Kelly Gonsalves


February 10, 2023

Kelly Gonsalves

Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor

By Kelly Gonsalves

Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor

Kelly Gonsalves is a sex educator, relationship coach, and journalist. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.

Image by Javier Díez / Stocksy

February 10, 2023

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If you’re even considering breaking up with your boyfriend, you’re probably already dealing with a lot of tense feelings right now—maybe guilt, maybe fear of what comes next, maybe frustration, probably some sadness. These emotions aren’t fun, but they’re also important clues that can help you figure out what it is you really want to do next.

Keep those emotions top of mind and read on for advice on how to do decide if you should break up with your boyfriend—as well as when it makes sense to stay together and see things through.


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How to make the decision.

When deciding if you should break up with a boyfriend, it’s important to consider three things: how the relationship is impacting you and your well-being, whether the issues can be resolved if both of you put in the effort, and whether you and your partner are actually willing to make the necessary changes.

According to licensed marriage therapist Weena Cullins, LCMFT, your overall well-being is probably the most important factor to consider. “While all intimate relationships are subject to experiencing rough patches at different times, choosing to remain in a relationship that consistently causes you stress or compromises your physical, emotional, or mental health isn’t the best choice,” she tells mbg.

While thinking through your decision, she recommends reaching out to trusted people in your life—like friends or family—to help you look at your situation from a more objective, third-party view. Sometimes outsiders looking in can see things more clearly.

Remember that either choice is valid: The decision to break up with someone, while sometimes painful, is an act of taking care of yourself and your needs. And on the flip side, the decision to stay doesn’t mean you can’t leave later on. So, give yourself some compassion and consider both options with an open mind.

9 signs you should break up with him:


The relationship is largely a source of stress in your life.

“Each couple creates a unique dynamic in their relationship, so there’s no real one-size-fits-all rule for breaking up with someone,” says Cullins. But generally speaking, pay attention to if you relationship contributes more stress than positivity to your life, she says.

As much as you may love the good parts of your relationship, if the moments where you actually get to enjoy those good parts are few and far between compared to the moments where you’re filled with stress and dissatisfaction, that may be a sign that it’s time to break up.


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He pushes your boundaries.

If there’s any surefire sign that you need to leave a relationship, it’s boundary violations. “If he violates your physical and emotional boundaries in ways that make you feel unsettled or unsafe,” Cullins says that’s grounds for a breakup.

Violating your boundaries might look like pushing you to do things you’re not comfortable with, willfully ignoring your needs and expectations after you’ve clearly articulated them, or putting your physical or emotional well-being in harm’s way with his actions.


You feel tense and unsettled around him.

If you’re feeling constantly on edge around someone, it’s a sign that you don’t feel fully safe. There are many reasons why that might be—maybe you’re always worried they’re going to blow up at you if you upset them, or that if you make a mistake they might leave.

We all deserve to be in relationships where we feel fully safe to be ourselves and voice our needs without fear of volatility, retaliation, or abandonment.

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You’re dating him for his “potential.”

He’s not perfect, but things will be different when…

Ever find yourself saying something along these lines? He’s just going through a hard time right now, you say. It’ll be different when work’s not so stressful, or when we move in together, or once we get over this rough patch.

“Many people believe their partners will change—for example, become more committed, understanding, or affectionate—when they hit a milestone or when some external stressor is reduced,” therapist Megan Bruneau, M.A., previously told mbg. “This can happen sometimes, but it’s not a guarantee. If you knew they’d never change, would you still be in it for the long haul?”

Bruneau recommends basing your decision of whether to stay with this person on what they’re like right now, not on some future idea of who they might change into.


He breaks your trust repeatedly.

Does he regularly lie to you or otherwise break your trust? Has he engaged in infidelity (or even micro-cheating) enough times to make you constantly worried? If you’re finding it difficult to feel secure in your relationship and trust him because of his constant betrayals, Cullins says that’s a sign that you may be best served in just letting him go.


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You struggle to commit to him.

On the flip side, perhaps you’re the one who struggles to fully commit to your boyfriend and invest in the relationship. Culins says an inability to commit may be a sign that you don’t truly want to be in this relationship.

“If you are unable to be with him without lying or breaking his trust,” she says, or “if you struggle to be faithful because you aren’t quite satisfied with him,” respect both him and your own inner needs by ending the relationship.


You can’t help but criticize him.

Are you constantly finding things wrong with him to criticize and nitpick at? If you struggle to respect, value, or accept your boyfriend for who he is, Cullins says that’s a sign that you may not be a match. You should be with someone who you think highly of and who you’re grateful to be with, and your boyfriend deserves to be with someone who sees him that way, too.


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Your lives aren’t compatible.

You might really love your boyfriend, but perhaps there are other issues at play in your relationship. For example, you have different religions, different views on having kids, or different lifestyles. You love to travel; he doesn’t. He loves to go out and party; you’re a homebody.

While these issues can be worked out if you’re both willing to make it work, Cullins says it’s also okay to end a relationship over these types of life incompatibilities if they truly matter to you. You’ll need to decide for yourself which differences you can live with and which ones would be far too difficult to overcome.


You don’t see a future, despite one of you wanting one.

It’s okay to date someone casually, but if you know you and/or your boyfriend are ultimately looking for a serious and long-term relationship, then it’s important to be thoughtful about your decision to remain together. If you know you can’t see yourself with this guy in the long run, Cullins says, it’s likely in both people’s best interests to break up and move on.


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4 signs you shouldn’t break up just yet:

You haven’t explored the option of staying together yet.

If you’re considering breaking up with your boyfriend as an immediate reaction to a newly presented challenge in the relationship, it may be worth it to slow down first and truly consider your options. “When you truly care about someone, the decision to break up with them should be taken seriously,” says Cullins.

The truth is, nearly any issue in a relationship can remedied, managed, or otherwise dealt with as long as both people are willing to put in the work. If you haven’t yet talked to your partner about the problem and made mutual attempts at remedying it, that may be an option to explore before immediately jumping to a breakup. You may find that a solution can be found with just a little elbow grease. Couples therapy can also be a great option.

You want it to work, and he’s putting in the effort.

According to Cullins, effort is a good sign that things can improve. So if you know your heart’s truly in it, and you know he’s trying to make changes to the relationship to make it work for you, those are all green flags and signs you should stay together to see if your challenges can be worked through. Change takes time, but if you’re seeing the seeds being planted, you may benefit by waiting to see what grows with a little patience and dedication.

It’s a personal issue that’s getting in the way.

“If you know that past trauma or personal issues that aren’t related to the relationship are playing a role in your current problems with each other, you can seek counseling to work through those issues in order to give your relationship a fair chance,” Cullins says.

Maybe you have trust issues, but you’re working through them in therapy. Maybe he has an avoidant attachment style, but he’s trying to move past that old programming. If the problem isn’t actually something related to your relationship, and the person who is dealing with the issue is actively seeking to resolve it, the relationship may just have a fighting chance.

You usually feel the need to end relationships even when things are going well.

Generally speaking, if you’re constantly thinking about breaking up with your boyfriend, it’s usually a sign that you’re not fully happy or satisfied with the relationship. However, Cullins notes that sometimes people can feel the urge to abandon even good relationships due their own personal fears—for example, the fear of being hurt or abandoned, the fear of becoming engulfed or otherwise unhappy in the relationship, or the fear of missing out on something better.

These fears may have nothing to do with the quality of the relationship you’re in, and so Cullins recommends really looking within and exploring your reasons for wanting to break up thoroughly. If you’re wanting to leave because a good thing scares you, you may benefit more from learning to accept a bit of risk and vulnerability in order to accept love into your life.

What if I regret breaking up with him?

Post-breakup regret is a common experience, but it doesn’t always mean you made the wrong decision.

As relationship coach Julie Nguyen writes at mbg, all breakups—especially when it’s someone you’ve been with for a long time—can trigger feelings of grief and upheaval. “Not wanting to hurt someone you care about makes it harder to immediately land on acceptance about your decision,” she says. “But if you’ve been looking for a reason to end the relationship, it’s usually valid, even if it’s covered in anguish at first glance.”

No situation is black or white, Cullins adds. “It’s normal to consider the good things you may have to give up if you break up,” she says, but adds, “If what you will gain is ultimately more important to your health, wellness, and peace of mind, then it may be worth it.”

And remember: Breakups aren’t always permanent. If the relationship is ultimately meant to be, your partner will feel the same way about your relationship ending, and you will be able to return to each other and explore things once again.


How do I know if I should break up with my boyfriend?

Consider how the relationship is impacting you, whether changes can be made to improve the situation, and whether both of your are willing to put in the work to do so. If the relationship is causing you ongoing stress, and you don’t see the situation changing despite best efforts, breaking up may be the only path forward that protects your well-being.

Is it normal to think about breaking up with your boyfriend?

While it’s common to muse about all the paths your life could potentially take, Cullins says it’s important to pay attention if you’re persistently thinking about breaking up. “Typically when you’re happy and settled in a relationship you won’t spend a lot of time thinking about breaking up,” she says.

That said, sometimes fear—of getting hurt, abandoned, or otherwise being unhappy in the relationship—makes people feel the need to run away even when nothing’s actually wrong in the relationship, she explains. She recommends really exploring what’s prompting you to be thinking so much about breaking up.

How long should I wait to break up with my boyfriend?

If you know that you definitely want to break up with your boyfriend, you should do it as soon as possible. Don’t drag things out, for both of your sakes. The sooner you end things, the sooner you can both start the process of moving on.

The takeaway.

It can be painfully difficult to decide to break up with someone, but sometimes, breaking up is the kindest thing you can do for yourself. Take your time thinking through what’s going on in your relationship, and talk to your boyfriend about the issues you’re seeing. See what can shift and be worked on. If changes aren’t or can’t be made, give yourself permission to walk away.