Years ago, I heard someone say that the very issues that concern you early on are the same issues that will break you up. I’ve always found those words to be startlingly accurate.
I always pay attention to friends who are ambivalent about the people they’re dating early in the relationship. I remember the issues they bring up to me, during coffee dates and happy hours, to see if there’s consistency over the weeks and months they’re together. Usually, there is. Usually, they can identify and tell me all the signs they won’t work out. Usually, they stick around, hoping the signs will disappear.
Here’s the truth, though: I’ve never actually seen one of these “seriously ambivalent” relationships end happily.
There are a combination of factors at play, reasons why you may not leave, even if the relationship is relatively new. Persuasive partners, especially ones who idealize you, can rope you into a relationship if you’re not careful. Sometimes they refuse the breakup, convince you to stay through constant contact, or even resort to emotional manipulation. I once interviewed a woman who had completely broken up with her ex, who suddenly barred her from seeing their shared dog. He ended up convincing her to get back together; they married, and then divorced several years later.
Another major reason? I’ve met a lot of women who convince themselves they’re blowing concerns out of proportion. Sometimes, yes, that might be true. Daters can be prone to self-sabotage. However, it’s not nearly as often as women especially seem to make themselves believe.
Sadly, you can spend a shocking amount of time in a relationship tainted by concern and worry — one that will eventually fail — instead of pursuing one you feel sure you want to invest in. So, in case you need confirmation that you’re not crazy and you’re not compatible, here are some (early) signs your relationship is headed for demise.
1. Your partner doesn’t support your dreams
Usually, this isn’t openly stated, but you can often tell when someone is really on board for your dreams. With someone who supports you, they’ll ask real questions about your passions and your goals, and what you’re going to do to get there. They’ll also make real moves to get you closer to your aspirations — whether that’s helping you on a project, making a connection, or even giving you more space to do your work. You won’t even have to ask.
If you bring up your long-term goals with a person who’s not there for it, there’s often silence or “oh, that’s nice” kind of talk. There might even be open debate, especially for women, about whose dreams come first.
We sense relationships are wrong for us, often, when we start to lose ourselves as an individual within them. Dreams and goals for your career and yourself are a huge part of who you are and who you want to be. There’s compromise in any relationship, but sacrificing a large part of your long-term plan to be with someone isn’t reasonable compromise. Be realistic about what you want out of life, and don’t lose sight of it.
2. You don’t respect their life choices
We attach a lot of respect to the characteristics a person has, but also to the way they spend their time and the way they interact with the world. Someone might be articulate, kind, and supportive, but you may notice very quickly that they make decisions or participate in activities that make you upset or uncomfortable.
Maybe they like to party, and you ended that phase a good five to 10 years ago. Or maybe they don’t stand up for their own beliefs and desires in the face of their parents’ criticism. Or maybe they procrastinate until a garden variety chore (paying taxes, going to the doctor) becomes a major issue. You can see the compatibility clash a mile away, but you might ignore it because that person isn’t inherently bad. You might even like or love them.
But if you see your partner doing things you don’t like, you can’t change a person or make that person closer to the partner you want them to be. Respect is a huge thing, and attraction will start to dwindle in the absence of it. Frustration will eventually swallow the positive feelings.
3. You never seem to fight
No one likes to fight, but arguments are probably the spots in any relationship where we learn the most. If you want to truly find a mutually satisfying partnership, needs and wants must become apparent. You’ll never know that your significant other sees that dirty towel on the bathroom floor as a sign of disrespect if you don’t eventually have a spat about it. If your relationship is way too seamless, and yet something still feels wrong, it’s time to look at the facts.
There are two reasons for not fighting, neither of them good. Either one or both of you are repressing your true feelings to keep the peace, or you don’t care enough to battle it out. Both scenarios are a recipe for long-term disaster, at the very least unhappiness, but you could potentially be blindsided by a breakup down the road.
If you think you’re repressing your feelings, make an active effort to start vocalizing the things that really bother you early in your relationships. It doesn’t matter if the catalyst seems small. Small issues typically represent bigger problems (like feelings of disrespect or resentment). If your partner still refuses to argue or fight and brushes it off, then it’s possible they’re not in it for the long haul — or they don’t know how to have healthy conflict.
4. You think a lot about your ex
To some extent, it’s common to compare potential partners to exes. New relationships are corrective experiences; you can take what didn’t work with your former significant other, and improve upon it by avoiding repeat mistakes. However, once you’ve done the early comparison and are legitimately headed toward a serious relationship, it’s no longer normal to constantly be thinking about an ex.
Unhealthy thoughts involve more than just romantic longing. Even long-ranging comparisons like “Steve always called me when he was going to be late, and Tom just doesn’t seem to care,” or “I wonder what Susan is up to now…” show you’re not totally emotionally invested in your relationship.
When you start to drift back to an ex, you have to ask yourself why that is. Do you feel like something’s missing with your current partner (or potential partner)? Are you looking for reasons to “escape,” even mentally? Some ex is going to be the bar to which you compare all others. Even if it’s not the right person, you’re going to want the connection with your partner to exceed your bar. Don’t settle for less. Keep trying to find better, more sustainable, stronger, etc.
5. You’re not connecting in one of three ways
Typically, the foundation of a solid relationship is built on three factors: emotional connection + intellectual chemistry + physical attraction. This formula is like a three-legged stool. If one leg is broken or wobbly, it’s eventually going to collapse. Similarly, in relationships, if you’re missing one key element, the relationship likely won’t last — or if it does, it will be hanging on amid perpetual doubts.
A lot of this is innate. But when in doubt, always ask yourself if you’ve got all three categories checked. Do you feel emotionally supported, compatible, and safe being vulnerable? Do you feel your partner “gets” you, you can talk endlessly, and you have some similar passions? Do you feel genuinely physically attracted to your significant other (even if other people don’t understand it)?
It’s amazing how many people discount their needs, or think they can survive without a major need met. I have seen women try to solidify and commit to men lacking in one of all those three categories, whether physical, emotional, or intellectual, and it was torture. Lots of on/off bonds, and fears about whether or not staying was the right thing.
I can’t stress enough: You need all three elements of connection. So if your relationship feels wobbly, ask yourself if your stool has all three legs.
6. Your gut tells you something’s not right.
Relationships are built on feelings and intuition as much as they are built on logic and reason. Some couples who absolutely “shouldn’t work” on paper defy the odds and come together beautifully in unexpected ways. Other couples who seemingly “should work” just simply don’t click. (Just ask a matchmaker; it happens all the time.)
The most important thing you can do while searching for Mr. or Ms. Right is to honor your gut feeling about whether or not the relationship is the one for you. Advice columns like this can help you make sense of why something isn’t working, or help you understand when you’re truly worrying for no reason, but they can’t usually settle what your gut already knows.
I say this all the time, but the biggest mistake people make about ending relationships is that they need to have a firm reason for doing so. This is not the case. Sometimes, that reason is simply that it doesn’t feel right. Sometimes, you’ll never know why you felt that way, just that you did and couldn’t live with it.
Your gut always knows best.
Jenna Birch is a journalist, a dating coach, and author of The Love Gap (Grand Central Life & Style, January 2018). Her relationship column appears on Yahoo every Monday. To ask her a question, which may appear in an upcoming post, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with “YAHOO QUESTION” in the subject line.
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