Relationship Breakup Indicators: Key Signs

What are some relationship breakup indicators that your partner, your romantic partner, is considering leaving, considering breaking it off, or separating, or even divorce? There are many signs and there’s a logic and psychology behind each one of them.

Before I get into the different signs that someone might be considering breaking up with you, it’s important to tell you that these signs are not necessarily indicative that someone is considering a breakup. But if you suspect that the flame of romance has diminished and that there’s some friction in the relationship, these signs could be another indication that yes, the person is starting to withdraw. 

Relationship Breakup Indicators: They Spend More Time With Their Friends

One of the things that people tend to do and is a big red flag that they’re considering, or toying with the idea of breaking off, is that they’re spending more time with their friends than usual. Why is that? Why do people tend to withdraw and spend more time with their friends than usual?

Well, let’s face it, breaking up with a romantic partner is very scary. It’s very painful. As humans, we like routine, we like structure and predictability. It makes us feel safe, and the idea of change is terrifying.

On some level, some people are much more aware that it’s scary. Some people can deal with it and have a little bit of a thicker skin, so they have an easier time with change, but everyone does have a certain aversion to it.

So when you’re hanging out with your friends or when you notice your partner’s hanging out with their friends, more than usual, what they’re doing, whether they’re conscious or unconscious of it, is they’re trying to see what it’s like to be without you.

They’re testing the waters, they’re dipping their toe into the idea of being single again. They want to see what their social circle is like, especially if you are in a relationship with someone and you’ve been in that relationship for an extended amount of time. If you’ve been with someone for years, their social circle also has a life that has evolved for a number of years.

So for them to go back into their group of friends and see if the dynamics still exist is a question in their mind. Maybe this person moved away. Maybe this person is now married and their spouse isn’t so conducive to that friend circle that they remember. They are trying to explore, whether it’s on a conscious or unconscious level, what their social life, what their day-to-day life might be like if they’re no longer in the relationship.

They Withdraw From Physical Intimacy

Another sign that someone might be considering breaking up is when they start to withdraw from physical intimacy. Now, why is that? If you think about it logically, there’s a case to be made. There’s a case to be made that, if you know you’re considering a breakup, you might want to get as much hanky-panky as possible before you break it off. Then, why do we tend to withdraw physically?

There are a few reasons. One; it’s difficult for people to lie emotionally with their bodies. Many people have a problem getting physically aroused if they know they’re gonna check out pretty soon, or if they’re considering it. It feels like you’re lying to your partner and it’s a little bit of a scummy feeling.

Physical withdrawal makes it easier for the person to deal with that duality where they have one foot out the door, yet they still are in the relationship. So they stop having sex. And it’s okay, they are taking on this weird new label of friends anyway so they don’t have to contend with that awkward internal struggle, thinking: “Well, I’m kind of lying to the person by sleeping with them because I really do have one foot out the door.” 

So we avoid feeling icky, like a liar, by withdrawing physically. Another way to phrase it would be that there’s a certain guilt that a person might feel in using their partner for physical intimacy, knowing that they’re kind of checked out. So that guilt, that horrible guilty feeling, gets assuaged by simply not engaging in that physical activity.

Now, on the flip side of that coin, if you have someone who doesn’t have that problem or they don’t feel guilty, you might find that they’re hypersexual, hyperphysical. That happens a lot in narcissists. It happens very often in people who are selfish and they’re not mature enough to be in a relationship, to begin with.

Unwillingness to Fix the Problem

Another sign that you might spot in your relationship if you’re thinking your partner is considering a breakup, is that they’re unwilling to try to fix the problem. Most of us have a narrative of our relationship in our head. We think of our relationship as an entity with an identity of its own, right?

It has its own identity and it’s its own entity. It’s a thing. It’s a living, breathing thing, and we want to assign it as much character and personality as we do a person, as a living, breathing person. And if we fix the problems in a relationship where we’re already exploring leaving it makes leaving that relationship much harder.

So, if someone is seriously considering abandoning the relationship: Why would they fix the problems? It makes their rationale harder to leave. I often see this in my own private practice: you have two people who are together and one person is not feeling the union anymore. They kind of want to get out of the relationship.

They build up the negative qualities of the relationship to an unrealistic level. They start talking about their partner’s negative qualities. They reinterpret some of their memories, focusing only on the negative so that they can create the narrative in their head of the relationship and their partner being bad, toxic, and hostile. 

In fact, they usually aren’t. But it’s easier for us to rationalize leaving a relationship if we can assign that label of hostile or toxic to it. And the way we do that is by leaving the problems as problems, as opposed to trying to fix them. And in fact, sometimes even reimagining them and reinterpreting them as bigger than they are.

Emotional Withdrawal

And what about emotional withdrawal? We talked about physical withdrawal and we talked about the absence of effort to address problems, but what about emotional withdrawal? What if you find that your partner’s just not engaging with you on a day-to-day basis the way they used to?

That could be a very big red flag. Obviously, it could just mean that the person’s going through a rough time and needs some time for introspection. It’s not indicative that they’re 100% going to break up with you, but it is a sign that they could be thinking about it. 

I think it’s a very healthy part of any relationship to have what I call the debrief part of the day. In fact, it’s one of the habits that I tell people they should get good at if they want a long and happy romantic relationship. There should be those 10, 20, 30 minutes, sometimes longer, of every day where you just sit and talk to your partner. “What happened today? How’d you feel about it? How are you?”

Obviously, during this time there’s going to be the: “I missed you”, “Oh, I thought about you when (fill in the blank)”. That is a very healthy part of a relationship because it builds up the friendship and intimacy between a couple. 

When one partner starts to withdraw from that, they could stay at work late, they could say: “I’m tired, I just don’t want to talk about it”. They can engage in watching TV or playing video games, or they might go out with their friends.

When they start finding excuses to not engage in that emotional closeness. What’s really going on? They’re trying to protect themselves. It’s a self-defense mechanism. Because what’s happening in their head is they’re trying to look into the future and they’re trying to see a life where they don’t have their emotional support system, which is you. 

If you’re in a relationship with this person they’re used to relying on you as their emotional support and if they know they’re considering breaking off the relationship it makes all the sense in the world to withdraw emotionally and start thinking: “What can I do to cope with this emotional baggage that I have day to day?”

Where’s the Emotional Baggage?

We all have a little bit, sometimes it’s a little tiny suitcase, a little coin purse of baggage, and sometimes it’s checked baggage that is overweight and you got to pay extra to get on the plane. We all have a little bit of emotional baggage that happens day to day. And the way we process it, either through self-soothing or through our partners becomes a part of our routine. 

So when your partner starts emotionally withdrawing and it’s consistent. Because one day, everybody gets it, one day they might actually have to work late, whatever, but if you notice a pattern where they’re just not engaging and they’re rejecting your advances to have emotional intimacy, that is a red flag.

Even if they’re not considering a breakup, I would say that’s an indication that something’s going on with your partner. Maybe they’re struggling with depression or anxiety. Maybe there’s a part of their life they’re embarrassed to tell you about because they’re afraid of how it might change your perspective of who they are.

Maybe they’re scared of losing their job or there’s an illness, a physical issue they’re dealing with or a family member is dealing with, or there are other financial, emotional, or sexual issues that they’re not talking about. But when someone withdraws emotionally that’s an indicator that something’s up.

And oftentimes it can be that they’re not feeling comfortable in the relationship and they’re testing the waters to see what would it be like if they didn’t have this emotional support in their life.

What About Future Plans?

One question people ask me that I find quite interesting is: “Will someone stop making future plans with their partner if they’re considering breaking things off?” It depends on the person and it depends on where you are in the relationship. If this is a long-term relationship, and you’re not married, but you’ve been together for a couple of years, sometimes the person will avoid making future plans for the same reasons they are avoiding physical intimacy.

They don’t want that guilty feeling. They don’t want you to use up your vacation days or make expensive plans to go on a trip knowing that there’s a chance or a high probability that they will not join you and ruin those plans. 

On the other hand, if you’re married or you’ve been with someone for a long time and they’re considering a separation, they may not be able to control their physical withdrawal because that’s all very difficult internally, but they might be just manipulative enough to know that if they say: “Hey, we’re not going to plan our normal annual vacation that we go to” that would be a huge sign to you that something is really wrong, especially if it’s something you normally enjoy.

So they might make those plans. And I think in this case, you have to be weary, especially if you’re in a very long-term relationship or in a marriage and you’ve been with a person for many years, you have to know that just because they say: “Yes, we will go to Hawaii this year”, or Mexico, or Europe or wherever you’re headed, that doesn’t mean that it’s smooth sailing.

If you see all the indications that they’re withdrawing in different ways. You don’t want to use the fact that you have a vacation coming up as: “Ah, but we have a vacation. They’re still committed”. Not necessarily, sometimes people will say: “Okay, I’m going to let him or her plan that to get them off my back while I figure out what I really want.”

Because at the end of the day, when we’re talking about people showing indications that they’re considering a breakup, they’re in a limbo state. They don’t know what they want, they’re not sure of it. 

So, if planning a vacation, or a getaway, or even planning to buy a house or move to another city is something that the two of you talked about when the relationship was in a good place, they know that doing a sharp right turn on that saying: “Well, let’s not talk about moving” would be an instant signal to you that something’s really wrong.

They don’t want to talk about it. When someone’s considering a breakup and hasn’t brought it up to you yet they’re in that limbo state where they want that time of isolation, where they can be introspective, and explore: “What’s my social life like without my partner? What do I feel emotionally when I don’t have that support system? How am I going to feel physically when I don’t get my needs met? 

All these are things they are trying to understand. “Do I really wanna break this off?” So don’t use that vacation plan or plans to buy a house or plans to move to another city as any indication, one way or the other it’s unlikely to mean anything because it depends on how manipulative they are.

Depending on your relationship it could be a big deal or not such a big deal. Once I had a client. They were going to buy a house: “As soon as we buy the house, everything will get better.” it didn’t, and now you’re stuck with this house that you can’t afford, that you have to sell, and you can’t sell it for a profit. 

It’s very dangerous. Make sure your relationship is in a good place before you make these expensive, life-changing plans like moving or buying, or going on some expensive, lavish, long vacation.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

A better indication of whether your relationship is headed for a separation, regardless of whether the person is considering it or not, is the idea from the Gottman Institute called the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The four horsemen of the relationship apocalypse are:  

  1. Criticism
  2. Defensiveness
  3. Contempt
  4. Stonewalling

They are different emotional states that you see happening in a relationship on a regular basis. It could be one, but usually, there’s more than one happening, and again, whether one of you is considering breaking off the relationship or not, these four things will usually lead to a breakup and it’s been used by many therapists in couples counseling to predict divorce and separation within 20 minutes of meeting a couple. It’s incredibly strong at predicting breakups. 

You see all four horsemen being present in a relationship if you’re criticizing and your partner is  defensive about it and you grow angry and resentful, and then you stop talking because you stonewall each other, that’s a sign that you can’t continue that relationship.

Statistically speaking, in terms of predicting a breakup they are accurate indicators, But they’re, not indicative of whether someone’s considering a breakup. I’m just sharing this information so you can look at any relationship on a larger level. And it’s different because it’s not about whether someone’s consciously unplugged from a relationship. It’s more about the relationship as a whole and whether it can survive.

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