When To Break Up

In the Early Stages of Dating, Knowing When to Break Up

Questions to ask yourself when debating a breakup: You have felt stuck in your relationship for a while now. You go back and forth about breaking up with your partner all the time. You are feeling lost. These feelings seem to be spilling out into every area of your life. You feel close to a crossroads where you either decide to jump in and fully commit to the relationship or decide to break up.  Do you ask him to move across country with you to follow your dream job? Do you mix finances and move in together to save money? Do you plan a future vacation together? Do you allow yourself to have unprotected sex and risk having children together? Or do you simply call it a day and move on. You love your partner, but you are not sure how much to keep investing in him or her, nor are you ready to let go.  


You know you could benefit from a structure as you are debating investing more time or breaking up but don’t know where to start. Some people have been open with their partners about this stuck feeling, while others may not feel comfortable bringing up their unhappiness until they are sure about what they want so they feel isolated in the problem.  The following are good questions to process. If you are in a position where you and your partner are actively discussing a potential breakup together, invite your partner to think about these questions and plan a time for when you two can come together and explore each other’s answers.


The answer to whether or not you should break up will not come to you immediately. Sometimes you have to set more patience for yourself and as you debate the question from all angles. Sometimes you need to let the answers come to you. What’s a reasonable time frame to give yourself for debating a relationship to make sure whichever decision you make is the right one for you?


A lot of folks debating a breakup feel very urgent in their desire to come to a conclusion. Making a fast decision often backfires.  Give yourself permission to thoughtfully respond to the following questions. This extra time will enable you to respect your own feelings and if you so desire to respect your partner’s feelings.  


  • What have I done to resolve my part of why our relationship is not working?



It’s common for everyone to blame all of their relationship problems on their partner. Accountability is huge in a relationship and the decision-making process of staying together or breaking up. What am I doing to perpetuate the problems we have? If you cannot answer this question, you are putting all the blame/burden of the relationship continuing on the other person. That may be easier for you at the moment, but long-term it does not feel good for you either.  


On the lighter side of these relationship problems may be perpetual issues around being roommates like having different levels of cleanliness.

Which brings up two questions to ask yourself:

  • Can I live with their level of cleanliness?
  • Do I need to be the one to maintain our home the way I prefer?


On a deeper, psychological level, the problems in your relationship may be from your own adult patterns that started in childhood in your family.

If childhood issues are getting in the way of your relationship the questions you ask yourself are:

  • In what ways are the problems with my partner similar to how I felt as a child?
  • How can I separate myself from my childhood feelings?
  • What is different about the situation and/or my parent than my family?
  • What are my automatic thoughts that make me default to old behavior?
  • How do I react to partner in ways that invite old family patterns to emerge?
  • What is it I needed as a child that I am looking for from my partner?
  • How can I ask my partner for what I need in a way they can respond my needs?


You will feel out of control to the point of believing a breakup is the only way out from feeling this way. However, there is more to the role you play in how you got where you are now in the relationship and how it is staying this way. Regardless of the outcome of this relationship, working on yourself first can help you grow and prepare for a better version of all relationships.


Sometimes the root of the “should we break up anxiety” is really a displeasure with where you are in life and not about the relationship.


The only way to differentiate this feeling is to help yourself get more grounded in your sense of self and do the things that make you feel better. Then, reassess how the relationship is going.


This gets to the question of will I regret this in the future: Can I walk away now knowing I tried everything I could?

How am I growing from the discomfort I feel when my relationship is at its worst?


Gut Betrayal

Anxiety increases Anxiety increases
Positive risk-taking Taking unsafe risks
Trust Distrustful of self
Confrontation/ Conflict resolution Complacency in unresolved issues/
Self-soothing Boredom
Commitment Detachment
Consistent with your Values Betrayal of your values


  1. What are my future relational goals?


Many couples feel stuck for a long time before either partner takes the huge risk to make a change. Some even stay miserable together for years before asking themselves what they imagine for their lives and relationship in the next 1-5 years. Some people stay comfortable even though they are struggling in order to not have to be alone again. A major wake-up call is having discrepant future goals.


  • When you ask yourself what life worth living would look like, what do you imagine?
  • How does a relationship impact this sense of purpose?


Examples of common issues facing couples today:

  • Having children or remaining childless
  • Intact family vs Blended Family
  • Marriage vs. Not Getting Married
  • Monogamy vs. nonmonogamy
  • Traveling as a necessity vs. luxury
  • Career/Life balance differences
  • Economic security vs economic struggles
  • Lifestyle desires
  • Giver vs taker
  • Quality of your sex life
  • Sense of Humor
  • How do you get along with each other’s friends?
  • How is your relationship with your in-laws?


  1. What needs to change in order to choose to continue working on this relationship?


  • What are compromises you would be willing to bend on for your partner?
  • What are “deal breakers” that you need to have in order to move forward together?
  • Do you need more quality time together?
  • Do you need more alone time where you can recharge your energy without guilt from taking space?
  • How committed is your partner to making the relationship work?
  • How have I grown in this relationship?
  • If I stayed in this relationship how do I imagine I would continue to grow?  
  • If I left this relationship what skills could I take with me and adopt as my own?
  • Do I like myself better for having been in this relationship?  
  • What about how does change occur in this relationship?
  • What is my style and what is my partners?  
  • What obstacles have we successfully been able to work thru together?
  • Do I respect my partner?
  • Do I enjoy my partner’s sense of humor?


Now that you have asked yourself the above questions, how clear is your sense of whether or not to continue working on this relationship? Still feeling unsure of whether a breakup is right for you two after the time you set for yourself to process these questions? You may need the help of a skilled, relationship-oriented therapist to help you explore what is underneath this level of ambivalence.