It’s a tale as old as time: Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy and girl spend the rest of their lives together in blissful harmony. Even Romeo and Juliet ended up together, in a twisted way. Unfortunately, life doesn’t just follow such sweet, simple guidelines. No, the story, more accurately and more frequently, goes like this: Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy and girl fall out of love—with levels of animosity varying from relationship to relationship. The tough part is figuring out when to move from Act II to Act III. Barring inhumane levels of introspection, “Is my relationship doomed?” is a nearly impossible question to answer. So don’t. Leave it to someone else, like these experts right here, who have laid out 20 definitive signs that your relationship is on the rocks. And if you find out that fixing things is in your future, consider trying out an open marriage. (Yes, they exist.)
One surefire way to set your relationship up to fail? Overlooking a major red flag right from the start. “People ignore their ‘deal breakers’ in relationships for many reasons,” says Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW. “Sometimes, we are afraid of the truth because finding out the truth may lead to us having to make a change,” she explains. But the truth is, if you’ve always wanted kids and your partner definitely doesn’t and you’ve known it all along, it’s better to cut the cord now and save yourself the pain later. Though if you’d rather reaffirm your love, learn how to say those three little words without saying a thing at all.
Every relationship has tough times, but if when you think about how your relationship began, it’s difficult to remember the “good times” you had together because it is buried under your current conflict and emotional pain in the relationship, it’s likely a sign that things could be over, according to Christene Lozano, a licensed marriage and family therapist practicing in California.
Family, money, and religion are tough to change your views on. “People are attracted to each other for all kinds of reasons, and it’s true that sometimes opposites do attract,” says Denise Fournier, Ph.D., LMHC, a psychologist and founder of Evergreen Therapy in Miami, Florida. “But if you’re going to build a solid and lasting relationship with an intimate partner, it’s important that your core values are aligned,” she points out. Bottom line: “If you’re not on the same page and aren’t able to find a common ground, the relationship isn’t likely to stand the test of time.”
“Conflict is a healthy part of relationships, but how you resolve it can be either bonding or destructive,” says Dr. Terri Orbuch, relationship expert, researcher, professor, and therapist. “If you handle conflict consistently in a destructive manner—like screaming, interrupting, yelling or calling your partner names, studies show that you are more than twice as likely to divorce or breakup over time.” If you and your partner can’t fight fair, it may be time to make your exit. Though if you want to return, learn the ways that smart men apologize their way out of the dog house.
“There is no bigger tell-tail sign that a relationship is doomed if you avoid coming home at night,” says Erika Boissiere, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Founder of The Relationship Institute of San Francisco. “If you don’t want to see your partner, or be with them, you have already begun the break-up process in a passive way.” Yikes. Hey, though, at least you’ll have the time to build a strong-as-hell bromance.
Sex can be a relationship-maker or ruiner. “If a couple finds that they are not sexually compatible (e.g., she wants sex more frequently that he does, or he is not drawn to her on a physical level), this is a sure sign that sexual issues will be a problem in the long run,” explains Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist based in California. “If one (or both) partners are not willing to face and address the issue head-on, time will only make it worse.” If you need ways to spice things up in the bedroom, check out the 3 ways to instantly turn your wife into a sex goddess.
Sometimes, mishaps are no one’s fault, but if you always find yourself feeling that it’s your partner’s fault, or vice versa, something’s up, says Hershenson. Of course, for when it comes time to making up, brush up on the romantic man’s guide for buying her the perfect flowers.
Of course, former addicts can be in relationships, but those relationships are “beholden to the other person’s success with sobriety. Without it, both partners ebb and flow in a relational dance that is filled with toxicity and pain,” says Boissiere. “A relationship typically can weather addiction for a period of time before one partner gets exhausted,” she adds. This might be a good time to take our quiz and find out what type of drinker you are.
“People want to live in certain places. They have their dreams set on the where, when, at what age,” says Erin Asquith, LCSW, founder of Versus Therapy in New Jersey. Some couples are able to make long distance work when they can’t come to an agreement about where to live, but generally this drives partners apart.
If you’re withholding from your S.O., it likely signals that the relationship is moving toward a breakup. “There is a difference between secrecy and privacy,” Lozano points out. “It’s totally okay and healthy to have privacy, but keeping secrets can be a recipe for disaster.”
“One way of identifying who you feel emotionally close to is by asking yourself whom you would turn to for assistance and help in a stressful situation, like the loss of a job,” Orbuch advises. “An unhealthy relationship is one where you would prefer to get help from anyone but your partner,” she explains. “Your partner doesn’t have to be the only one you turn to in troubled times, but you should want to go to your partner for support.”
Or one of you doesn’t trust the other. “While trust can be repaired, it is incredibly difficult, and takes two very committed individuals,” Boissiere says. If you always feel the urge to check your partner’s phone or constantly wonder if what they’re actually doing is different from what they said they were doing, you may want to bow out. If you really don’t trust her, you may want to learn the 15 signs that a woman is cheating on you.
“Pay attention to how you talk to each other in a relationship,” Asquith suggests. If you feel that you’re not really hearing each other and that every request or question feels like one of you is being pestered or criticized, that’s a major red flag.
“You’ve probably heard this before, but it bears repeating: communication is essential to a healthy relationship,” Fournier says. “Some of the problems that I see tear relationships apart have to do with money, sex, and differing definitions of monogamy. Though these are difficult issues to navigate, they can almost always be reconciled if both partners are willing to talk through them openly, vulnerably, and honestly. If you can’t or aren’t willing to keep the communication going, the relationship is doomed.”
“When partners don’t align on core visions for what lies ahead, such as whether to have children or the timing of taking the relationship to the next level, relationships typically dissolve,” Boissiere says. Also, if you’ve begun to imagine your future without your partner, it’s time to get out.
A major indicator that you’re not in love with your S.O. anymore? “You are critical of your partner and stop seeing the ‘good’ in them,” Lozano notes.
Fighting unfairly is bad, but never having any conflict is also a pretty big sign that something is amiss. “Healthy partnerships will bring up disagreements, which will get worked through together,” says Shirani M. Pathak, a licensed psychotherapist and founder of the Relationship Center of Silicon Valley. “If you never have any disagreements, it’s likely because one or the other (or both) of you are avoiding discussing things that make you uncomfortable, which leads to a storm brewing under the surface.”
“When a partner does not show interest in his or her mate’s needs and desires, the relationship is on rocky ground,” Manly explains. If you simply don’t care what your partner wants or needs to do, you probably shouldn’t be together anymore.
“Relationships shift and grow and evolve as people shift and grow and evolve,” notes Pathak. If one partner is doing the work to grow into a better version of themselves and the other partner is not, the relationship is likely over.” What’s more, if one partner is really trying to make the relationship work and the other isn’t, the effort can end up wasted.
Some ambiguity in a relationship is normal. Not everyone knows immediately if they have found “the one” or is always sure that they want to continue being married to their spouse. “However, there comes a point in every relationship where you need to decide fundamentals (moving in together, marriage),” says Boissiere. For married couples, this could be whether or not to buy a house, have a child, or make some other major decision. “If you find that you ‘can’t’ make a decision, chances are you are headed for a break up,” she says.
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