How to Know When to Leave a Relationship

Knowing when it’s time to leave a relationship is difficult because it’s not just the relationship you’re leaving, it’s a way of life. You’re leaving a mindset, a way of being.

Leaving a relationship is about transitioning from one state of mind to another. You’re starting fresh in life, and you don’t know where this new beginning will take you.

What if breaking up is the wrong choice? That’s the difficult part about trying to figure out if you should leave a relationship. Is it better to stay or go?

These questions will help you know if it’s time to leave your relationship. They’re from Kevin Thompson, who writes about breakups and reconciliation on his blog. He’s also the author of The Unbreakup Guide.

Knowing if You Should Leave a Relationship

Guest Post ~ Kevin Thompson

What do you do when you feel like the relationship you have invested so much time and energy in is not the right one for you? What do you do if you feel like your relationship isn’t working but you are still in love with your partner? This situation is more common than you might think.

People who have already invested so much time in a relationship tend to invest more time even if the relationship is making them miserable. They start comparing the pros and cons of staying with their partner. But the fact that they love their partner makes them confused about how to know when to leave a relationship.

The key to getting out of this relationship ambivalence is to start thinking about whether your relationship can be cured. Instead of comparing the good vs. bad, think about if your relationship can be improved to your satisfaction. Do you feel it can’t be fixed? That’s how to know when to leave a relationship.

If you decide not to leave your partner, make sure you genuinely believe there is hope for your relationship. Don’t try to convince yourself just because you think you’re in love!

Questions to help you decide when to leave

Were you ever happy in your relationship?

Was your relationship ever as good as you hoped it would be? Or are you just holding on to the hope that some time in the future you will have the relationship you always wanted? If it’s the latter, then you are just fooling yourself into wasting more time with your partner. It’s better to end it and start transitioning from marriage to divorce.

Did your partner hit you more than once?

Everyone is allowed one mistake. But if your partner hit you on more than one occasion, then you’ve got yourself a deal breaker – and that’s how you know if you should leave a relationship). There is no reason to wait around because they are probably going to do it again.

If your partner is hitting you, read How to Leave an Abusive Relationship.

Is your partner willing to communicate?

If you have a communication problem, it can be fixed. But what can’t be fixed is the will of your partner to not communicate. Is there something that you really want to talk about but your partner is not even willing to consider discussing it? If your partner doesn’t care about you enough to discuss the things that matter to you, then you have a relationship that can’t be fixed and you should consider leaving it.

Are you waiting for your partner to change?

Do you want different things in life (kids, marriage, career)? Are you secretly hoping that the beliefs and wants of your partner will change if you stay with them long enough? If your partner has different life goals in life, then it’s better for you to end the relationship as soon as possible. It’s better to break up rather than stay – even if you’re worried about having enough money to leave your relationship.

Is your partner capable of change?

Is something about your partner making you want to leave the relationship? Something like their drug addiction, alcohol addiction, anger problem? Do they always tell you they’ll try to change but always go back to their old ways? If so, then you have to accept that it’s possible that they are not capable of changing. It will be better for you to leave the relationship than stay trapped in the cycle for the rest of your life.

Help for Breakups

How to Know When to Leave a RelationshipToo Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay: A Step-by-Step Guide to Help You Decide Whether to Stay In or Get Out of Your Relationship by Mira Kirshenbaum.

How to Let Go of Someone You Love.

If you want to work on your relationship, here are few tips on how to save your marriage.

About the author: Kevin Thompson often tells people how to get an ex back. But somewhere along the way, many of them realize that they are better off ending the relationship. To connect with Kevin, go to

how to know when to leave

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12 Responses

  1. Cristal says:

    Laurie, I love your columns and relate to so much that you post. I am recently finding myself in a painful divorce that i am realizing has been not much more than a classic, addictive relationship of 8 long years. I am having a difficult time moving forward and spend much time reminiscing, and focusing on the past. I need to find things that are helpful to me to move FORWARD. It’s detrimental to my children (18,17,11 and 1 year old) the youngest is the only child in common together. My EX does NOT co parent (only when we are together) I think this hurts the most. He is an alcoholic who is newly sober 1 year, but is hanging on to all the old behaviors. Any ideas for me? Thanks

    • Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen says:

      Dear Cristal,

      Thank you for being here, and for commenting! I’m amazed at the age difference in your children – there must be a fascinating story behind that :-)

      Have you talked to a counsellor about your difficulty detaching from him? It sounds like you know you have to leave this relationship, but you don’t know how. I suggest trying to figure out what is keeping you attached to him, and learning what is holding you back from moving forward with your life. One of the best ways to do this is to talk to a professional in person, and get an objective perspective on your relationship, personality, and past experiences.

      I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful, but I hope you are able to take the time and energy to talk to a counsellor in person.

      Wishing you all the best,

  2. I had always believed that yes, it’s better to be alone than to be with someone that’s not right for you. My last BF was an alcoholic, and he was abusive and unwilling to change. Even though I was tired of being single, I had no hesitation to break up with him!

    • Laurie says:

      I’m glad you knew when to leave your relationship, Aleah. It can be so difficult to walk away, for so many reasons. But we have to have faith that the right person will come along – if we have the strength to detach ourselves from the wrong person!

  3. Linda Ursin says:

    He’s not willing to change. I’ve gone through the wishing he would phase, and I’m done with it. The only thing keeping me in it are money and our 5 year-old. Plus the complexity of the process when you have kid younger than 16.

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks for being here, Linda. I’m sorry it’s so complicated for you — it sounds like both leaving your marriage and staying are sacrifices for you. It is a complex process, and can affect your life for better or worse.

  4. Laurie says:

    I think these are excellent questions to ask when you’re thinking about leaving a relationship!

    However, the part about hitting once being a mistake didn’t sit well with me. I agree that you don’t necessarily need to leave if your partner loses control and hits you once….I don’t know why, but this part bothered me.

    Maybe I do think that if your partner hits you once, you should leave! That’s how I’d know when to leave, anyway. No second chances.

    Thanks for writing this, Kevin!

    • Thanks for your comment Laurie. I know for a lot of people, that should be the case. But I think once and twice can make the difference between a mistake and an abusive behavior.

  5. Miriam says:

    Good post. I know it is hard for people to acknowledge the time when they must leave a relationship even with the red flags staring at them. They are afraid to leave to be alone. However it is good to put this out there as it will make those who are needing to leave a bad relationship dig in and face things!

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