Has being with your partner turned you into a jealous person? Does your partner often give you the silent treatment? Sally Brown reveals 7 signs that it might be time to end your relationship
Even good relationships go through bad patches and all it takes is a bit of care, thought and attention to get you back on track. But there are times when a relationship can’t be mended, and when staying comes at cost to your mental health and wellbeing. If you recognise any of the seven signs below, it could be time to move on.
When criticism becomes your partner’s default mode, they become the self-appointed arbiter of what constitutes ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviour in your relationship
1. You got together thinking they will change
And they haven’t. Maybe you were both party animals when you met, but now you’re ready to swap hangovers for hanging wallpaper. You’re more interested in getting fit than getting wasted and want something more from your social life than a series of ‘crazy’ nights out that actually, have become a bit repetitive. But your partner isn’t on the same page and can’t understand why you’ve changed. Now they feel judged, and you feel frustrated and lonely. Or maybe you assumed your partner would become more ambitious or focused at work, or would just grow up and start acting more like an adult. There is nothing wrong with spotting someone’s potential. People do change but pinning your happiness on it happening is a risky move. If you want your partner to be a completely different person, you’re unlikely to ever feel content with who they are. You owe it to them and to yourself to move on, to find someone you truly respect, and give them the chance to meet someone who appreciates them, just as they are.
If the reasons for not leaving change all the time there will always be a new reason to stall.
2. They still haven’t left their spouse
Despite numerous promises, your attached partner is still as ensconced in their relationship as they were when you first met, even though they assured you that it was over in ‘everything but name’ and they were in the process of separating. If all that has changed since then is the excuse they use for still not moving out, you are being strung along. This person has no intention of changing, and why should they? Rather than creating a reason to leave, an affair often makes it easier for the married person to stay, as they now have an external source for their unmet needs (you!). If the reasons for not leaving change all the time (‘the children have exams, I need to get into a better place financially, when work settles down…’) there will always be a new reason to stall. If you can’t move on, ask yourself, why do you believe you only deserve second best?
3. You have become their personal bank
You may have gone into the relationship with your eyes wide open about how ‘hopeless’ your partner is with money. At first, it didn’t seem like a problem, because they had a plausible explanation for why it happened – it was someone else’s fault, or just a series of bad choices or just bad luck, that are unlikely to happen again. Except that it does happen again, over and over. You may have gone into debt yourself, getting a loan to pay off your partner’s credit cards, only to discover they have run up a new debt without telling you. People with ‘rescuer’ tendencies often end up in relationships with people living chaotic lives, convinced they can sort them out. But after a while, you may come to the realisation that their plausible explanations are actually half-truths and lies. Of course, a good partner is more than just a healthy bank account and getting into debt is extremely common. Lots of people learn from the experience and become more financially astute as a result. But if your partner is secretive about their spending, or you suspect they may be a compulsive spender or gambler, it’s not just about the money, and unearthing the root of the problem can be complex. If you want to make the relationship work, start by seeing a financial advisor, and taking steps to protect yourself from your partner’s financial fall-out. If it’s not too late, make sure your personal assets are kept separate. Financial incompatibility doesn’t mean a relationship can’t work, but it inevitably means conflict and heartache. If it’s underscored by a fundamental lack of trust, you have a lot of compelling reasons to move on from this relationship.
4. They don’t want children
And you do. Many couples have happy and fulfilling lives without children, enjoying spending time together, the freedom and flexibility of being able to develop careers and personal interests, or to travel and socialise in a way that is often restricted when you have children. But if you always saw children and being a parent in your future, what happens to the feelings of grief, disappointment and anger that are created when your partner blocks that from happening? It can be tempting to instigate an ‘accidental’ pregnancy, but not every reluctant parent comes round to the idea once they clap eyes on a newborn, and you risk your future child growing up in the shadow of resentment. Ask yourself, how important is being a parent to you? If it’s fundamental, and your partner is clear they won’t change their mind, then what’s stopping you from moving on and finding a partner who feels the same way?
Sarcasm and put-downs disguised as jokes are also signs of contempt.
5. They roll their eyes when you talk
Your partner might not outwardly criticise or put you down, but rolling their eyes in response to you being ‘difficult’, ‘irritating’ or ‘embarrassing’ can become such an ingrained habit, they may not even be aware of doing it most of the time. It might seem trivial, and not worth getting upset over. But according to relationships expert Dr John Gottman, the presence of contempt in a relationship – and that’s what your partner is showing you – is the number one predictor of divorce. Sarcasm and put-downs disguised as jokes are also signs of contempt. Contempt is often created by long-term simmering resentment directed at your perceived faults or weaknesses. When criticism becomes your partner’s default mode, they become the self-appointed arbiter of what constitutes ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviour in your relationship. Don’t underestimate the ongoing impact of staying in this relationship on how you feel about yourself. It’s hard to hang onto your self-esteem when you are absorbing this level of disrespect.
6. You’ve turned into a jealous person
A healthy relationship acts as an incubator for personal growth for both partners. But a relationship that brings out the worst in you, that generates jealousy and insecurity for the first time in your life, is not a healthy relationship. Listen to your gut instinct – if you find it impossible to trust your partner, you need to understand why. Are they deliberately acting in a way that keeps you feeling insecure, as if you could lose them at any minute (a sure sign of their own insecurity – feeling they can only keep you by pretending to be someone they aren’t). A serial flirt doesn’t always equal a serial cheater. But if their behaviour continues to upset you, and they can’t step into your shoes and recognise the impact it’s having on you, there is an empathy gap, or an unwillingness to consider your feelings as important as theirs. If you are not a jealous person by nature, but feel trapped in a cycle of compulsively checking on your partner, you need to ask why this person bringing out the worst in you.
7. You get the silent treatment
When the going gets tough, your partner shuts down, withdrawing from you emotionally, often for days, by not talking, or even making eye contact, and refusing to explain why (while at the same time, managing to communicate that whatever it is, it is your fault). They may even physically disappear. When they come back, they will tell you they just needed ‘some space’. But you may never find out what was really going on. At the heart of stonewalling is the inability to communicate what they need from a relationship – they may feel hurt, mistreated or ignored, but be unable to recognise their emotions or explain them to you. But at its most toxic, stonewalling can be part of a strategy of coercive control. If your partner is unwilling to recognise the destructive effect this behaviour has on the relationship, and rejects even the kindest, gentlest suggestions of different ways to communicate, think carefully about your future. By staying in the relationship, you are accepting a future in which stonewalling will play a regular part and may be joined by other forms of emotional abuse.
Sally Brown is Healthista’s ‘Ask Sally‘ psychotherapist, here to answer any burning life and relationship questions Healthista readers may have. Registered with the British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists, which means she has the qualifications and experience to work safely and effectively, she also writes about emotional and psychological health for the national press. Email your problems in confidence to firstname.lastname@example.org