Things must be bad.
Otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this.
Of course you don’t want to be wondering if your relationship is over. You’d rather be happy! You’d rather be thinking about when work is going to be over for the day and what you’ll watch on TV tonight.
But you can’t get the thought out of your mind:
Is it over?
You love him and you want to be with him, but you don’t know if you can.
Should you cut your losses? Or is there hope?
These four questions will help you find out.
1. How committed is the relationship?
It’s one thing to end a relationship when you’ve only been seeing each other for a few months. It’s quite another to end a marriage.
If you’ve been together for years, then bumps in the road are to be expected. There will be days when you don’t love him. Even days when you hate him. That’s why there’s commitment.
Commitment keeps you together when you don’t like each other very much. It forges you into a team. Teams work together to achieve results, regardless of their personal feelings. By doing the work, they become stronger.
But commitment must be nurtured. It takes time to grow. A boyfriend is not a husband. Too much commitment too early on can suffocate a budding relationship.
Commitment must be mutual as well. A relationship is only as committed as its least committed member. If he’s not committed to you, then your relationship is not a committed one, no matter how loyal you feel.
2. How much work have you put in?
Saving a relationship starts with noticing that something is wrong. Even though burying your head in the sand feels good, it just delays the inevitable. You can’t fix what you can’t see.
The second step is doing something about it. You’ve seen that something is wrong. Have you tried to fix it? Have you talked to him about it? How many different strategies have you used? (Complaining doesn’t count.)
Some people skip this step. They notice something is wrong, and they immediately jump to the conclusion that the relationship must be fatally flawed. Or they make a token effort to fix it, but nothing changes. They decide it’s impossible. It’s too hard. Can’t be done.
Being in a relationship means living with a certain amount of conflict. According to the Gottman Institute, 69% of the conflict in a relationship is not solvable. But the answer isn’t giving up. It’s learning to talk through it.
As long as you can talk about your differences—even if you can’t resolve them—there’s hope.
3. How is your health?
There’s one situation in which I recommend taking immediate action, and that’s when your health is suffering.
A toxic relationship doesn’t just cause emotional suffering. It can cause physical harm.
If you’re getting one cold after another, small scrapes or bruises aren’t healing, you can’t sleep, and your blood pressure is through the roof, then you need to do something now.
Even if you can’t admit your relationship is unhealthy, your body knows. It will show you the truth. Listen to it.
4. Have the 4 Horseman made an appearance?
One of Dr. John Gottman’s most influential contributions to the field of marital therapy is the concept of the 4 Horsemen, named after the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Gottman found that when criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling are present, the end of the relationship is near.
- Does he criticize you as a person? Is there name-calling, blaming, or attacking?
- Does he display contempt towards you? Does he roll his eyes at you, show disgust towards you, shame you, or make you feel inferior?
- Does he frequently get defensive? Does he twist everything you say back onto you? Do all difficult discussions turn into debates over who’s right and who’s wrong?
- Does he use stonewalling to get out of difficult conversations? Does he walk away or refuse to discuss it?
Lastly, do you do any of those things?
No one is a bad person for slipping into toxic patterns every now and then. Very few relationships escape the 4 Horsemen entirely. We all have old habits that are hard to break.
But if you want to save your relationship, then putting an end to the 4 Horsemen is a good place to start. You can’t change his behavior, but you can change your own.
Start to notice when you’re showing contempt or criticizing him. Catch yourself when you start to defend yourself. Focus on listening more than arguing.
And worry less about whether your relationship is over than whether you’ve done what you need to do.
It can be weirdly satisfying to mull over the idea that disaster is coming. Fears create drama, and drama makes life feel more intense.
But our fears are only useful as a spur to action. If all you do is worry about your relationship, then you’re harming it, not helping it.
Don’t just sit there. DO something.
The best place to start?
Talk to him.