2 key differences between a rough patch and a relationship-ending event
The presence—or absence of—trust and respect is a good metric to distinguish between an obstacle to work through together or something that breaks a couple up. Many issues can be worked through if you still trust and respect your partner, according to relationship coach Adelle Kelleher, founder of Coaching Hearts Consulting. For example, even something that can seem major, like if someone was unfaithful, can just be a rough patch if the trust and respect is still there or can be recovered.
The presence—or absence of—trust and respect is a good metric to distinguish between an obstacle to work through together or something that breaks a couple up.
When evaluating whether an event is a bump in the road or the end of the road, Kelleher advises asking yourself how you feel about your partner. “If you are able to communicate through it and afterwards are still able to trust and respect that person from a non judgmental standpoint that could be a rough patch you can move past,” she says. “But if you feel like no matter what, at the end of the day, you’re always going to question them, then that may be the reason for ending the relationship.”
Understanding and accepting your partner's motivations
Another key piece of distinguishing between a rough patch and a reason to break up is knowing about the motivations behind your partner's actions, says Jess Carbino, PhD, former sociologist at Tinder and Bumble. If you know what drives your partner's behaviors, that can help you figure out if something is able to be worked through or not.
Another key metric to look at is whether your partner accepts you for who you are. Dr. Carbino says this doesn't mean partners have to like everything about their S.O., and that pushing one another and growing together is part of a healthy partnership. But if you feel like your partner is always judging and disrespecting who you fundamentally are and what you value, that's a relationship red flag you don't want to ignore. "If you feel like this person will never fully accept you for who you are or is being critical of you on a regular basis and doesn't respect you, I think that is the sign that it is not a rough patch, but rather an unbridgeable conflict or issue in the context of the relationship," she says.
Dr. Carbino adds that everyone has a relationship signature that follows them around in their partnerships—like struggles with intimacy or fears about commitment. Whether or not these patterns become stumbles or end points in relationships is about whether both partners can accept and work through their own signature issues, plus those of the other person. To Dr. Carbino, this is the difference between what's bent out of shape and what's broken.
How to differentiate between disagreements and deal-breakers
As Logan Levkoff, PhD, sex and relationship expert, previously told Well+Good, "a deal-breaker is something that challenges your core values.” These are the types of conflicts that will be difficult to sort through because they signal vastly different desires and needs; anything can be a dealbreaker, depending on the person.
For example, would be if two people disagree about wanting children or if they come from vastly different religions, says Laura Louis, PhD, psychologist and founder of Atlanta Couple Therapy. If you find that the boundaries around your values are constantly being pushed or violated, that could be a sign it's time to head for the exits instead of something to work through together. (Dr. Carbino adds that any kind of abuse, whether physical, emotional, or verbal should be considered a dealbreaker.)
Beyond the presence of trust and respect, conflict resolution is a key indicator of the viability of a relationship
Remember: The presence of conflict itself is not a reason to break up, necessarily because conflict in any relationship—even healthy ones—is inevitable, according to Dr. Louis. And arguing and fighting fairly can actually benefit a relationship by bringing any lingering issues to the surface. Where people run into trouble however, Dr. Louis says, is when conflict happens without communication. She says that if someone stonewalls, or shuts down without communicating, the problems can fester. And not communicating can cause these issues to warp into relationship problems. But it's also important to recognize if you find yourself constantly fighting with your partner in a draining, damaging way.
As you progress in your relationship, you may discover that you want different things than your partner. According to Dr. Louis, this also doesn't necessarily have to mean it's time to break up, and could signal that it's a rough patch that can be worked through. “Most couples have perpetual problems where there’s not necessarily going to be a solution, but they can come to an understanding and a place of respect for each other and compromise,” she says. For example, disagreements about money aren't inconsequential, but they may be able to be worked through if both people make compromises. “It may not ever be completely resolved," Dr. Louis says, "but if they can compromise, those couples are able to stand the test of time."
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