Relationships are tricky business. Unfortunately, many choose the wrong partner and find themselves in a tough position with difficult decisions to make. An unhealthy relationship can cause immeasurable damage to you and your children. If you are struggling with the tough question, “Should I leave or should I stay?” here are six signs that you may want to look for. And if you do find them in your failing relationship, it’s probably time to call it quits.
1. You do not feel loved by your partner
Your partner may claim to love you, but what is most important is that you feel loved. Pay attention to your feelings and what your body is telling you. Do you feel loved by your partner? Is he or she demonstrating love and affection for you? Marcy tells me that her partner says the words “I love you” but does not spend time with her, talk to her, or act interested in her life activities. She wants to feel warmth and empathy from him but doesn’t.
2. You feel that you are not valued for who you are as a person
Many people who grow up with narcissistic parents learn the wrong definition of love. They learn that love is about ‘What you can do for me’, or, ‘What I can do for you’. This is a set up for dependent and co-dependent relationships. Authentic love means emotionally tuning into your partner and cherishing who he or she is as a person. And it means having the ability to empathise with a partner’s feelings and provide nurturing. Bob reported to me that he only feels valued by his partner for the paycheck he brings home and the chores he accomplishes. His partner does not acknowledge who he is as an individual and what he brings to their relationship in terms of his personality traits, parenting skills and intellect.
Your partner may claim to love you, but what is most important is that you feel loved
3. He or she controls everything
Healthy relationships are reciprocal, requiring give and take from both partners. If your partner is controlling everything and you have no voice in the relationship, your connection is not a healthy one. For a relationship to flourish, both partners must feel seen and heard. Susan tells me she feels controlled and manipulated in her relationship and never gets to have a say in what is going on in the family. Her partner does not take her opinions or ideas seriously, and when she does feel brave enough to speak up, her partner puts her down. Consequently, Susan increasingly finds herself shutting down emotionally and giving up on having a participatory role in the relationship.
4. You see signs of emotional damage in your children
Children are harmed emotionally by high conflict in their parents’ marriage. Parents in a troubled marriage who are determined to stay together until the children grow up may not want to acknowledge the damage being done to their kids. In fact, splitting up may actually be better for children in cases like these. Research shows that the brain is capable of changing in response to experiences, so children witnessing high conflict can be adversely affected, if they are not helped. If help is provided, however, it is definitely possible for children to heal from traumatic family episodes. Breaking off a harmful relationship with your partner, and getting the proper help for your children, can be the best thing you can do for them—and you.
For a relationship to flourish, both partners must feel seen and heard
5. You have lost your sense of self in the relationship
Many clients tell me that after they got married they felt they had to give up their true selves to be loved by their partner. They find themselves focussed on their partner’s wellbeing, constantly trying to make him or her happy, and eventually becoming mentally exhausted. In that process, their sense of self gets lost. Some clients also experience physical symptoms from the heavy burden of being their partner’s emotional caretaker. Jack shared with me: “I began to realise that if I stayed with her, I was going to die. I would end up with some kind of anxiety disorder, die of some stress disease or heart attack. I realised I was doing unsafe things like not wearing my seat belt and driving faster than I should at times. I think my spirit was dying.”
6. You or the children are being abused
This sign may seem like a no-brainer, but we have all witnessed those who remain in dangerous relationships that put partners and their children in harm’s way. Life is too short to live in an abusive relationship. Don’t let this happen to you or your kids. Find help and guidance to figure out what to do. Reach out to the many organisations or support groups geared toward abused partners and their children.
Children are harmed emotionally by high conflict in their parents’ marriage
If you are struggling with the difficult decision to leave or stay, it is wise to keep a private journal about your relationship. Record the events that are upsetting to you. Write down what happened and how you feel about it. Take a serious look at any psychological harm or abuse that you may be suffering in your relationship. Writing down when these actions occur, along with your feelings, will help you to acknowledge how frequently these things happen and to identify patterns of harmful behaviours. If you are tempted to forgive your partner and try again, keeping a journal will help you remember prior problems so that you can assess whether or not your partner’s treatment of you has changed.
Sometimes the final sign that it’s time to leave a failing relationship comes unexpectedly. One of my clients received a Valentine’s Day card from her husband that was a turning point for her. The card with an oversized red heart proclaimed “Happy Valentine’s Day” on the front, and on the inside her spouse had written: “You need to love me more!” This was a clear-cut, six-word signal to my client: she should finally leave her self-involved partner and start a new life.
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