At a time when there aren’t many outlets for fulfilment and development, it can be easy to project that lack of fulfilment onto a relationship. Particularly for co-habiting married couples, relationships have consistently been at the forefront of our attention for the last year. For some couples, this will have been the absolute highlight of the lockdown period. For others who are used to operating differently and who really value independence and solitude, it could present more problems than it fixes. The minimalist structure of our lives for the last twelve months or so has meant we’ve put the most pressing areas of our lives under a microscope and started examining our values, priorities and goals.
When it comes to assessing the condition of your marriage, the backdrop of a global pandemic and a huge lifestyle upheaval does not present the most ordinary or accurate of circumstances. If you’re working from home, sharing a multi-functional work and living space 24/7 with no boundaries or separation can be testing. Unless there are considerable concerns such as infidelity, violence, or abuse of any kind, it is possible that the intensification of your relationships compared to other facets of life may sway your feelings and perceptions.
In order to discern whether it is time to end a relationship, you need to do some serious introspection and self-reflection, and ask yourself some potentially difficult questions like “do I still have genuine feelings for my partner?” “How do I envision my future with them?” “Is my romantic/sexual attention being led elsewhere?”. In addition, communication is key. Talk with your spouse about your concerns – be specific and direct rather than vague and unclear. Knowing what exactly your problems are is the fundamental prerequisite to finding solutions.
Having an ambiguous sense of something being “off” but not quite being sure of what it is can be reflective of the current climate and personal stagnation rather than a problem inherent to the relationship. The way this manifests in the relationship, whether it’s as distance, increased irritability, arguments, etc., could be symptomatic of a “blip” rather than an irreconcilable difference.
Signs that you are definitely ready to end a relationship could include:
- You do not communicate with your partner – you don’t take time to listen to each other or respectfully voice your concerns, and often resort to shouting matches or avoid talking altogether
- You are no longer friends with your spouse – you lack a baseline level of connection, trust, intimacy with them. You find that you don’t have fun together or enjoy just hanging out with them
- You already act like you’re single – you don’t make space to consult or compromise with your partner when it comes to making decisions. A marriage is a working partnership which involves shared responsibility and communication, so if you find yourself navigating life individually without much regard for your spouse it could be a sign that the relationship has come to an end
- Therapy isn’t working – you’ve tried to get some help with a professional to help mediate communication and explore problems, but if that isn’t enough to repair the relationship or restore lost connection, intimacy or romantic feelings then it might be another indicator that it is time to call it quits
- You can imagine yourself in another relationship – if you can picture yourself in a new relationship with somebody else and feel unaffected or even excited, that is very telling about the status of your relationship. It could be a sign that you are ready to seek emotional intimacy and romance elsewhere
- You imagine your future without your partner in it. This can also be a sign that you may be better off on your own.
- You both want different things out of life – one of the biggest indicators could be the practical things. Are you still a good match? Are you on similar paths? Have you grown together or grown apart? If one of you wants to move away for new adventures while the other wants to stay put, or if one of you wants children while the other definitely doesn’t, that can be quite difficult to reconcile
If you have children and/or own property together, there are of course legal and financial implications to consider. But those factors aside, your happiness, well-being, personal development and future trajectory all call into question the health of your relationship. If you know that staying in your current relationship is having detrimental effects on any of those things and causing you to be actively unhappy, you can’t picture a future in which you’re content, and the thought of ending the relationship brings you a sense of relief, that is a very strong indicator that it’s time to end the relationship.
If you do think there is even a possibility it could just be a blip, give it time and give it energy. Nurture your relationship. Identify any particular problems you might be having and communicate with your partner respectfully to find solutions. If after a certain time period, things haven’t improved or your feelings haven’t changed – re-evaluate.
When bringing up any issues with your partner, broach the subject sensitively and frame it constructively. Use positive language, assure them that you love them and care for them, and that you want to make things even better. Take responsibility for your own actions; don’t attack or blame your spouse for any problems you might be having or ways you’ve been feeling. If something they have done in particular has caused you unhappiness or concern, explain your position and ask how they feel about or perceive the situation. Be open and willing to hear their point of view in order to identify and resolve any miscommunications. Reinforce the idea that this is a partnership. Use open body language and show physical affection (if that is normal for you) to create a positive, relaxed atmosphere.
It’s possible that as things increasingly return to ‘normal’, things will naturally resolve themselves. As distractions, leisure activities and social lives are reintroduced, tensions may lessen as our energies are allowed to flow elsewhere. The pressurised environment of living in the midst of Covid-19 is not representative of ‘real life’ or of the dawning future. Look inwards, connect with yourself as well as communicating with your partner. At the end of the day, only you can make the call so take some time to reflect and evaluate, all the while thinking about your happiness, your safety and your future.