How To Know If It's A Rough Patch Or Time To Break Up, According To Experts

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When it feels like your relationship isn't working, it can be incredibly stressful. And when you don't know whether it's just a rough patch or if the relationship is really over, the longer it goes on, the more difficult it can be to reconnect with your partner. It's important to take a deep breath and tackle the problem head-on.

The first thing to remember is that going through changes in a relationship is often totally normal — and not something to worry about overall. "Over the course of a relationship, couples go through many different stages; from lust to trust," Shamyra Howard-Blackburn, LCSW, Sex & Relationship Therapist, and owner of Conquest Counseling, tells Bustle. "As humans, we evolve. Our perspectives, values, and behaviors change over time which can affect our partners. People in relationships will experience many adjustments. The true test of dealing with change is how couples choose to address these changes and work through them. There are some changes that commonly occur, however, there are some not so common changes that can make or break a relationship."

But if you feel things have changed too much or that you and your partner have grown too far apart, it may be time to put some serious effort into getting your relationship back on track. Here's how to tackle it, according to experts.


Identify The Problem And Talk About It

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First, you need to figure out what the problem is — or at least, you need to try. Remember that asking yourself some deep questions about the relationship doesn't mean you love your partner any less, you're doing it for your own good and the good of the relationship. "Even if you’re deeply in love with your partner, it’s perfectly normal to occasionally question your relationship," Jonathan Bennett, Dating/Relationship Coach and Owner of The Popular Man, tells Bustle. "Everyone has doubts from time to time, whether it’s about the future of the relationship or if your partner truly is 'the one.' As long as the doubts aren’t lingering and constant, they're normal and even healthy."

So take a hard look at the relationship and try to figure out what isn't working. And, as soon as you're ready, make sure you talk to your partner. "[A couple with good communication] discusses situations when they arise," speaker and spiritual counselor Davida Rappaport tells Bustle. "They may also wait until they calm down to communicate with their partner if they are angry rather than say or do something they may regret."

Whether you know exactly what the issue is — you can't get over a fight, one of you has trust issues, or you don't seem to connect anymore — or if you just know that you're unhappy, you need to talk to your partner and come up with a game plan.


Be More Present And Give Your Relationship Some Attention

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Once you've identified the problem, it's time to start tackling it and try to heal the relationship. Take every opportunity you can to connect with your partner. "Couples try to get each other’s attention throughout the day, whether it’s for support, conversation, interest, play, affirmation, feeling connected or for affection,” relationship coach and therapist Anita Chlipala tells Bustle. “Each of these moments is an opportunity to connect with your partner. A person should look for someone who responds to them, or at least acknowledges them when they try to get their attention, because it shows that they are meeting your emotional needs — or at least trying to.”

You need to give your relationship the chance to work and feel confident that you've given it your best shot, too. Listen to each other, do new things together, and check in regularly to see how you both feel about the relationship and whether it's improving.


But Know When Enough Is Enough

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Ideally, through communicating and putting in time with your partner to make it work, your relationship will get back on track. But if you can't seem to compromise, you keep having the same fight over and over, or you're just still unhappy, it may be time to rethink the relationship. "Relationships do take work, and there is occasionally conflict," couples therapist Jim Seibold, PhD LMFT, tells Bustle. "However, if you have to try too hard to make the relationship work, it may not be right for you. Ultimately, if you are not compatible, the relationship will crumble. Instead of trying to make a square peg fit into a round hole, look for a better fit. It may be painful to end a relationship and you may feel overwhelmed at the possibility of having to start over. However, the longer a bad relationship goes on the more pain you will experience."

So how do you know if it's a rough patch or really time to say goodbye? Think of how this person and this relationship have impacted your life overall. "A way to zoom out and get the big picture of your relationship — beyond present difficulties — is to think about whether your partner has been a positive presence in your life," practicing psychologist and Harvard lecturer Holly Parker, PhD, author of If We're Together, Why Do I Feel So Alone?, tells Bustle. "If this relationship is probably a beneficial one, chances are you’re having struggles in the here and now with someone who, on the whole, has been good for you."

If your relationship is strong, it could be solved with some communication and time. And if you're still struggling after you try that? Look at the relationship as a whole because relationships might take work, but they shouldn't feel like work.