4 Ways to Tell if You’re in a Desperate Relationship, According to a Psychologist

Many people come to therapy wondering about the health of their romantic relationship. They can say things like:

  • “I feel like this relationship is a dead end.”
  • “Nothing I say or do inspires him to act differently or make changes.”
  • “It’s as if I was communicating with a stone wall.”
  • “If only he/she would make the slightest effort…”

In this article, I’ll talk about four things to look for when trying to decide if your relationship is doomed.

#1. Evaluate your relationship by actions, not words

Psychologists sometimes say that we fall in love with our partners based on their words but stay with them because of their actions.

Have you noticed a growing disconnect between your partner’s words and actions? Have broken promises accumulated over time? Are you tired of your partner talking nice to each other to get out of awkward situations?

It’s important to hold your partner accountable for what they say they’re going to do, not in a way that makes them feel judged, but in a way that builds mutual trust and commitment.

Psychological research shows that some of the most difficult personalities to be around (narcissists, manipulators, subclinical psychopaths, etc.) are quite charming at the start of romance. It’s only after someone spends a lot of time with that person that they begin to see them for who they really are: all talk and little follow through.

#2. Determine if your partner passes the “constructive criticism” test

Can your partner accept constructive feedback, or does he react with hostility, anger, or revenge every time you try to make a suggestion? If it’s the latter, you could be in for a tough time.

All relationships involve give and take. Each partner must be able to admit when they are wrong and engage in honest dialogue while keeping an open mind.

Partners who have an “I’m always right” or “My way or the highway” mentality rarely succeed in close relationships. It is people who are able to empathize and see other people’s point of view, even when they disagree with them, who are suited for successful relationships.

Psychologist Everett Worthington has this to say about responding positively to differences of opinion:

“Obviously we need to be able to discuss differences, but I believe most change happens if we practice engaged civility rather than just reacting to perceived provocations. Engaged civility is about holding firm to our beliefs – that’s the “engaged” part – but acting civilly towards people who hold different positions. If we listen to others with empathy, seek to understand their position, and act civilly to support the position of their true interests, we can often find common ground with our own interests.

Does this quote reflect your partner’s behaviors? Or do they have a fundamentally different philosophy on conflict and compromise?

#3. Assess if your partner is keeping up with their end of the bargain

It is important to take stock from time to time of your relational efforts, contributions and sacrifices and those of your partner. Does each of you give as much as you receive or is there an imbalance in the relationship?

As you do this exercise, remember that people express love and caring in different ways. So be careful not to judge someone based on your criteria of what a caring partner should look like. Instead, think about what love and care means to your partner and rate it accordingly.

#4. Ask yourself if you have ever mentally left the partnership

Sometimes we already know the answer we are looking for. When you rack your brains trying to figure out if your relationship is worth pursuing, look to your intuition for the answer. Do you feel like this is not the right solution and probably never will be? Or do you have deep hope and optimism about the prospects of your relationship? One question to ask yourself is if, or how often, you have mentally checked in on your partnership.


Everyone deserves to be happy, whether single or in a relationship. If you feel like your relationship isn’t bringing you happiness, ask yourself:

  1. If your partner’s actions speak louder than their words
  2. If your partner passes the constructive criticism test
  3. If your partner gives as much as he takes
  4. If your mind has ever hit the eject button

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