One of the hardest relationship skills to master is recognizing when a relationship isn’t right and walking away. In theory this is easy, but in reality it can feel almost impossible. You know something is off, that this isn’t what you want, but you can’t quite pull the plug because … what if you’re wrong? What if you’re being overly dramatic? What if you never find better? No one’s perfect, and maybe your expectations are unrealistic. You can stay stuck in the wrong relationship for months, even years, sitting on the fence, unable to move in one direction or the other. People act as though being alone is the worst possible thing, but I beg to differ. Being stuck in the wrong relationship is a much worse fate, a worse kind of being alone.
I believe the amount of heartbreak you experience when it inevitably ends is in direct proportion to how long you allowed things to drag on. Breakups are hard enough already, but when you add the element of mourning the loss of all the time you wasted, time you can never get back, then getting over a breakup can be unbearable. To help save you time and heartache, here is how to know when a relationship isn’t right for you.
Your relationship isn’t right for you if …
1. Something just feels off you feel it in your body
Feelings have a very real function; they let us know when something isn’t right and we should change course. When you are in the wrong relationship, you will feel it. It can manifest as a physical ailment, or maybe you’ll feel it deep in your gut.
Physical ailments are often emotionally rooted. Insomnia, stomach pain, hives, feeling drained, all of these are your body’s way of telling you something isn’t right. Our gut can also be a powerful guide. The problem is that most people don’t trust themselves and end up ignoring what their body is trying so hard to tell them.
If you’re reading this article, it’s probably because you already suspect something is off in your relationship. If you are experiencing any of the ailments or the sense deep in your gut I described, don’t ignore it. Listen to what your body is telling you and try to uncover the source.
2. You don’t feel good around him
Relationships are a very unique experience in that we can be utterly miserable, yet stay voluntarily. In most other areas of our lives, we would just leave if something made us miserable, but not relationships.
A big sign you’re in the wrong relationship is you just don’t feel good around your partner. You don’t look forward to spending time with him and you don’t feel good about yourself or your life when you’re in his presence. You just have a feeling of not wanting to be there.
This is not what healthy relationships feel like. In a healthy relationship, you feel an overall sense of joy and calm. This doesn’t mean the relationship is always perfect or that there are never arguments or disagreements, but overall things just feel really good. You feel seen, respected, and appreciated, and you are inspired to be your best self. The vibe is good and you love spending time with your partner.
In a healthy relationship, you usually feel inspired and invigorated after spending time with your partner. In an unhealthy relationship, you usually feel drained and depleted. Again, listen to your body and pay attention to how you feel.
I do want to point out that sometimes we can be addicted to being with someone even if that person makes us feel terrible. You might think about him constantly and literally ache for him, and because he rouses these feelings you think he is the guy for you. Don’t get tripped up by this, because we can crave all kinds of things that are terrible for us, like cigarettes and Krispy Kreme donuts, for example. When you have this intense craving for a person, it is usually coming from an unhealthy place, such as a place of wanting to feed your ego and win his approval because that will make you feel worthy.
I call it a form of emotional masochism. It’s a concept I know all too well because I used to be like this! I was drawn to the wrong men and became addicted to them even though I felt horrible about myself in their presence. They didn’t lift me up; instead, I felt needy, insecure, and helpless. These kinds of feelings are usually a sign that you’re entangled in a toxic relationship.
This is where things get tricky and where you run the risk of alienating the people closest to you. When we are in the wrong relationship, the people closest to us can usually tell right away. You, however, may not want to hear it so you ignore them and distance yourself from them. You may get angry with them for butting in. But the truth it, they have more objectivity than you do and can probably see the situation for what it is.
I remember having no friends anymore when I was dating one particularly toxic guy. My friends had all immediately seen the situation for what it was and tried to intervene and get me out of it. I thought they were all just jealous and I stayed with him. Fast forward a year, and I found myself single, heartbroken, friendless, and trying to reclaim any fraction of self-worth I could find. It was bad.
Don’t ignore your friends and family when they express concerns. I’m not saying they are always right, but their feelings probably aren’t stemming from nowhere so at least take what they have to say into consideration.
Another big red flag is if you know you can’t speak to them freely about your relationships, or maybe you omit key pieces of the story when asking for advice.
A friend of mine was in a situation like this not long ago. She was dating a man and things started out amazingly, but then they started to turn bad. It was only after their devastating breakup that she confessed how emotionally abusive he had been throughout the relationship. She didn’t tell anybody what was really going on, not her best friends and not her family, because she really wanted it to work and didn’t want to poison them against him (even though they all already disliked him because, like I said, people on the outside can see these things way more clearly!) Instead, she cut herself off from those closest to her because she knew the truth, she just didn’t want to hear it from other people.
4. He isn’t committed to making it work
The most essential quality a man can possess is being committed to making it work. If he is selfish and lax in the relationship, prioritizing his own needs over everything else and getting angry with you for expressing any needs of your own, then this is not someone you can form a lifelong partnership with.
If he has no interest in working on things, and instead says that if you’re unhappy it’s your problem, not his, that is a major red flag.
A relationship is a partnership, a unit, a team. It’s about two people working together to form a meaningful and lasting connection. It is not about one person getting all needs met while the other suffers in silence.
Simply put, if a man isn’t committed to working with you to make the relationship better and to ensuring that both of you are happy and emotionally fulfilled, then this is not the right relationship for you.
5. You’re fundamentally incompatible
No amount of chemistry can compensate for a lack of fundamental compatibility. If you and he are on different pages, be it in your goals, your values, the way you want to live your lives, or how you process and experience the world, then this isn’t the right relationship.
Sometimes certain things can be worked out through compromise. For example, spending habits or religion or geography. But some things can’t be fixed. One example is if you are unable to fulfill each other’s emotional needs.
For example, I have a friend who was in a long-term relationship with a guy who wasn’t the warmest person.
He was more of an intellectual type, not a “let’s spend hours talking about our feelings” type, and this created a constant source of conflict for them. She wanted him to be warmer and mushier, and he just couldn’t give that to her. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to, it just wasn’t in his nature. Now, I have other friends who date men who are a bit emotionally cool in this way, but those friends have no problem with it because of their own emotional make-up, so it all works out.
Only you know what your needs are. If someone is incapable of fulfilling those needs, you will never be fully satisfied in the relationship. You can hammer away as much as you like, but if it goes against his nature to be what you need, or if what you need is simply not something he is willing or able to give in a relationship, then you will constantly be dissatisfied. Your time is your responsibility, so it’s up to you to be honest with yourself and determine if this is the right relationship for you.
What to do next
Get clear on what you want in a partner and in a relationship. It is ideal to do this before you enter a relationship, but still important even if you’re in a relationship.
What are your top three must-haves and your top three deal-breakers? I did this exercise before I started dating my husband, and the process really brought me to a place of clarity. Suddenly I was put off by guys who had once been so appealing to me, because I recognized they would not make good long-term partners, and that was what I wanted. In the same way, when I started dating my husband I was able to quickly recognize him as “the one.” I realized that he not only had qualities I wanted, he had qualities I needed. True love doesn’t always come with neon signs and flashing lights. You first need to know yourself before you can know who will be the right man for you.
Now, final tip: If you’re still unsure about what to do, visualize yourself leaving the relationship. Picture yourself just picking up and moving on. How do you feel? Does it feel right? Does it make you breathe a little easier, does it feel like a relief? Or does it feel really wrong, almost unnatural? Spend some time reflecting on this and see where it takes you.