When Is It Time to Break Up With Someone? Consider These 12 Signs

Prepare to walk away when you encounter these red flags.
When Is It Time to Break Up With Someone? Consider These 12 Signs
Photo: Delmaine Donson | Getty Images
Dina Cheney - The Knot Contributor.
Dina Cheney
Dina Cheney - The Knot Contributor.
Dina Cheney
The Knot Contributor
  • Dina writes for The Knot Worldwide, specializing in food, travel and relationships.
  • With more than 20 years of experience in service journalism, she also pens articles and recipes for publications, such as Good Housekeeping, Parents, SELF, Health, Men’s Health, Men’s Journal, Prevention, Fine Cooking, Weight Watchers and Diabetic Living.
  • Dina graduated from Columbia College, Columbia University and The Institute of Cul...
Updated May 29, 2023

When is it time to break up? That's never the question you want to be asking, of course. But, if you do find yourself wondering how to know when it's time to break up, there is plenty to consider. Although the emotional toll of ending a relationship can be tough, sometimes saying goodbye is the right move. And there are certain signs it's time to break up that are particularly common.

For insight into how to know when to break up with someone, we spoke with four experts:

Below, see 12 signs that may suggest when it is time to break up. If your relationship exhibits any of these symptoms, it could be time to think about leaving.

1. Your partner is abusive.

It is essential to state that physical and emotional abuse are grounds for a break up, and your physical and emotional safety must always come first.

While physical abuse is easier to identify, emotional or psychological abuse can be trickier to pinpoint. Overall, if being in the relationship makes you feel badly about yourself (and your partner takes no responsibility for their role in these issues), consider that to be a major warning sign, says psychologist Dr. Karen Bridbord, as is feeling uncomfortable around your partner, adds marriage and family therapist Dr. Steve Fabick.

To help you diagnose emotional abuse, consider these examples and call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-7233) if you need help or feel you could be in danger:

  • Gaslighting (when your partner denies facts, making you seem delusional)
  • Threats and insults
  • Humiliation
  • Overreaction to minor behaviors (e.g. when your partner yells at you for slamming a car door)
  • Controlling behavior (e.g. when your partner tries to dictate your schedule, how you dress or the company you keep)
  • Manipulation (e.g. statements like, "If you loved me, you would do XYZ")
  • Stalking
  • Monitoring your phone or social media activity
  • Sexual coercion (which may or may not lead to physical abuse)

    2. Your partner made a huge mistake and didn't show remorse.

    If your partner cheated or made another colossal mistake and you don't think you'll be able to get past it, it may be best to move on. But another sign to break up is if your partner denied the indiscretion or dismissed you as being too sensitive or insecure.

    Similarly, if your partner hasn't expressed remorse or shown a commitment to changing or rectifying their behavior, you can feel justified in ending the relationship.

    3. Your partner isn't managing their addiction.

    Take caution if your partner struggles with addiction but hasn't committed to managing the issue or made any progress, encourages Dr. Fabick. And keep in mind that addictions can take many forms including gambling, alcoholism, drug abuse and sex.

    For help supporting a partner with addiction (as well as help supporting yourself), explore the resources on SAMHSA.gov.

    4. You don't like, trust or respect each other.

    Friendship is foundational to romantic relationships, notes Dr. Bridbord. At the end of the day, you and your partner should like each other, enjoy being around one another and find each other endearing. You should also trust and respect each other.

    As Dr. Bridbord explains, if you feel that your partner won't consider or respect your feelings (basically it's "their way or the highway"), you should both evaluate whether or not you'd like to move forward with the relationship.

    5. Most of your interactions are negative.

    The well-known psychologist Dr. John Gottman found that for stable and happy marriages, there must be five or more positive interactions for every one negative interaction during conflict. These positive interactions involve turning towards each other (listening and showing interest); while negative interactions involve turning away or against each other, such as ignoring or criticizing one another.

    Dr. Bridbord notes that negative interactions can often beget more negative interactions, so try to "catch" yourselves and communicate the issue—before it gets out of hand.

    6. Your partner displays one of these behavioral red flags.

    According to clinical psychologist Dr. Piorkowski, there are several behavioral red flags that, if your partner is displaying, it's time to reflect on your relationship and have a serious talk with your partner as you navigate where to go from here.

    These behaviors and traits include the following:

    • Blaming: They never accept responsibility for problems and always blame others.
    • Conflict Avoidance: They avoid conflict since they don't know how to resolve problems.
    • Emotional Hermit: They are out of touch with their feelings and struggle with expressing them.
    • Narcissist: One who brags, needs constant attention and is not empathetic.
    • Oppositional: They contradict everything you say, need to be right all the time or constantly criticize.
    • Passive Aggressive: They give the cold shoulder instead of expressing anger.
    • Immature: They never seem to grow up or are stuck in an earlier phase of life developmentally. (Think: partying too much or not paying bills on time.)

      Your partner may not be aware they're exhibiting these behavoirs, so be sure to communicate your notice of or discomfort with them. If they do nothing to change their actions or attitude, it may be time to reconsider the relationship.

      7. Your partner has a troubling history.

      If your partner lacks close friends or tends to cut people off abruptly, they'll likely struggle with romantic attachment, notes Dr. Fabick. In addition to a string of cut-ties, another concerning trend is swinging dramatically between idealizing and disdaining others. It could be a serious sign of struggling with all types of relationships and connection.

      8. You don't have enough in common.

      It's important to have your own hobbies and interests—and it's totally fine if yours differ from your partner's as long as you find some common ground. But it's essential to have some basic alignment on key issues like money, where to live and whether to have children, says Dr. Fabick. Although people sometimes defer having these discussions, he recommends communicating about these fundamentals early on, so you can determine which may or may not be dealbreakers.

      9. Your loved ones don't like them.

      Dr. Fabick encourages you to pay attention if your friends and family dislike your partner. Don't take the common approach of going through mental gymnastics to disparage these views. Remember that people tend to see their mates through rose-colored glasses. While there is the chance that your friends' opinions of your partner are misinformed, they likely have your best interest at heart and their thoughts should be considered.

      10. You always think the worst of them.

      One common sign it's time to break up is when you find yourself struggling to give your partner the benefit of the doubt, says psychology professor Dr. Lewandowskiy.

      What can this look like? When they do something positive (like grabbing you a latte from your favorite coffee shop), you'll wonder what they're going to ask for in return. Or, when they get on your nerves, you believe that they are intentionally trying to hurt you and are aware of their repetitively problematic behvaior.

      11. You don't communicate well.

      You and your partner struggle to understand each other with your conversations often turning into arguments or going nowhere. Dr. Fabick urges couples who have trouble communicating to seek professional help to improve their communication. However, if either of you aren't committed to improvements, it's a serious—and possibly relationship-ending—issue.

      12. Your partner doesn't comfort you

      "People need to feel psychologically safe with their partner, as if their partner is a haven from problems outside of the relationship," says Dr. Bridbord. A partner not meeting your emotional needs can compound feelings of loneliness and disconnection within a relationship, she explains.

      Again, it's important to communicate this and other issues with your partner. If they do nothing to adjust their behavior, that's when ending the relationship should be seriously considered.

      What to Do Next

      If your partner is physically or emotionally abusive, your safety needs to be prioritized. Seek professional resources and support from loved ones if you need help ending the relationship and keeping yourself safe.

      For the other issues, consider seeing a couple's therapist before ultimately deciding that it's time to break up. Below, learn how to begin navigating next steps.

      First, try to resolve it.

      Being part of a couple can be challenging at times—but Dr. Piorkowski says that you shouldn't always give up, noting that people can change. If your partner makes a mistake or you struggle with a certain aspect of your relationship, the partnership may be able to survive through communication, admission of fault and the commitment to change.

      However, Dr. Piorkowski says to pay attention to see if the issues repeat themselves. "If after six months to a year, you're still feeling strongly that your relationship is going absolutely nowhere, then it's time to break up sooner rather than later," she says.

      But once you decide, don't delay.

      If you're unsure how to break up with someone, experts say to begin the conversation as calmly as possible. Oftentimes, people put off having this conversation until they're very angry, explains Dr. Fabick. "If you rely on getting yourself in an excited state to act, things won't go as well." Try to present yourself in a forthright and kind way, but without sacrificing authenticity.

      By ending your current substandard relationship, you'll be opening yourself up sooner to the possibility of finding a new fulfilling relationship.

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