How do you know when a relationship is over?
A reader/friend of mine recently asked for my advice, as she has been struggling in her long-term marriage for several years. She and her husband have two small children, a flourishing life together, but have grown apart. Neither feels their core needs are being met. They both harbor resentment and wonder if their marriage is beyond repair.
This is one of the most common dilemmas I see in modern marriages and relationships. It takes an enormous amount of work, patience, skillful communication, acceptance, and commitment to sustain a long-term, thriving partnership. Ending a significant relationship or marriage is a huge, painful topic that often requires the help of an objective third party to truly understand what is happening at the core.
Romantic relationships are the most direct path to heal our wounds. As my teacher Ram Dass says, “Romantic relationship are [by far] the most difficult yoga and our greatest curriculum.”
The following are four tools you can use to help determine whether your relationship is over or if you are still committed to working on it.
1. Look at Your Sex Life (or lack thereof)
Is your sex life off, misaligned, or non-existent?
If you are bored, resentful, or avoiding sex, it is generally a good indicator that other things in your relationship are askew. I often hear from couples who have gone months or even years without having sex. Avoiding sex is incredibly detrimental to the physical, emotional, and spiritual bond of a relationship. If you avoid sex with your partner, ask yourself why.
- Are you no longer attracted to him/her?
- Do you resent him/her?
- Are you not voicing your true sexual needs, desires, or personality?
- Have you split off and only fantasize about or flirt with other people?
Our capacity to give and receive love is directly reflected in our sexual bond. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to heal a relationship without healing the sexual union.
If you’re avoiding sex, it is a good indication that your heart is closed and there is something deeper going on—a psychological, emotional resistance or resentment being held. If this is the case, it is important to open up a dialogue with your partner and communicate about why your sex life is off and what this symbolizes for your relationship.
The good news: Making love has a direct and often unconscious byproduct of mending old hurts, releasing tension and pent up emotions, and fostering affection and reconnection between a couple. Agree on a reasonable number of times per week to have sex, whether you feel like it or not (two to three is a good starting point).
2. Are You Picking Fights?
Picking fights with each other is a passive-aggressive way of avoiding true conflict in a relationship.
What are you not saying? What TRUTH are you not yet ready to acknowledge?
Nagging and picking fights is an unfortunately common shadow of the feminine. We try to avoid doing the “dirty work” of a relationship ourselves. We may not feel ready for the courage, emotional strength, and stability it takes to face and work through difficult issues and, instead, pick fights with our partner to avoid tackling real issues head on.
We may unconsciously sabotage a relationship, try to get our partners to make the first move and break up with us, so that we don’t have to.
If you’re picking fights or the atmosphere when you’re together is frustrating, irritable, and confrontational, recognize this as a symbol—the tip of the iceberg. Begin to get honest about the underlying, root causes of your frustration.
Breathe deeply. Take a step back. Be patient and compassionate with yourself and your partner. The heart is tender. We are vulnerable in love. Dig underneath the surface of what is setting you off and begin to work more consciously with your partner in a healthy, direct pattern of communication to address what is really going on.
3. Listen to Your Body
Your body never lies!
- How do you feel around your partner?
- Does your body feel open and expanded?
- Are you flourishing, breathing easily around your partner?
- Or do you feel constricted or restricted?
- Is there a tension or a tightness building up inside of you?
- Is it difficult for you to sleep at night?
- Do you wake up throughout the night or early in the morning tossing and turning?
- Are you experiencing anxiety?
- If so, what are the thoughts that come up when you struggle to fall or stay asleep?
When I’ve been in a relationship that I feel is coming to an end, I notice I get really short of breath and start to wake up in the middle of the night or really early in the morning, panicked that this might be over.
The body starts talking to us before our head or heart is ready to hear the message of TRUTH. Observe and take in this information as it arises. Listen to your body, pay attention, take notes or journal a few pages—stream-of-consciousness style. Notice your thoughts when you exercise or do yoga.
Begin a simple meditation practice to simply sit with your thoughts as they arise in your body. You will hear the voice of intuition much more clearly and save yourself time and additional hurt by dragging out a break up unnecessarily.
4. Seek Help from a Professional
Therapy is an incredibly empowering tool to help decipher the true nature of a relationship.
Relationships most often break down from deeply held, unconscious patterns that we inadvertently trigger in each other. Our defense and coping mechanisms carry over from old traumas—wounds from childhood and our family of origin. We learn how to relate with others, particularly in romantic relationships, based on our parental role models, how they interacted with each other and with us. All of those tendencies and expectations are brought up in our romantic relationships.
If you have a partner who is willing to look at and work with what he/she brings to the relationship and own his/her part, there is room for healing. If one or both of you is not willing to look at what is happening or “clean up your side of the street,” it may be an indication that it is time to transition out of the relationship and move on. If you are both committed to deep, inner work, a relationship can heal and flourish.
Notice your body, sleep patterns, what’s happening in your sex life, and what it symbolizes. Notice if you are picking fights with your partner and seek help.
Couples’ therapy expedited my two biggest breakups and saved us months (or years) of suffering and further emotional hurt. We parted ways peacefully as friends who deeply love and respect each other. Even with the best intentions, we most likely would have dragged out the relationship had we not committed to digging in, facing the truth, and getting the support and education we needed.
It is incredibly difficult for most people to navigate the tender terrain of the heart without an objective view of what is really going on. Seek help from a counselor or psychotherapist to understand what dynamics you are playing out and how to communicate and evolve your relationship consciously.
Tell us how you’ve known that a relationship is over. What was the trigger point?
Elevating personal growth as a lifestyle, Ashley Turner, M.A., brings a fresh approach to yoga as a modern-day psychotherapist with a soulful bent on celebrating the body’s wisdom and inner spirit. Ashley is the co-author of Aroma Yoga®: Using Essential Oils in Yoga + Life and creator of four best-selling yoga DVDs. She leads monthly, weekend retreats at Montage in Laguna Beach, CA, as well as retreats and workshops around the globe. For more on her and her events, visit her website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.