Has your sex life taken a hit? Are you fighting over every little thing? Can you sense a distance you can't seem to cross? When your relationship has been shipwrecked on the rocks for what feels like forever it can be difficult to determine whether you need work on it, or end things.
We spoke to Super Switch psychotherapist Guy Vicars about how to figure out if you and your significant other are just going through a rough patch or it's really a red flag that you need to break up.
What are the signs your relationship is in trouble?
Vicars says there are a number of signs and signals that something is up in your relationship.
"All relationships are unique and you know your relationship better than anyone," Vicars says. "So, if you have a sense that things are not right, then, even if it’s not your doing, it is your responsibility to say something about it."
"One subtle sign that people are always conscious of – sometimes only vaguely, like a mild itch – is the sense that there’s an unusual distance between the couple," he explains.
How do you know if they are problems you can work on?
First up, you need to approach and understand the issues at hand.
"Check it out with your partner," Vicars recommends. "Remember, to approach the person in a considered way rather than being reactive. In other words, instead of confronting the person with an accusation (“you never…you always…” etc.), ask them what they think by letting them know you perceive a change."
The most important part about communicating is to listen well.
"If you use your ears to their full capacity you will be able to understand if your partner is talking about a problem that is about themselves and who they are or what their personal struggles are, or if its indeed a relationship problem you both need to front up for."
"If you can’t discuss this – then that’s the biggest sign!"
"I do see a lot of couples where they believe sincerely it’s over and ‘as a last resort’ (I wish I had a dollar for every time I’d heard that….) they decide to see a couples counsellor," Vicars says. "In this process, if you see someone good, you will likely find out things about yourself that you didn’t know before. We call these blind spots and they can often reveal information or knowledge or feelings that can reinvigorate a relationship that the couple thought was finished."
See a therapist early on in your difficulty. The longer you leave it, the harder it will be.
When do you know it’s time to let go?
Breaking up is bloody hard, no doubt about it. So it's natural to hold on as long as possible to put off the inevitable.
"As a relationship therapist it always amazes me in my practice just how long couples can hang on for," Vicars says. "This can be a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because, mostly, people are very committed to their intimate relationships and so there’s lots of scope for growth, recovery and renewal. It’s a bad thing because people can often hang around too long, often to the detriment of both partners and anything that could be salvaged as a relationship after separation."
Knowing when to let go is hard, and it can't be easily prescribed.
"This presumes of course that there’s no physical violence or other deliberately harmful behaviours going on: if you aren’t safe, leave," Vicars says.
"Usually though one partner gets to a point where they ‘know’ but avoid the final letting go."