle with her. Tom initially stated that he would, but stayed downstairs watching the football game. When Dana came down to inquire, Tom berated her as being “too needy” and inconsiderate of his needs.
Tammy had an afternoon planned with her parents. Her boyfriend, Jake, agreed to go with her, but he suddenly had an “important” errand to run, taking their only care soon before they were about to leave. Jake came back WELL AFTER he was supposed to, and Tammy had to cancel the plans. When she attempted to confront Jake on it, he turned it around on her saying that he had to go for work and that she was not keeping her promise to support his career.
I get it, some people are just inconsiderate. However, this goes to another level. Situations like Tammy’s and Dana’s occur for you daily or even multiple times a day. They are around big or small things. Important and not important things. If you find yourself begging daily, there may be a problem. If you find yourself having to change plans on a whim, there may be a problem. If you find yourself giving more and more, but receiving less and less, there may be a problem.
3. You Have Resentment and are Embarrassed by Your Partner – Almost to or Beyond the “Disgust” Level
Most people think that this happens whenever couples have been married a long time. I see it in couples of all stages. Basically, if you actually have a feeling of contempt, resentment, and even disgust about your partner, you have probably mentally left the relationship already.
Let me say that just because you feel resentment toward your partner doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t still love or care for them. In fact, I find that this keeps people lingering in relationship limbo longer than anything. They feel guilty for leaving and don’t want to hurt the other person.
Sometimes, these relationships can be salvaged with a skilled couples counselor, but other times people waste a lot of time, energy and effort trying to revive something that has been dead a long time.
4. Secrets, Lies, and Spies
Don’t get me wrong, there are some small secrets that can happen in a relationship. What I am talking about here is a level of secrecy that is pervasive and systemic. This means that pretty much that, at any given time, the majority of functioning and day to day operations involve secrecy and lies. If you don’t feel like you can tell your partner the truth at least 3/4 of the time. There is a problem. Often times, I find that in-trouble couples involve the kids in this unhealthy system.
If, as a parent, you feel like you have to keep secrets from your partner with your kids, there is a pretty real problem there. If trust is the foundation of a strong relationship, secrets and lies are the storm that makes it crumble (or never allows it to be built in the first place.)
5. Forgiveness is Impossible
When people think of forgiveness in the context of a relationship, infidelity is usually the first thing that comes to mind. So, I will use that as the example to demonstrate this point.
Infidelity is painful. It is the ultimate betrayal in a relationship. If you can’t forgive your partner for being unfaithful, I don’t think anyone can blame you. If it takes you a long time to forgive your partner, that too is understandable. However, if you agree to stay with your partner after he/she has been unfaithful, you will most likely be happier if you forgive them.
What forgiveness IS NOT is you being angry and bitter with your partner, using their discretion as an excuse to punish, humiliate, and disrespect them. Although there may be some primal satisfaction achieved from this, it isn’t right and usually (in my experience) both parties pay the price. In humans, there is a natural desire to punish someone that hurt us. Anger is a much easier and acceptable emotion to express than hurt or betrayal. However, if you have tried to get over past hurts in a relationship, and you aren’t able you may be happier if you leave.
There are many other signs and symptoms that relationships are in deep trouble and are almost dead. However, the five things I stated above seem to be prevalent when working with couples. If you find that you are still unsure, weighing the pro’s and cons of staying or leaving, you probably want to seek some professional help. Counseling can help you to use the best possible methods to make decisions related to your relationships. It can also help you to tap into your inner resiliency factors to get through difficult situations.