- 1 Understand what’s happening in the relationship
- 2 Have a conversation with your partner
- 3 Discuss if and how the issues can be overcome
- 4 Be frank with where you both want your lives to head
- 5 Make a decision: stay or go
- 6 Consider couples counselling if you can’t resolve your issues
- 7 Summary
So your relationship is on the rocks and this time it really feels like the breakup you always feared is just around the corner.
In this article, I’m going to share some things to help you make a last minute attempt at saving your relationship.
If you want the short version, here it is in a nutshell:
Like any negotiation, saving a relationship from a breakup starts with a frank conversation between you and your partner. You need to first understand the issues threatening the stability of your relationship and whether those can be overcome, then agree on working together to resolve those issues.
But things are seldom that easy, right? So let’s dive in deeper at what you need to do to prepare before having that big conversation.
Understand what’s happening in the relationship
Your relationship is shaky for a reason. Do you know what that reason is? Is it something you’re doing, or something you’re not doing that’s causing an issue?
This part of the process is the easiest, because there’s nobody to answer – or own up to – other than yourself.
If you happen to be a in long distance relationship, like I was for many years, then there is an extra layer of things to deal with. Make sure you read my article on how to save a long distance relationship.
Ok, let’s get back to the process.
Start to think – to really think – about why your relationship is in the state it is. Ask yourself why, and when you come up with an answer, ask yourself why again, and keep going until you hit rock bottom.
This is an actual technique used to get to the bottom of somebody’s real motives. The technique is also used by individual in just the way I’m describing, often with surprising results.
You may just uncover a thing or two you weren’t consciously aware of, or you were trying to tune out with superficial reasons.
Interrogate yourself and don’t waste your own time trying to make excuses in order to evade your own questions, because you may just face those questions later on when you sit down with your partner to have a face to face discussion.
Here’s a few questions to get you started with this process:
- why is my relationship in tatters right now?
- what am I unhappy about?
- what is she unhappy about?
Each of those questions should lead you down a rabbit hole of more questions that you need to answer. The goal here is to get clear on what the issue is – or may be – before you sit down to have that talk.
Take as long as you need to. A whole afternoon if you have to. Just be brutally honest with yourself – there’s nobody listening – and get to the bottom of the issue as you see it.
If you realise (or you already know) that you’re the problem, still go through the process at least to understand what your motivation to disrupt your relationship actually is.
If it is you, or something you’re doing, then ask yourself if you’re unhappy and subconsciously trying to orchestrate the breakup of your relationship.
If the issue is something you did in the past, things get a little trickier. If it was before your current relationship, then – technically – it has nothing to do with your partner (unless it affects her physically).
If she has issues with your past, then there isn’t much you can do, as this is all playing out in her head. Your partner likely has issues that could range from insecurity all the way to retrospective jealousy, also known as RJ.
If the issue is something you did during your current relationship, that’s going to take some smooth talking from you and some forgiving from her to resolve.
Ok, it’s time to put our cards on the table.
Have a conversation with your partner
Agree to be brutally honest with each other and hold nothing back. Before anything is discussed, make it clear that there is no point in being coy or reserved, because this conversation is literally the make or break of your relationship.
You may feel a little apprehensive to say this because it sounds so terminal, but the fact is that your relationship is on its knees and you may well be dealing with a breakup if you don’t discuss every issue fully.
There are some rules that need to be followed during this meeting. Rules are needed to stop things becoming out of control.
During this meeting, you should both separate yourselves emotionally as much as possible from the relationship. Pretend that you are movie directors discussing the plot for a pair of lovers who face a breakup.
The point of this mental reframing is to get you both to be cooler than you may otherwise be. Little will likely be resolved if you both go into this meeting pointing the finger of blame at each other and getting defensive at every accusation.
The rules are simple but important:
- be respectful of each other during this meeting
- let each other finish speaking before speaking
- don’t accuse or blame each other of anything
The last rule is particularly important. Many couples sit down to have a big conversation and mistake this as an opportunity to vent at each other, then wonder why nothing was resolved.
If you blame your partner for something, you’re going to provoke her into throwing accusations back at you. This will quickly escalate into a shouting match and end the meeting.
The point of this meeting is to mutually understand what is going wrong, or what has gone wrong, and why.
Talk in lower tones, respectfully, and listen carefully. If you really have no idea of what went wrong, then her words and body language are going to tell you everything you need to know.
Understand that relationships go through rough patches and make allowances for this.
Two of the biggest issues in relationships
Spending little quality time with each other or spending too much time with each other are at opposite ends of the scale but these are two very common issues.
The real problem with spending all your time with your partner is that you’re not spending time with friends. This is not uncommon in many relationships where at least one of the partners has trust issues or insecurity issues, or is very controlling.
Discuss both points and be grown-ups about what’s being said. If the issue is that you’re not making enough time for each other, this is the easiest issue to solve. Simply make more time for each other.
Go on dates or have date night at home. If you work from home (or you bring your work home) finish an hour earlier and spend that time with your other half, with the tv switched off (unless you’re both enjoying a movie) and chatting.
If, on the other hand, the issue is that you’re spending all your time together, then this is a tough one to fix, but you need to get tough and real here.
The fact is that one controlling partner is one narc too many in any relationship. This makes for a very unhealthy relationship.
If you’re the controller, you need to step back and work on your issues to become a more confident man. If your partner is the controller, you need to consider whether it’s worth your time staying in a relationship where you’re more like a prisoner than a partner.
If this is happening, then this is already a broken relationship. Issue an ultimatum. Fix this or the relationship will inevitably fall apart.
Discuss if and how the issues can be overcome
Once you both understand what the problems are, you need to discuss how they can be overcome, if at all. Accept that some problems are hard to look past, and some cannot be overlooked.
That doesn’t mean that you must break up if there’s an unresolved issue. A healthy relationship is not always a perfect relationship but one in which each partner acknowledges and accepts the other’s short comings.
As long as there are no negative emotions lingering around issues, and as long as there’s more good than bad for both participants, that should make a happy relationship.
If the issues can be resolved, discuss what needs to be in place for these issues to go away. For example, if you keep landing yourself in hot water because of flirting with other people, then promise to stop flirting.
If the issues cannot be resolved for whatever reason (let’s say you didn’t just flirt, but actually had an affair) then discuss whether you can both coexist in this relationship with that issue hanging over you, or whether it’s just a matter of time before it all comes crashing down.
Be frank with where you both want your lives to head
The final part of the conversation, once you have both aired all the issues that are keeping you up at night and discussed them in detail, is to be honest about where you both want your lives to go.
Don’t be afraid to talk about your wants and needs. If you chose not to mention those, then be prepared to potentially stay in a relationship where your needs and wants won’t be met.
Follow the protocol: speak and listen to each other in turn without interrupting. If you’ve made it this far in the meeting, this is the most important part.
The goal of this final discussion is to assess whether you are still both compatible with each other as partners.
It is natural for two people to have different aspirations, but the biggest objective of a successful relationship is compromise.
Also, keep in mind that people often change their minds over time. This is an important fact to remember because you don’t want to turn your back on your relationship just because your partner wants something you don’t want when it could easily change in the short term.
Many couples who started out not wanting children found themselves with one or more and lived happily ever after.
That said, if your outlooks are vastly different, there may be a problem. For example, if your partner decides she wants to travel to the Outback and spend some months alone ‘finding herself’, that’s probably going to be a deal breaker for you.
On the flip side, if you both have similar outlooks or are able to compromise, then you have a solid foundation to build on.
Make a decision: stay or go
Once you have all the facts, you both need to decide whether you want to continue in this relationship. It may well be that you learn some new information you weren’t aware of during the meeting (for example, that she’s simply gone ‘off’ you) and that may affect the decision you made earlier.
The reality is that a frank and deep conversation is bound to bring up some food for thought – possibly for both of you. It’s not uncommon for both partners to be surprised by a thing or two they hear the other mention.
If you decide to stay together, the road ahead now is all about ironing out those issues that were brought up during the meeting.
If you decide that a breakup is necessary, I recommend you read my guide on how to get over your ex.
Consider couples counselling if you can’t resolve your issues
If you both decide that you want to avoid a breakup, but you cannot work together to resolve your issues, then consider seeking relationship advice from a professional.
Likewise, if you can’t get remain civilised during the meeting for long enough to discuss each issue, couples counselling will be helpful as you get to have the meeting in front of a stranger so you’ll both behave as much as you can.
Saving your relationship starts with a frank conversation. I recommend you first spend some time thinking about all the issues that are affecting your relationship before you sit down with your partner to discuss things in more detail.
Agree to discuss both your grievances and how they can be resolved, if at all. Set up a few rules to ensure the meeting stays on track and the goal is not compromised.
Discuss the direction you both want your lives to take and be brutally honest. Assess whether you both still make a good couple and how your relationship can be rekindled.
If you cannot discuss your issues but you both want to avoid a breakup, consider couples therapy.
Finally, make a decision as to whether you want to remain in this relationship or end it.