If your relationship were a fire, is it still burning strongly? Flickering? Smoldering? Does it need kindling or a log? Has the last spark of it burned out to the point where it's even too late for more oxygen? After all, your relationship at one time had to be on fire in order for it to burn out. Relationships that are characterized mainly or solely by passion are often, as songwriter Cole Porter put it, "too hot not to cool down."
If it's more accurate to describe your relationship as one that is/or was grounded in comfort or day-to-day living, perhaps a better metaphor than fire is that of a business. And if so, do you need downsizing? Refinancing? New management? Or are you ready for bankruptcy court?
For many years, I searched for a foolproof "litmus test" that could save people from the pain of fruitlessly trying to revive a relationship that has virtually no chance for success, as well as from abandoning troubled relationships that could be turned around if only the partners could see that proverbial "forest for the trees".
Let me first give you the bad news. Whenever I thought I had it nailed down, a glaring exception to the rule would surface. Some of the worst relationships I have ever seen have survived, improved and even flourished! And some of those that seemed positively salvageable and loaded with potential, folded. Although there are good reasons for all of these exceptions, we only find them out after the fact -- similar to the way a Wall Street session is reported on at the end of the day once the numbers are in. (Wouldn't it be great for our portfolios if that same degree of "wisdom" were available an hour earlier?)
Now, let me give you the good news. The inventory that you are about to take comes about as close to a litmus test as anything out there, as many colleagues of mine who have used it have told me. This inventory is called "Can Your Relationship Be Saved?" for my book, by the same name. Since then, it's been used by scores of mental health professionals with their clients/patients, with good results. So, think of it as a "heads-up" to make you aware of some of the warning signs that exist, and to help you to see them and to make the choices that lie ahead. Your self-assessment could lead either to the healing and even deepening of your relationship or the straightforward decision to end it.
Please take a piece of paper and number it from 1 to 50. Then simply put a check mark next to the number of each "true" statement that describes your relationship:
1. My partner and I no longer feel like friends.
2. My partner and I have developed a very strong wall that separates us.
3. I am constantly thinking about how nice it would be to have an affair.
4. When my partner and I fight, it gets nasty and I am left with feelings of wanting to get out.
5. My partner has told me, at a time other than when we were in the middle of a fight, that he or she would be happier if we split up.
6. I am unwilling to accept my partner as he/she is. If this relationship is to continue, he/she will have to make some very major changes that he/she is unwilling to make.
7. My partner and I have little in common anymore.
8. I would leave this relationship in a heartbeat if I felt confident that I could make it on my own or if I knew I could get through the painful transition of a breakup.
9. Although I no longer love my partner, I feel responsible for him/her. I think the only thing that is really keeping me here is guilt.
10. My partner and I fight a lot and I fear that underneath the fighting there is not much left.
11. When I am about to be around my partner and I think of having to spend time with him/her, I get an empty feeling.
12. My partner and I are just no longer playing for the same team.
13. The more time that goes by, the more I begin to dislike my partner.
14. My respect for my partner is practically, or totally gone.
15. There is very little trust left in our relationship.
16. I constantly fear my partner's abusive behavior. If it happens again, I am leaving.
17. My partner abuses alcohol and/or drugs. It is even more intolerable to me that he/she denies the usage as a problem.
18. I can only tolerate my partner if one of us is high on alcohol or drugs.
19. If I could afford it financially, I would leave.
20. My partner has an emotional hold on me. I would love to leave, but I feel too hooked and addicted to the relationship.
21. My partner has children with whom I am expected to relate to. The relationship would be fine if they were not there, but they are here to stay and it is creating a very unhappy situation for me.
22. I know I should want my relationship to continue (or want to want my relationship to continue), but I cannot say that I truly do want it to continue.
23. We are unable to resolve our differences together, but my partner refuses to enter counseling or therapy.
24. My partner has told me that he/she does not love me anymore.
25. My partner has done something for which I cannot forgive him/her; this was the straw that broke the camel's back.
26. We just have so many differences that it is unrealistic to think we can even begin to address them.
27. I am so overwhelmed by my partner's constant demands for love, approval, perfectionism and/or rigid rules of how the relationship should be and how each of us should behave within it. Sometimes I just want to give up.
28. I am almost certain my partner is having an affair and if this is true, I will not tolerate it.
29. I feel closer to my partner when we are not together.
30. There is definitely more pain than joy or pleasure associated with my partner and our relationship.
31. This relationship has become a constant burden.
32. If I knew I could find another mate, I would leave immediately.
33. I am having an affair with someone I value much more than my partner, and I am unwilling to give this other person up under any circumstances.
34. I feel very indifferent toward my partner and have little motivation to try and work things out.
35. My most stress-free moments are when my partner and I are not together.
36. My partner and I are totally inflexible with each other.
37. I don't even have a desire to tell my partner how I feel anymore -- positive or negative.
38. Our relationship has peaked and could never again be as good as it once was.
39. When I think of us growing old together, life seems not worth living.
40. At this point, there is just too much water under the bridge.
41. When I think of leaving my partner I feel relieved.
42. I have wanted to leave for a long time, but my partner has said he/she will commit suicide if I do.
43. I constantly have to choose between my partner and my family (of origin).
44. My partner is abusive to the children -- a situation I am powerless to stop as long as they are all in the same environment.
45. This relationship does not allow me to grow.
46. My partner does not fit into my future plans.
47. I want to leave, but I cannot see myself pulling it off. I am stuck.
48. I need my partner much more than I love him/her.
49. I love my partner but am not in love with him/her.
50. We have tried everything and nothing seems to help.
Many of these items are self-explanatory, but for a better understanding of what your answers could mean, as well as the degree of risk associated with them, click here and scroll down to "Evaluation of Inventory." Hopefully this can be an important step in your journey in determining the future of your relationship.
Follow Michael S. Broder, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DrMichaelBroder