Sex & Relationships

6 Ways To Tell The Differences Between A Rut And The End Of A Relationship

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One day, you and your partner are the emotional equivalent of a pair of socks rolled together: cut from the same cloth and intertwined so that you can’t see when one starts and the other ends. The next, you’re fitting together like an old shoe and a can of soup. That is to say, you’re not.

Almost everyone has experienced the dreaded “relationship rut,” AKA, the period of time when your relationship suddenly isn’t quite what it should be.

Maybe you and your partner are arguing a little more or maybe that new relationship glow is wearing off and you’re no longer feeling that spark when you’re together. The truth is that ruts happen to even the best couples and can take time, patience, and effort to work through. Still, a rut isn’t a death sentence for your relationship. Think of it more as more of a growing pain or an opportunity to make your bond stronger.

But, how do you know if it’s just a rut? Sometimes the same symptoms (arguments, not connecting, feeling annoyed with your partner) could be signs of larger relationship problems, ones that won’t be fixed with a bit of time or a healthy helping of relationship elbow grease. These issues could be the tell-tale signs you look back on in a year and wonder how you ever ignored those red flags.

But never fear: there are plenty of hints that you can look for. Here are six signs that could mean that your relationship isn’t just in a rut and it’s time to move on.

You Want To Be With Other People

If you find yourself wondering if you’re in a rut or nearing the end of a relationship, you might be able to find out by answering one simple question: are you keeping an eye out for other potential mates?

Now, before you answer: really think about it. You don’t necessarily have to be revamping your dating profile to be searching for your next match, your search could be more subtle. Have you been noticing the singles at the bar or the gym more often than you used to? Have you absentmindedly started wondering what it would be like to date one of your newly single friends?

Divorce coach and mediator, Tara Eisenhard, explains, “Harmless crushes aren’t necessarily a big red flag. However, if a relationship begins to develop outside the primary (monogamous) partnership, it’s time to look more closely at the situation and ask what needs are lacking and if it’s time to pull the plug on the existing partnership.”

Think of it this way: if the love is still there, even hidden in a rut, your attraction and commitment to your partner should be there, too. But if you’re suddenly finding yourself looking at others as a potential next partner, your heart could be telling you that you’re ready to move on.

Further, relationship and lifestyle expert Holly Zink says to be aware you may be lusting after — not another person — but the single life. “Every so often, a person may be missing some of the luxuries of the single life, like having more ‘me time.’ However, if you are clearly imagining your current life without your partner and it doesn’t phase you, it’s time to end your relationship.”

You Have Different Goals

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You probably have long-term goals for your career, family, and lifestyle — and those goals might not always match up with your partner’s plans, but in most cases, that’s okay. Of course, you two can’t be expected to always have 100% of the same ideas and priorities. But sometimes different goals can be a big problem.

Maybe you two just had a big talk about the future. You found out that one of you wants to buy a house and have lots of kids ASAP while the other wants to travel and focus on work before settling down.

Learning you have different goals (or that your partner’s goals have changed) can be unsettling. If your relationship suddenly feels off after this realization, you might not be in a rut; you could just be coming to terms with the fact that your relationship has an expiration date. As Eisenhard points out, “When a couple no longer shares the same vision for the future, it’s time to reassess the relationship.”

Though, of course, a change in goals doesn’t always mean you’re destined for a breakup. All good relationships involve compromise, after all. But before one of you concedes your desires for the other person, you both need to ask if the sacrifice will lead to resentment down the line. If it will, perhaps the “right answer” here is to take time away, allow yourself to be open to meeting someone with whom your goals are more aligned, or possibly reconnecting years later.

When Nothing Seems To Make It Better

When it comes to ruts, remember, they’re supposed to be temporary.

“Generally speaking,” Eisenhard says, “a ‘relationship rut’ can be a period of slight disconnection or boredom. This can be overcome by making a new investment in the partnership — going out to dinner at new places, taking a class together, or taking a trip.”

Ruts should only last a little while: they’re one single downward slope on a road trip that’s probably going to have plenty of high points, low points, and a few of twists and turns. You should be able to get out of a rut with some time and effort. But if time goes on and you’re still unsatisfied, it’s a symptom of a deeper issue than just uncontrollable variables like work stress or a busier schedule.

You Don’t Feel Respected or Supported

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When you’re going through hard times, it’s important to pay attention to how you’re treating each other. When you two are at your best, things might be great; but when you’re at your worst, what is it like?

Every couple will have times when they fight or don’t see eye-to-eye. Chill, that’s totally normal. Everyone, even the most like-minded people, will disagree sometimes. But you need to make sure that even in your hardest times as a couple, you’re still respected and supported. If one or both of you aren’t respecting each other or don’t care about each other’s feelings, that’s not just a problem… it’s a relationship ender. The only way to work through issues is through mutual respect and if you don’t feel it, you’ll never be able to get over even bigger hurdles down the line.

According to Eisenhard, “[Lack of respect] relates to emotional safety, and often shows up as simply ‘not fighting fair’ or demanding certain behavior.  When members of a couple no longer treat each other with respect, or they don’t accept each other as they are (and people do grow and change all the time), the relationship is no longer safe.” Moreover, “Members of a couple should support each other’s growth and development. When a relationship lacks opportunities for growth or encouragement from a partner, personal stagnation sets in and can lead to overall unhappiness or depression.”

Less Intimacy (Or None At All)

While sometimes a lack of intimacy can be a symptom of a bigger problem or even a personal problem, it can also be a problem in itself.

“Both physical and emotional intimacy are important to the health and survival of a relationship,” Eisenhard explains. “When this aspect of a partnership is lacking for an extended period of time, it’s time to ask some important questions and make some hard decisions.”

If it’s been a long time since you’ve been ~physically intimate~ (or since you’ve had a good time talking and connecting), ask yourself if you’re still invested in the relationship and if you want to continue. Sometimes you’ll come to the shocking realization that you don’t.

You’re Not Honest With Each Other

Relationships thrive on honesty. As soon as one of you starts keeping a secret, tensions, guilt, and arguments follow. Zink explains, “Part of any long-term healthy relationship is trusting and being honest with your partner. If these two things still continue to be important to you both, even if you’re having a hard time in your relationship, you are just in a relationship rut.” But if it

Relationship expert Bridget Fonger points out that you should ask each other if there is anything you’re holding on to that could be keeping you in a rut. Maybe you or your partner did something that the other was upset by and never said anything. Sometimes it’s embarrassing to just admit that your feelings were hurt by something trivial. Fonger advises to ask your partner: “Do you have an ache in your heart that you feel I have caused?” Then really listen to your partner’s answer to this question with an open mind. “It could be hard to dig your heels into curiosity if you feel threatened by an answer. [But] try to stay open.  There really might be a way to put a salve on both your wounds and move powerfully forward.”

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