Information From Previous Research
Research has been done to determine the most common reasons that people decide to stay in or walk away from romantic relationships. According to a 2018 study, the top five reasons for staying include:
- Emotional intimacy
- Emotional investment
- Family duty
- The partner’s personality
The top five reasons for leaving include:
- The partner’s personality
- A breach of trust
- The partner having withdrawn
- An external reason
- Physical distance
However, the researchers also note that a major decision like this is rarely clear cut—that “people experience subtle shifts in their commitment that build up over time” and ultimately lead them to lean in one direction or the other. For example, the top five reasons to stay could all exist in a person’s relationship, but they could still decide that one significant breach of trust outweighs them all. You may also decide you want to edit these lists, and your reasons don’t match up. In other words, deciding whether to walk away from love or not often involves a complicated and challenging review of the situation.
Signs That It Could Be Time For You To Leave
Your Dynamic As A Couple Is Unhealthy
Everyone deserves to feel safe and respected within a romantic relationship. If you don’t, it may be time to leave. Some signs your relationship is unhealthy could include hostility, isolation, manipulation, or one person attempting to track or control the other. Feeling afraid of your partner and their reactions or having a relationship that’s characterized by frequent, extreme highs and lows can also be signs of trouble. The experience of abuse of any kind—physical, emotional, sexual, or otherwise—is also a clear indication that your relationship dynamic is unhealthy.
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse in any form, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for immediate support, advice, and assistance.
You Both Have Different And Individual Goals
Even the healthiest of relationships may need to end if the people involved have incompatible life goals. For example, if one person wants to have children someday and their partner does not, it’s unlikely that the couple’s story would end with “happily ever after.” Other potentially problematic incompatibilities could include wanting to live in different places, wanting to get married or not, significant religious differences, differing preferences on monogamy, etc. This doesn't mean your relationship isn't loving, but it may mean you have different long-term visions.
Something Fundamental Is Missing In Related Discussions
You might not align with someone you love in every single area, so it’s not unusual to perceive that some small things are missing in your relationship with your partner here or there. Your relationship may also grow over time to include these missing elements; if you’ve only been together or in love for a short period of time, it may be helpful to give the relationship more time. That said, if a significant, fundamental element of your relationship is missing and seems unlikely to change, it could be a sign that it’s time to walk away. For example, if you love someone but disagree on basic morals and values, these things probably won’t change and may be ‘deal breakers’. It can be hard to discern when love is missing fundamental aspects that make a relationship last, and below we explore when it might not be healthy to stay in a relationship due to love.
Potentially Unhealthy Reasons You May Stay
Every relationship is different, and only you can decide whether a particular reason to stay or leave is valid for your situation. That said, there are a few potentially unhealthy reasons that may encourage you to want to stay when it could be better to leave. For example, if you’re unhappy in the relationship but you’re afraid of being alone or if you feel guilty about leaving, it may not be fair to you or your partner to stay. There are likely to be other potential partners out there who could be a better fit for each of you, and spending some time on your own may also be helpful in learning more about yourself and what you want. Staying together simply because you are afraid your partner would have their heart broken is another example of a potentially unhealthy reason to stay. While most every decision in a partnership should be mutual, the decision to break up does not have to be. In general, each person has the right to do what’s best for them, even if it leads to a broken heart in the end.
Other Factors To Consider
As you weigh your options, you might want to consider some of the realities of most relationships. For example, it can be helpful to remember that virtually all relationships change and evolve over time. The electric feeling in your heart and infatuation many people feel at the beginning of a new romantic relationship tends to fade over time into a more comfortable, affectionate bond, which isn’t necessarily a sign of a problem. It can also be useful to remind yourself that it’s generally not realistic to expect to find someone who is a perfect match for you in every way—or who is perfect at all. Humans are incredibly complex and imperfect beings, which means that being in any kind of loving relationship usually involves accepting another person’s flaws and differences as they accept ours.
- Learn your partner’s love language. If you and your partner don’t know each other’s love languages—or the methods in which you each prefer to receive love—it could be helpful to learn them. A 2022 study reports that “people who expressed their affection in the way their partners preferred to receive it experienced greater satisfaction with their relationships and were more sexually satisfied” than those who were less able to meet their partners’ needs.
- Create a more balanced dynamic. Like a song without a chorus, an unbalanced relationship could lead to disharmony and dissatisfaction over time. As one study indicates, “The happiest couples were those in which both partners reported a high sense of personal power”. Making sure you both have equal say in decisions and feel confident that your needs will be heard and respected can be key to keep the other person from wanting to walk away from the relationship.
- Avoid boredom. After you’ve been with the same person for a while, it’s not uncommon to settle into routines. For some people, these eventually translate into boredom—which can undermine closeness and then relationship satisfaction over time, according to one study on the topic. It suggests that “present boredom was found to be positively correlated with a decrease in satisfaction nine years in the future”, so trying new things with your partner regularly can help you avoid drifting away from each other.
- Cultivate or renew a sense of emotional intimacy. Feeling emotionally close to your partner can be one of the most significant factors in the health of your relationship. A 2018 study found that “emotional inaccessibility” was more likely to cause both men and women to end a relationship—even more so than “sexual inaccessibility.” Taking the time to rate what emotional aspects of your relationship are most important, and deciding to work on those aspects, can help you rekindle your relationship if you sense that you’ve drifted apart instead of having to walk away.
Help From A Therapist
Sorting out whether you want to stay in your current relationship or leave can be a difficult thing to do alone and finding support from a family member or professional may be beneficial. That’s why some people choose to turn to a therapist for support and guidance. Their job is to provide a safe, nonjudgmental space where you can express and process your emotions. They can help you take a more objective view of your relationship and you and your partner’s habits and behaviors so you can see the situation clearly and make an informed choice. In addition, if the effects of past trauma or symptoms of a mental health condition are making it more difficult for you to find contentment in or make decisions about your relationship, they can also help you address these.
Some people find meeting with a therapist in person intimidating, while others have trouble attending appointments due to busy schedules or transportation inaccessibility. In cases like these, online therapy can represent a viable alternative. With a virtual therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist with whom you can meet via phone, video call, and/or online chat from the comfort of home or anywhere you have an internet connection. Research suggests that virtual and in-person therapy may be “equally effective, " meaning you can typically choose the best format for you.
Deciding whether it’s time to walk away from love can be difficult, as it usually involves many factors and a number of complicated emotions. The points discussed above may help you consider your situation from different angles so you can be better equipped to make a decision. Speaking with a qualified therapist may also be helpful.
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