A few red flags to consider.

By Kaitlin Menza
Updated January 09, 2017

It rarely takes just one fight or one personality trait to end a relationship. More often, a breakup occurs because several of those fights or behaviors are piling up, leaving one or the other person feeling like they’re stuck in the purgatory of a tough decision: should I stay or should I go?

When he meets with a couple, relationship expert Kyle Zrenchik, Ph.D., of the Relationship Therapy Center in Minnesota, evaluates whether he’s dealing with what he calls hard or soft problems. “Hard problems are the three As: abuse, addiction, and affairs,” Zrenchik says. “What makes hard problems so distinct is that they are antithetical to human thriving. They just really degrade the quality of a person or the quality of a relationship over time.” Soft problems encompass everything else: disconnection, painful feelings, dwindling sex, petty arguments, broken communication, and the million other things that lead to breakups. But which ones are hurtful enough to maybe mean it's time to end things? Only the person in the relationship can decide that, but here are a few guildelines to consider.

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You Disagree on Something Fundamental About the Future

Whether or not to get married or have children are two of the biggest hurdles, but smaller ones might pop up early in dating that are important to consider as well. “For example, if your relationship is heating up and your boyfriend is saying ‘I really need to go to grad school out of state’ and you don’t want to [move], you might have reached an impasse,” Zrenchik says. “It’s okay to say this relationship is irreconcilable.” Note this “early data,” as he calls it, so you’re not ripping each other apart over difficult-to-fix issues later.

You’re Flinching From Their Touch

The frequency and quality of sex ebbs and flows in a relationship, and it’s normal (if unpleasant) to go through a dry spell. But if the very idea makes you sick? “It’s very hard to fake being turned on, because your body actually responds in a certain way,” Zrenchik says, “And that needs to be addressed.” Any visible repulsion for your partner is bound to be exceedingly hurtful to them, making it even less likely they’ll try again in the future.

The Flame is Long Gone

“This idea that happy marriages need the butterflies in your stomach and an overwhelming sense of joy when you see your partner? This is actually a relatively new idea,” Zrenchik says. “In the beginning, people will feel heavy passion, the butterflies, the giggling, sharing text messages, and then over time you will notice that will change. And that’s not necessarily a bad sign.” However, if you’re not putting in the effort to keep things romantic—dinner dates, long conversations, celebrating anniversaries— “it’s really hard to get that passion back,” once the flame is out, says Zrenchik.

Your Partner Doesn’t Want to Work on Problems

Just about any issue can be fixed provided both people in the relationship want to try, Zrenchik says, but he often sees couples in which one person’s mind is made up. “You’d think that people would come into couple’s therapy because they’re ready to work on their relationships, but very commonly at least one person is not quite sure whether they want to be in that relationship at all. That’s just what they’ve decided, and they’re unwilling to work on it,” he says, “[If] you’ve been trying on your end for a while now to improve the relationship and you’re still not seeing change after the long-term, then you’re absolutely, I feel, entitled to strongly consider whether you want to stay.”