Five signs that it"s time to WALK AWAY

He turns on the TV when you're talking, cracks sexist jokes at dinner parties and forgets to buy milk… Five signs that it's time to WALK AWAY

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UPDATED:

08:32 GMT, 24 September 2012

When I worked a few years ago as a newspaper dating columnist, there was one question that lovelorn readers asked me all the time. How do you know when you should leave a relationship

I always replied that I wished I knew myself. At the time, I was going out with a colleague whom I was mad about even though he made me apoplectic with frustration, doing perfectly reasonable things like reading the business pages for hours instead of talking to me, and working late in the office because he loved his job.

So I’d pick fights with him and drag our relationship from drama to drama to get attention. He dumped me in the end, worn out by it all, and I spent two years heartbroken, blaming myself.

The end: Vince Vaughan and Jennifer Aniston in the film 'The Break Up'

The end: Vince Vaughan and Jennifer Aniston in the film 'The Break Up'

In truth, I should have worked out earlier that my needy, outgoing personality and his nerdish self-sufficiency were not that well suited. Hindsight, as they say, is a wonderful thing.

You’d think that knowing when to call time on a relationship would be easy. Isn’t it just obvious when the man merrily clipping his toenails on your sofa is not the man you see yourself pruning the roses with in your retirement

But then there is always that fear: what if he is my soulmate and I just can’t see it What if all his irritating habits are just me being fussy What if I never meet anyone I like as much again

My friend Emma is a wreck because she has just broken up with a rather dashing and intelligent mechanical engineer for no more catastrophic reason than the fact that they couldn’t agree about living together. Whenever he stayed at hers, she got irritated with the amount of time he spent in the morning gelling his hair and by the fact that he always forgot to buy milk.

Did this mean he wasn’t the man she should be trying to move in with, let alone spend her whole life with Or was she rejecting a great guy on minor details

Psychotherapist Rachel Sussman, who has counselled hundreds of clients through break-ups, says there is a way to know when you should end it, but it requires brutal honestly with yourself and a lot of courage.

‘I get people in my office all the time who put it off and go back and forth,’ she says.

AISLE BE THERE
The average length of a British marriage is 11 years and six months

It may seem clinical but start with this checklist.

One: Have you started to feel emotionally disconnected from your partner Two: Are you arguing more than you are getting along Three: Has the amount of sex you have changed Four: Has he started doing things that you don’t like or get annoyed by Five: Has he deceived you and you feel you could never trust him again

‘Everyone can feel a bit dissatisfied from time to time and you should talk to resolve these issues,’ says Rachel.

‘But if time and again you feel frustrated that he isn’t listening to you, then it is likely your relationship is in more serious trouble.

‘Things are not right if you have been trying to improve yourself and the relationship over a prolonged period of time and nothing is making a difference.’

Another key thing to assess is you and your partner’s values and future ambitions. Do you want children Does he Do you have the same attitudes towards family, your careers, money and sex

‘These questions may sound unromantic, but if you don’t see eye to eye on practical life points, then the relationship is unlikely to work long-term,’ says Rachel.

But recognising these things is only half the battle. You’ve still got to act on them.

Hindsight: Briget Harrison, pictured, recalls, 'I became a snippy, attention-seeking nightmare girlfriend from hell'

Hindsight: Briget Harrison, pictured, recalls, 'I became a snippy, attention-seeking nightmare girlfriend from hell'

‘Fear often keeps us in relationships that are unhealthy, stale or simply not meant to be,’ says Rachel.

‘We think, what if I don’t meet anyone again What if I get lonely or depressed Then we go into denial and tell ourselves that something is better than it really is.’

At the age of 34, my former flatmate Clara was so afraid of becoming a Bridget Jones-style singleton that she planned to propose to her boyfriend on a leap year — despite the fact that he cracked sexist jokes at dinner parties, turned on the TV mid-way through conversations with her, and would get drunk and take off all his clothes at weddings.

Even though she’d be in a silent rage with him most of the time, she managed to convince herself that he was The One.

Luckily, the relationship ended when she found out that he had made a 10,000 bet with his brother that he wouldn’t get married before he was 40 (he was 32 at the time). She is still annoyed about it today, even though she is happily married to a great guy she met at work.

‘Looking back, there was so much about him that drove me mad,’ says Clara. ‘Why did I make excuses for him all time, instead of just ending it’

Suze Cook, founder of The Picnic Project, a matchmaking and coaching service mainly for singles in their 30s and 40s, says many of her clients have had similar experiences.

‘Women tell us that they sometimes sleepwalk through the latter stages of a relationship,’ she says.

‘They find it hard to be objective and really see the relationship for what it is when they are living and breathing it every day. If they were thinking more consciously about it, they would probably have ended it sooner.’

LET'S SPLIT
'Growing apart' is the most common reason for divorce (27 per cent), ahead of infidelity (25 per cent) and unreasonable behaviour (17 per cent)

It is only with a fresh start that they can look back with more clarity and see that they stopped being themselves. ‘They didn’t recognise the person they had become in the relationship.’

Looking back on my former relationship, I can barely recognise myself. I became a snippy, attention-seeking nightmare girlfriend from hell. Poor guy.

Not, of course, that I am a perfectly serene, undemanding wife to the man I met several years later and married. But I try never to pick fights for the sake of it, and rarely feel the need to.

Indeed, Suze says that when working out if you should be exiting a relationship, you should not just focus on your partner’s faults but on your own behaviour, too.

Ask yourself some hard questions. Do you like how you’re acting Are you kind, fair and polite to your other half Do you enjoy spending time together Do you still find time to laugh

My friend Emma admits that she had become an ogre. She hated herself for being so high-maintenance but every time she promised herself she’d be laid-back, the sight of her boyfriend doing something that annoyed her drove her crazy. In short, the two of them had stopped having fun.

‘Yes, relationships can be hard work, but if they’re only ever hard work, then something is missing,’ says Suze.

But, she adds, your partner needs to play his part, too. ‘We all have fat days and bad hair days, but your partner should be a constant positive in how you feel about yourself,’ she adds. ‘He should be giving you those much needed boosts, like an unexpected compliment or noticing a small detail when you’ve made an extra effort.’

So once we have decided to leave, how can we make a graceful exit to avoid tears, meltdowns and lingering bitterness

Accept, say the experts, there never will be a ‘perfect’ time to end it. But putting it off because you are afraid to hurt that person, or of how he will react, will do more harm than good.

‘You are not doing anyone a favour by keeping it going,’ says Rachel, who says she frequently counsels angry and heart broken men who have been told by their girlfriends things have not been right for months, when they had no clue anything was wrong.

‘Why didn’t she tell me sooner’ they say.’

Letting the pressure build until you explode is not the answer. The best exits — not just from a relationships, but from a job, friendship or even lunch with the in-laws — are planned and premeditated.

‘Do not wait for that perfect moment, or you’ll end up blurting something out at the most inopportune time. Pick a day, write down what you want to say and practise beforehand,’ says Rachel Sussman.

Time to assess: Consider you and your partner's values and future ambitions. Do you want children Do you have the same attitudes to careers (picture posed by models)

Time to assess: Consider you and your partner's values and future ambitions. Do you want children Do you have the same attitudes to careers (picture posed by models)

Compare the experiences of my friends Hannah and Sophia. Hannah broke up with her boyfriend on holiday in the Maldives after realising she was spending most of her time Facebooking friends on her phone.

‘I just blurted out over dinner that we should break up because when we were alone together we had nothing to say,’ she says. ‘We still had three days holiday left on an island that you could walk around in ten minutes. It was hell.’

My friend Sophia, on the other hand, broke up with her boyfriend by firmly explaining over a drink that she didn’t feel they were compatible enough for a long-term future. The next day she sent him a letter full of compliments about their time together, but also to reiterate her point.

‘I practised what to say and didn’t let him try to persuade me otherwise.’ Three months later, she and her ex are friends.

Clean exits take good communication skills, stresses Rachel, but the main problem is too many of us are bad at confrontation. So stick to three golden rules: be honest, keep it simple, be kind.

‘You don’t have to go through everything he did wrong. You just need to stress that you think ultimately you are not compatible and that you have made up your mind.’

There is also a time and a place for the break-up talk, says Suze. ‘Always pick a neutral location and if you are ending a short-term relationship, an after-work, mid-week drink is ideal, as you can have a drink and go.

‘For a longer term relationship there will probably be more talking to do, so do it at the weekend,’ she says.

Breaking up gracefully will mean there is a much better chance that both of you will be able to find happiness in the future, says Suze.

‘People who make a positive exit and try to avoid recriminations are often pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to move on,’ she explains.

So after all those years of not having the right answer to this question — and making a big old mistake myself — here’s my advice.

If you are beginning to wonder if Mr Right is actually Mr Not-Quite-Right, start asking yourself some hard questions.

And if the signs are not good, be brave and make an exit plan. Breaking up, as Abba says, is never easy. But that doesn’t mean it is not the right thing to do.