When a relationship hits a truly rocky point—a big blowout fight, struggling with long distance—it can be tempting to split up and start fresh with someone new. And of course, in certain cases, a breakup is mandatory for your physical and emotional well-being. But there are certain circumstances that warrant considering a second try.And in fact, being on the brink of—or even going through—a breakup can actually make your bond stronger for some long-term couples (we’re talking to you, Justin and Jessica!) because you’re both forced to confront and deal with the tough stuff that has plagued your relationship in the past.Here, five signs that your relationship may deserve a second chance.
1. You have a lot invested.
Kids, pets, property…the more stuff you and your partner share, the more it’s worth it to try to salvage your relationship, notes Andrew Christensen, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles. “External reasons can certainly be a reason to try and work things out,” he says. “I advise couples in this situation to see a third party, such as a couples’ therapist or mediator, and for both of them to agree to put in effort for a reasonable amount of time. Having another party can help facilitate discussions that are hard to happen on their own.”
2. You or he dropped the “B” (breakup) word in anger.
When your partner utters the word “breakup,” chances are, you immediately think it’s over. But throwing down that word isn’t always an automatic relationship-ender, especially if the phrase was just dropped once in the heat of anger. Sure, the words are incredibly hurtful, but that doesn’t mean it’s what your partner truly wants. “Sometimes people think that a higher state of emotional arousal means that their partner is speaking the truth—that anger drops polite barriers—but that’s not the case,” reminds Dr. Christensen. “People say things when they’re angry that they don’t mean.” Speaking calmly and openly after the fight can help you both parse out how you really feel and if the relationship is worth saving.
3. You bicker a lot.
If you and your partner are “that couple” who always seem to be arguing, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your relationship is doomed—it’s all about how the conflicts are managed. “Oftentimes, fights come from having different communication patterns, which are usually formed from your family and from the way you witnessed your parents communicate,” explains Kate Campbell, a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. If you and your partner always seem to end up at a dead end around the same issues, a few sessions with a counselor can be helpful in getting you both to speak the same language, explains Campbell.
4. Your lives seem to be going in opposite directions.
He accepted a job on the west coast while you’re on the east coast. You’re going to grad school during the day while he’s burning the midnight oil at the office. Whenever practical obstacles—schedules, geography—get in the way, it can be tempting to throw in the towel. And while things may not work out in the long run, it doesn’t mean you should preemptively call it off, thinking the distance will drive you apart emotionally. In fact, a 2013 study found that couples in long distance relationships actually felt closer to their partner than geographically-close couples—likely, researchers postulate, because they have to work try harder to communicate intimacy and affection.”
Both partners need to make an effort to stay connected, and there needs to be a willingness to compromise so there is a balance of give and take in the relationship,” reminds Campbell. Talking through how you feel and coming up with solutions to obstacles ahead of time can help minimize issues before they start. For example, if your partner’s business school schedule means you and he rarely get to see each other, discuss how to work through it by, say, scheduling date nights or using weekends to primarily catch up with each other to help keep your relationship on track. And little things make a big difference, reminds Campbell. “Sending a sweet note or text during the day to let them know you appreciate them, saying ‘I love you’ before bed and making sure to celebrate birthdays, promotions and holidays—even if they have to be from afar—can keep you both tight, even when your schedules are pulling you apart,” she says.
5. You or he made a major mistake once.
“I’ve seen all sorts of betrayals in my practice, ranging from small-scale things to infidelity,” says Campbell. “All types of betrayals are really tough; they’re challenging and devastating but not impossible [to overcome] if both parties are willing to communicate and do the work.” In fact, some couples are actually stronger after a major mistake because of the intense work required to regain trust. Counseling can absolutely make communication easier while working through a major betrayal, such as infidelity. But to get over the initial anger and disappointment of less egregious missteps, such as, say, him going to a strip club with his buddies when you explicitly asked him not to, try imagining the situation as though it were happening in your best friend’s relationship. A 2014 Canadian study found that distancing yourself from a conflict and thinking of it from an outsider’s perspective helps you think more clearly about an issue. Doing so may help you be less emotionally reactive when you confront your partner and better able to work through things so you can repair your relationship—if you decide to give him a second chance.