In therapy, one of the most frequent questions I am asked by people in In therapy, one of the most frequent questions I am asked by people in

How to Determine When a Relationship Is Over

In therapy, one of the most frequent questions I am asked by people in relationships is, “How do you know when it’s really over? When is it time to give up?”

Those are good questions, and they have different answers depending on who you ask. In today’s society, it seems to be easier to quit and move on with a new love than to try and work it out with the old. And why not? New love is exciting, passionate, and all-encompassing. In looking at the idea of a new relationship to replace the old, we are continually flooded with media that gives us guarantees and promises of relief from old wounds. Dating sites are abundant–a person can even go “shopping” to see if there is anyone out there that better meets their needs before breaking up with the current partner. Why stay with the old, broken relationship when there are so many other possibilities?

Making the commitment to stay in a relationship that has gone south is a difficult one–so when does ‘the fat lady sing?’ Here are some tips to help you determine if you should move on or work it out:

  • Respect – Do you still have some respect for your partner? Do they have respect for you? Answering “no” does not necessarily mean the end of the relationship. Respect, even when lost, can be regained with a change in actions, behavior, and perspective.
  • Goals and Directions – Do you share common goals or hopes for the future? If you have lost these with each other, can they be recaptured? All relationships go through stages, and the goals will change along with those transitions.
  • Values – Sharing or at least accepting your partner’s moral, ethical, and lifestyle values can be important for maintaining a satisfying relationship. When partners’ values are out of alignment, it’s difficult to make a relationship work. Sharing of common values is one of the predictors of relationship success.

A recent study showed that almost 30% of respondents indicated that they were interested in reconciliation, even after the divorce proceedings had begun (Doherty, 2010). Couples that participated in the survey were approximately halfway through a divorce/co-parenting class, and indicated interest in reconciliation services, had they been offered such services. What does that say about our ability to make a decision to break-up, one of the most important decisions that we may ever make? It shows that in many relationships that we think are broken beyond repair, we may still want the relationship to work! When there is motivation, there is still hope.

The single most important thing that I tell my clients is this: do everything you can to repair the relationship. You never want to have to look back and wonder, “Could I have done more? If I had just done this, would we still be together?” When you can walk away and honestly say that you put your all into it, your personal integrity will be intact. And that’s what you will proudly be taking with you into the future.

* If there is violence in the relationship, it is very important that you establish safety. Do not hesitate to separate from an abusive partner if your safety is in jeopardy. If you are a victim of domestic violence, you can call your local hotline and/or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−SAFE (7233). Read more about what to do if you are in crisis, here.

© Copyright 2010 by By Kelly Chisholm LPCC, NCC, CRS, CST. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • austin l

    October 22nd, 2010 at 12:42 PM

    we stay because for many of us moving forward feels really scary- like we don’t know what is behind the next door and are too scared to take a look and see. that is why we stay even when the relationship turns south, because we are really afraid of what we will find out if we move forward, about ourselves or the time that we have ended up wasting on something that was not meant to be.

  • wilma

    October 23rd, 2010 at 10:24 AM

    this happened to one of my friends…she filed for divorce but due to her husband’s illness they could not proceed with the divorce and hence there was a gap…it was during this gap that they fell in love with each other once again and the divorce never happened :)

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