Funny as it may be, most of the time we aren’t even aware that we need to move on from a relationship until it becomes evident. Some of us logically know that we should move on — yet we linger on anyway.
For me, even though I had concluded in 2005 that I had to move on with G, I was still circling in a loop in 2006, and again in 2008, because the circumstances in each time gave me the impression that it would be different this time round. It wasn’t until the situation reached the same dead end for the third time that I finally realized that it was time to move on for good.
As I look back and as I look around friends who have been or are currently in similar situations, I realize that there are common reasons as to why we can’t / don’t move on:
- The truth hurts. Sometimes the truth is more than we can take. So to make things easier, we continue to live in our false reality. Some of my friends keep returning to ex-es who treated them badly or cheated on them in the past. They feel it’s much easier to believe in the faith of their ex-es than admit to themselves that their boyfriends don’t treasure their relationship that much.
- The other party is giving ambiguous, misleading signals. This was the case for me and G. Behavior that’s more romantic than platonic. Behavior that spills over the domain of friendship. This led me to think there was something more. Based on your comments, it would seem many of you are caught in the same situation too.
- The other party is giving mixed signals. When we try to get closer, he/she shys away. Then when we try to move on, he/she suddenly tries to get closer. Such confusing behavior, such conflicting actions. What should we do instead then? In the end, some of us choose to linger around, hoping it’ll eventually lead to a positive place.
- We don’t believe we can ever find someone like him/her. Even though we meet new people, we can’t find someone who matches up. What if there’s no one else out there? It’s so hard to even fathom that. I think a lot of us choose to hang on because we are afraid we can’t ever find someone in the future. The fear of being alone drives us to cling on even when all seems lost.
- We are afraid of what’s next if we let go / move on. Having grown comfortable in the relationship, we are afraid of the change that will ensue if we break away from it. What’s going to happen to me? How will my life change? But I’m already so comfortable with him/her! Will I be able to adapt to this new life? Thich Nhat Hanh said it well when he said “We rather stick with suffering that is familiar than pain that we don’t know“.
No matter the reason, avoidance never brings us anywhere in the long term. It’s better to identify when a relationship is going nowhere so that we can address it accordingly, rather than cling onto it in blind hopes that things will change. If we hold on to relationships that are not meant to be, we can never attract new things into our life. We will forever be living in the past rather than moving forward into the future.
Having been in a relationship that led to nowhere, I’ve learned some telling signs on when it’s time to move on. Below are top 12 signs to know when it’s time to move on from a relationship — in particular romantic ones. They will be relevant whether it’s a budding romantic relationship, a new/existing relationship or a past connection.
Out of these 12 signs, 5 signs can be found in my guide on when to part ways with a friend. That’s because a romantic relationship is built on the same pillars as a friendship. The difference between them is the level of intensity. A romantic relationship is much more intense since the parties are usually more closely bounded together.
Top 12 Signs It’s Time To Move On From A Relationship
#1. When you live in past memories more than the present
Do you replay the happy moments of the relationship to make you feel good about it? Do you use them as reasons to continue on with him/her? If so, it’s a sign your current relationship isn’t how you want it to be. The more we live in the past memories and/or a self-created future, the more we are living in a self-created reality. This is dangerous since it’s not reflective of the actual state of the relationship.
You have to remember your relationship with the person exists in the current moment. Not in the past. Past memories should remain as memories and not as a reason to stay together. Your decision on whether to stay with the person should be based on your current feelings for him/her, the actual state of the relationship and the future you see with him/her.
#2. When the relationship brings you more pain than joy
Sometimes, we tend to be blinded by the past happy moments of the relationship. To the extent we forget about all the unhappiness it brings us. If your relationship leaves you frustrated/upset/unhappy more often than not; If your relationship is leaving you in tears every so often, perhaps this might not be the right person for you. The relationship you are in now should be one which brings you happiness now. Just like #1, if the main source of happiness of your relationship is from past memories, something is amiss.
#3. When he/she expects you to change
The truest form of love is one that’s unconditional. Your partner shouldn’t expect you to change, unless it’s for your well-being (such as to quit smoking or to adopt a healthier diet). Some of my friends had ex-boyfriends who wanted them to change, such as to dress up more often to look prettier or to lose weight when said friend was of healthy weight. There was even one who actually suggested my friend to shave her arm and leg hair because he felt it was a given for girls!
The issue here isn’t about you. The issue isn’t about the change itself either. The issue is about the expectation of you to change. While some requests may start off seemingly normal/benign, they will quickly build on over time. Even as you accede to the requests, more will come. It marks the first step of him/her trying to mold you into his/her expectations of you, rather than you growing into your own.
#4. When you stay on, expecting he/she will change
The above applies for the other person as much as it applies for you. If you are staying on / getting into the relationship expecting the person to change, you are in this for the wrong reason. You are trying to change the person to fit your expectations, rather than accept him/her as the individual he/she is.
Even if the person does changes, soon you will have something else you want him/her to change. You will never be fully satisfied with how he/she is. The worst thing is, if the other person isn’t conscious, he/she will keep changing just to fit your expectations. In the end, he/she will just end up being your shadow.
This happened between my ex-best friend, K, and me. While we were not in a romantic relationship, some issues we faced in our friendship are probably similar to what others face in their romantic relationships. Through our friendship, I began to see him as an extension of me, rather than as a separate individual. K did not have a very strong self-identity at the time, so unfortunately he kept changing to fit what I wanted. In the end, he became my shadow. After 10 years of friendship, we had to part ways, because it was the better path for us to grow as individuals – for him to grow into his own, and for me to grow into my own as well.
#5. When you keep justifying his/her actions to yourself
Whenever we experience a situation we’re uncomfortable about, we experience cognitive dissonance. It refers to the discomfort from being faced with something that conflicts against our beliefs. When this happens, we try to come up with explanations, justifications so we can feel good about the situation.
This if we feel the need to justify an action, that means we are uncomfortable with the action itself and we want to explain away the discomfort. The danger behind this is that the explanations are self-created and may or may not be true. If you are repeatedly justifying his/her actions, the relationship becomes built on your rationalizations, rather than the reality. Likelihood is that you are living in your world of false assurances rather than the truth.
Back in 2005 when the relationship between G and I was in the state of ambiguity, I would think of different reasons to justify why nothing was happening. Maybe he didn’t know what to do. Maybe he was shy. Maybe he wasn’t sure of what to do with the relationship. Maybe studies were his priority. Maybe I should take the first step.
However reality was he wasn’t taking action. Everything else was just made up in my mind to fill up the gap between this reality and my expectations. By creating all these justifications, I had unknowingly created a mental jigsaw which I had to slowly peel away in the later years.
To see reality as it is, see the actions as they are and let them speak for themselves. Actions ultimately speak louder than words.
#6. When he/she is causing you emotional/physical/verbal hurt
Physical and verbal abuse are definite no-no’s. There is clearly something wrong if the other party abuses/hits/curses/swears at you, no matter how he/she tries to make up for it later. Even if it may be the spur of the moment, the fact that he/she lets slip in that moment shows there is something deep inside him/her that needs addressing.
Emotional hurt is trickier. A lot of people negate emotional hurt because it’s not visible. Ignore it, and it’s not there. But emotional hurt is hurt all the same, if not worse. The wounds that are hardest to heal are the emotional ones, not the physical ones.
I was emotionally hurt by G when he flippantly led me on with his words and behavior, even after I told him not to do it. This had a lingering effect on me for years even after I broke away, which took a long while to heal. Even though he may not have realized what his words/actions did to me, the fact was that he wasn’t conscious enough about my feelings to realize the hurt he was causing me.
The point of this example isn’t to persecute anyone, but to illustrate that the other party should be someone who respects you and is conscious enough of your feelings/well-being not to let you be hurt. If he/she has caused you hurt, you need to bring it to his/her awareness and address it together. Keeping mum about it is like handing a free pass to let the hurting behavior continue. If the same thing happens even after you have made efforts to address it, you need to reevaluate the relationship. If he/she can’t care for you properly, he/she might not be the right person for you.
#7. When the same situation/issue recurs even though you tried addressing it
Once might be a coincidence. Twice, you might want to give another chance. But 3 times is a clear sign something is wrong. I finally realized nothing was coming out from the relationship between G and I after our loop played out the third time. Each time, I did what I could to make it work out, but it always stopped at the same end. It was more than enough evidence that this was the end.
Do you find yourself in replay mode in your relationship? Do you keep landing in the same situation, the same scenario, the same outcome, time and again, no matter what you do? If so, perhaps you need to accept this is the furthest the relationship can get to. You can keep pressing on, but it’s a matter of time before it sinks in that there’s nothing further to go. This is the end of the road. There is a future for you and him/her, and this relationship isn’t the route to that future.
#8. When he/she puts little to no effort in the relationship
Every relationship requires effort by the duo. The same applies for familial bonds, friendships, mentorships, and most definitely love. Both of you have to commit to the relationship together. If you are constantly the one putting in more effort, sooner than later it’ll drain you. You have to give more and more just to keep the relationship afloat. Unless this imbalance is addressed, it will only become bigger and bigger over time. Soon you sink your whole self into it, losing your self identity in the process.
When you see relationships where one is investing way more effort than the other, they are usually headed to doomsville. Some of my friends were in such situations. They invested themselves into their relationships and poured in their hearts and souls. Their partners, on the other hand, only put in a fraction of that. They barely cared – it seemed as if the relationship was just a nice add-on to their lives, rather than something they really valued. Soon, said partners began drifting away. My friends kept giving more and more, hoping they could salvage the situation. This only slowed down breaking off process but didn’t prevent it.
Don’t get me wrong – it is possible for a relationship to last even when one party is putting in more effort than the other. However, are you prepared to do that for the rest of your life? Is your ideal relationship partner someone who doesn’t care to invest as much effort into the relationship as you? I personally think all of us deserves someone who treasures us fully, who wants to be with us as much as we want to be with us. To have it any other way is like having a car with a tire busted – it’ll keep moving in a slant until it eventually drives off the cliff.
#9. When your fundamental values and beliefs are different
For any friendship or relationship to work out, there has to be certain similarity in fundamental values. Similarity in these values are the big rocks which will hold the friendship in place. Even if other things are dissimilar, the big rocks will enable the friendship to weather through even the toughest storms ahead.
On the other hand, if your core values are fundamentally different, it doesn’t matter even if everything else is same. The journey to keep the relationship together will only become an uphill battle. It’s just like trying to hold the soil of the ground together in a heavy rain. Without the roots of the tree to hold this soil together, everything will just slip away against your best efforts.
I believe the most important thing in life is to first be true to ourselves. While conformance has its merits, it should never be done at the expense of our own growth or our values. Compromising on your personal values just to keep a friendship afloat will ultimately only make you miserable. What’s worse, because your true self is repressed, you start to wrap your identity around the friendship. This was what happened to K, which was why we had to let go of the relationship partly so he could grow into his own. You need to first be true to who you are before any meaningful relationship can be formed.
Sometimes, it’s possible both of you start off with the same values system. Over time, there will be changes. Maybe he grew to be a different person. Maybe you did. Maybe both of you changed. The changes may result in change in your fundamental philosophies, to the point where they no longer fit. If you can no longer connect with the person in the same manner as before, it’s time to reevaluate the relationship.
#10. When the relationship holds you back, hence preventing both of you from growing as individuals
A relationship is ultimately a third entity formed due to two individuals. Every relationship evolves based on how both parties are growing. Sometimes both parties grow at the same pace. There are times where the relationship is one of stagnancy, where both parties don’t grow. Then there are times when one outgrows the other, by a large margin.
When this happens, you have two options (i) change the dynamics of the relationship to fit this new development, or change yourself to maintain the same dynamics. As I shared above, it’s most important to first be true to ourselves. Determine who you are and who you want to be, then decide if this relationship is one that is compatible with you. A relationship that hinders you from growing into your own isn’t the best one for you. On top of that, if you are not able to grow into your own, chances are your partner is facing a similar blockage as well. A real relationship should be one that enables you in your personal life journey, so you can then enable your partner in his/her life journeys as well.
#11. When you stay on, expecting things to get better
This is similar to #1, except that it pertains to the future. Just like how you don’t live in the past, you don’t live in the future. You can hope that the future will be better, but the fact is you live now. If the only thing that’s making you hold on is the hope of a better future, the relationship isn’t exactly built on solid grounds. The future you wish for is one of the many possibilities that can occur, a possibility that may never come to reality. It’s dangerous to base the fate of the relationship on something that might not occur. A building built on a shaky foundation will crash to an unsightly end when the foundation gives way.
#12. When neither of you feel the same way about each other
Things change. People change. If the feelings are no longer there, it’s time to move on. Some of you might linger on in a relationship even though the feelings are gone. Perhaps it has become part of your routine and you don’t know what to do once you break away. Some of you continue on because the relationship still serves certain functional purposes, such as companionship.
Yet, a relationship without mutual feelings is like a body without a heart. There’s no soul or life in it. If you no longer have feelings for the other party, staying on is doing the other person an injustice. Most importantly, it’s doing you a huge injustice. It’s best for him/her and you to part ways so you can move to better places.
If the other person doesn’t have feelings for you anymore, holding on to him/her only drags out the misery. Realize that “True love doesn’t have a happy ending, because true love never ends. Letting go is one way of saying I love you.” Just because you love the person doesn’t mean you have to be with the person. True love exists outside of the physical fabric of a relationship. This is just a form of expression of love, but in no way is the single definition of love.
I’ll end off this article with a final quote:
There are things that we never want to let go of, people we never want to leave behind. But keep in mind that letting go isn’t the end of the world, it’s the beginning of a new life. – Author Unknown
Thank you to all of you for all your support, encouragement and constructive comments on the series so far. It’s been a nostalgic and heartwarming experience writing everything and I really hope this has been helpful to you, wherever you are in life right now.