How Can I Tell if I want to End My Relationship? Am I just Exhausted and Burned Out? What’s the Difference Between the Two?
Entering couples therapy can feel like starting a marathon when you are tired of running. Most of the time, a couple comes in and they aren’t even sure how to know if the relationship is fixable or not. Often, you ask yourself, “Do I want to end my relationship, or am I just burned out?” There are no guarantees, but the couples therapist usually has a pretty good handle on how folks come in feeling pretty hopeless, burned out, and unsure of how things are going to work.
Relationship Burn Out can occur when one person, usually the one who feels like they have been trying to save the relationship, gets exhausted. It can start to feel like you’re numb. You’re resigned to the way things are always going to be. You want things to get better, but you don’t know how much more effort you can muster. It feels dangerous to hope. It feels like you’ve given it your all, and you wonder if you’re done.
This can be confusing – are you done with the relationship, or done with the struggle?
When you are in couples therapy, the best route to take is to act as if things are fixable, and act as if you have the belief that they can be, even if you aren’t sure what that looks like. I wrote a post on it here. On the surface, this can sometimes be tough for the couples therapist and the client to figure out. It’s pretty convincing when someone says that they just can’t care right now. So how would you know?
If you imagine that your relationship suddenly became what you wanted it to be, how does that make you feel? Really imagine it. Let yourself believe it.
Does it spark anything? Hope? Joy? Relief? Slightly guarded disbelief that wants to believe?
Now try this: Think about your struggle in this relationship. The hardship you’ve faced trying to change things. What do you feel? Do you feel a knot, angst, sorrow? Anything at all? Or do you just feel like you’re thinking about something that you’ve gone through and are out of, removed from?
As a couples therapist, if I can tap into any kind of feeling, positive or negative, about the relationship, then I know I’m on to something. People who are done don’t give a crap. They don’t tear up when they talk about how hard they’ve tried and how exhausted they are. Because they don’t feel helpless or hopeless, they feel removed. They fight is over. The bond is broken. And they get much more joy from imagining life without the person than angst.
This isn’t to say that people who still feel something never get divorced. Quite the opposite – I think that a lot of divorces happen because people are burned out and trying to escape the misery, not because they suddenly woke up and felt nothing for their partner.
So, do you get anything from the thought that things could be better? Even if you feel too exhausted to entertain the notion, would you get hopeful if it were indeed possible? Does your heart still break at the thought of losing this person?
It’s not always easy to tell, but being burned out because it means so much to you and you’ve tried so hard is different from being done because there is no longer any kind of bond or relationship there. It might be really hard to decipher this on your own. If you need help figuring this out, we can help. Just know that it’s totally OK to feel numb and done and tired and all of that, and it still isn’t the last nail in the coffin of your relationship.