If you've ever been blindsided by a breakup, you know how devastating it can be. Not only are you heartbroken over the end of the relationship, but it can really erode your confidence. I can tell you from personal experience that this is true in both platonic and romantic relationships. I was once blindsided by the end of a 20-year friendship, and the lingering sting of that shock, for me, was really about wondering why I didn't see it coming. Had I known then how to know a breakup is coming, I might have been more prepared, or maybe I would even have been able to resolve things more amicably.
In retrospect, there were signs that I either didn't see or that I willfully ignored — something very common in cases where a relationship ends suddenly. The good news is, according to relationship expert and bestselling author Susan Winter, there are a few signs that you can keep an eye out for if you're concerned your partner is thinking about ending the relationship. There's also something you can do to get in front of the problem and possibly even prevent the breakup from happening at all. Here's what you should pay close attention to.
One of the most subtle signs that a breakup is coming is less of a behavior than a feeling you will get in your gut — one that tells you something is just not quite right between you. You know your partner well enough to recognize that there is something different and off about their attitude. Winter says to keep an eye out for "new energy" that feels unsettling because "this is the first indication that emotional turmoil is brewing underneath their attempt at a normal facade.”
Of all the signs a relationship is on rocky ground, going hot and cold can be the most confusing. When they are cold, you begin to worry, but if they swing the other way suddenly, it may give you a false sense of security. But what does this demoralizing cycle mean? According to Winter, your partner being overly nice out of the blue may mean that they are about to break things off and feel guilty about it, but then, they go cold and distant because they are mentally preparing to do it. "Vacillating back and forth between these two extremes is a clear indicator of the internal battle they’re having within themselves," says Winter.
We all have habits and behaviors that rub our partners the wrong way — little things that you always bicker about, like always running late or never picking up your laundry. According to Winter, if your partner suddenly stops caring about the things that they used to be passionate about or the behaviors that once drove them batty, that’s a red flag. You may assume the lack of fighting is a good sign, when, in fact, it could actually indicate that they've had a change of heart... just not the good kind. "This is a tip off that they no longer care," says Winter. "When your partner no longer has preferences, it often means they have one foot out the door. There’s nothing to fight for, because there’s nothing to save."
Are you in full panic mode about the state of your relationship right now? Well, take a breath because it’s not all bad news. There is still time to try and salvage the relationship, and just recognizing the signs is half the battle. Winter says that if your gut is telling you something is wrong, the best thing you can do is face it head on by having an honest discussion with your partner. She advises that you ask them directly what they are feeling, thinking, and if they are willing to work on those issues with you.
You also should ask what they need from you to make the relationship better. So often, people get out of relationships because they think that, if they are unsatisfied now, there is no coming back. But that’s only true if you aren’t communicating and willing to do the work, so show them you are by having a hard conversation. "Be willing to roll up your sleeves and dig into the messy parts of the relationship," says Winter. "By showing willingness to improve yourself as a partner, you may be able to turn things around for the better and remain together."
While recognizing the signs and bringing up potentially difficult topics with your partner may be really difficult in the moment, if it means you are able to avoid an unnecessary breakup, then all the hard work will have been worth it. And even if you ultimately decide to go your separate ways, you will be that much more emotionally equipped for your next relationship.
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