Every romance has hardships, but sometimes it’s hard to distinguish a relationship slump from an impending break. Here are a few things to look out for.
Beginnings of relationships are great, aren’t they? You’re enjoying each other, having fun, reveling in all of that crazy chemistry…maybe there’s no serious commitment at first, so you don’t even have to stress over having serious conversations.
Then, at some point—whether you’ve had the infamous “defining the relationship talk” or not—you settle into a sort of relationship routine. You find yourselves doing the same sorts of things on the weekends, eating at the same restaurants for dinner, hanging out with the same people. You still care about each other, but the strong chemistry, the can’t-be-without-this-person feeling, may have faded.
Does this mean the relationship is over?
There are some blatant factors that let us know when a relationship is (or should be) over:
Abuse of any kind:
The first factor is any form of abuse—physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, etc.
Why is this the case? People who abuse typically re-offend unless they have received intensive treatment for their abusive behaviors. Abuse typically masks an inability to cope with and deal with conflict and/or negative feelings in a healthy way. We also know that most people who abuse were abused themselves at one point in their life. Until they work through the trauma of their own past abuse and learn positive coping and conflict resolution skills, they are likely to re-offend. Often, it takes the partner who has been abused to leave the relationship in order for the offending partner to seek help, as the offending partner may not take their problem seriously if they are not faced with the consequences of their behavior.
Unchanging Patterns of Negative Behavior
A second factor that indicates that your relationship may be over is if you’ve noticed patterns of negative behavior continue, despite addressing these patterns with your partner.
For example, does your partner get dangerously drunk to cope with the stress of work instead of facing with the stress head on and coping with it in more positive ways? Have you addressed this with your partner, letting them know how it makes you feel and why you’re concerned? If you have and the pattern continues, it may require you to consider how you feel that your partner has not taken your concerns seriously, if they have a serious problem that requires professional help, and/or if you’re enabling the negative behavior in any way. A subtler example would be if your partner avoids difficult emotions by closing themselves off emotionally, distancing themselves, and refusing to talk about what’s bothering them. If they’re unable to share difficult thoughts and feelings—despite you inviting them to—and the effort you’ve both exerted to create a safe, accepting relationship, they may not be able to cultivate emotional intimacy in the relationship.
Intuition Speaks Up
Gut intuition also plays a role.
If you feel unable to be truly yourself in the relationship, but feel able to be authentic in other relationships, it’s worth considering the difference between your romantic relationship and other relationships. It could indicate a fear of romantic intimacy that has been born of past experiences, or it could mean you just don’t relate to your partner on a deeper level.
Of absolute importance to remember: a relationship in which one partner feels unable to be truly themselves out of fear of their partner responding in retribution is not a healthy relationship.
So, what are some signs of a relationship slump?
First, if you and your partner have enjoyed an emotional connection in the past, but feel as though you’ve grown apart, this could be indicative of a slump.
The good news is a few intentional steps can help get you back on track. It’s completely normal for all relationships (even with friends and family members) to plateau at some point. There are excellent tools to help you regain that emotional connection you once enjoyed.
It’s also helpful to have an open and honest discussion about the emotional distance with your partner. Try starting the conversation by saying something like, “Hey, I’ve been feeling emotionally distant from you the past few weeks. Have you felt this too?” If they haven’t, ask if they would be willing to spend some extra time together, or if they’d be willing to help you explore why you’ve been feeling distant and they haven’t.
Second, if you and your partner find yourselves having difficulty communicating, this can also indicate that your relationship is in a slump.
Again, it’s completely normal for all relationships to experience difficulties in communication. Each individual in a relationship has their own ways of interpreting messages—not to mention, their own experiences and changes in mood throughout the day. Any number of factors can interrupt a couple’s communication.
There are excellent resources to help you sort through communication difficulties as well. Intentional conversations where each partner actively listens to the other and asks questions about anything that is said that they don’t understand can be extremely helpful in getting communication on the same page.
No relationship is perfect. All relationships will have conflict. It’s important to recognize clear warning signs of an unhealthy relationship and act accordingly. It’s also important to recognize the need for grace and forgiveness in the everyday task of seeking to understand and connect with each other.
About the Author
Julie Williamson is the Founder and Therapist at Abundant Life Counseling St. Louis LLC. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor, National Certified Counselor, and Registered Play Therapist. She enjoys working with women facing the challenges of anxiety, depression, and various relational issues, including developing healthy dating relationships. You can learn more about Julie at abundantlifecounselingstl.com