It seemed like everything was going so well and then rapidly took a quick downward turn. But when you stop and think about it, you have known for a while that the relationship was not working out. So what do you do? How do you know if it is really time to break up?
Knowing when to break up is a difficult decision. Key factors to include in this discernment are timing, arguments and incompatibility.
It’s important to start this discernment by considering your current status in life. Are you in a major transition in your faith, school or career? Is there a lot going on interiorly that needs to be sorted through? Is it the right time to bring someone into such a messy situation?
Sometimes relationships don’t work out because there is a mismatch in each other’s timing in life. One might be ready for marriage, and the other might have just ended a bad relationship. One might be moving to a new town in a few months and might not be ready to commit to a long-distance relationship. It can cause much heartache, but if you trust in God’s will, then you will begin to see how it wasn’t meant to be.
When assessing the relationship, it is important to begin feeling a certain sense of ease. Yes, every relationship has disagreements. In fact, not disagreeing from time to time is a sign of dishonesty and passivity, which is equally unhealthy for a relationship. Therefore, what you want to assess is the frequency, intensity and duration of those arguments.
Are you fighting too often? How do you know? According to researcher Dr. John Gottman the answer is to maintain a minimum of five positive interactions for every negative interaction. This “5:1 Ratio” is a good tool to assess how much is too much: staying above that line is wonderful, going below it is a bad sign for a relationship.
How intense are the fights? What are the nature of your arguments? Are there insults and name calling? Do you feel belittled and disrespected? Again, every couple has some disagreement, but it shouldn’t always lead to screaming or threats of violence (or actual violence); those are not signs of health for a relationship.
Lastly, how long do those arguments last? Is it a few minutes or a few days? Can you rebound from them? Can you process them afterward and feel some type of reconciliation or understanding? These are all things that you should consider, because if you are fighting often, the intensity of the arguments can escalate quickly, and you can’t seem to shake them off as easily, then those are all indicators that things are not going well.
This is measured over time. If you are having a rough patch because of new stress in life, that is different than being this way for a whole year. Once you become aware of an issue, address it and give yourselves an opportunity to change. If things don’t get better after three months despite your best efforts, then you have your answer.
Sometimes, relationships fail simply because the personality differences are too much to overcome. And, yes, this can really hurt, because you could be wildly attracted to a girl that you know you need to break up with. They say “opposites attract,” and while that is true, you should see those differences as complementary not combative. You ultimately are looking for someone who brings to the relationship what you are lacking and vice versa.
Yet, even with those differences there should be some common ground. Is there agreement regarding faith and morals? Is there agreement regarding politics? Do you have shared interests and hobbies? Do you want the same number of kids? Do you agree about where you want to live? Is there mutual respect when talking about these things, or is one person forcing an agenda? If you two have wildly different answers on those issues, chalk it up to simply being incompatible and move on.
When considering a future with someone, take everything to prayer, talk with a trusted friend, and have conversations with your boyfriend/girlfriend. Grace comes through engagement and trust that God will lead you through this crazy journey toward marriage.
Dr. Mario Sacasa is a marriage and family counselor and associate director for the Willwoods Faith and Marriage apostolate. He hosts the Always Hope podcast. Read more on the Catholic Dating 101 series here.