A Therapist Discusses 4 Ways To Know If Your Relationship Is Hopeless

A toxic partnership can cause long-term damage to your health and happiness. Here's how to spot the warning signs early.

By Jourdan Travers, LCSW | September 18, 2022

Many people come to therapy questioning the health of their romantic relationship. They may say things like:

  • "I feel like this relationship is a dead end."
  • "Nothing I say or do gets him/her to act differently or make changes."
  • "It's like I'm communicating with a stone wall."
  • "If only he/she would make the slightest bit of effort…"

In this article, I'll talk about four things to look for when trying to decide if your relationship is destined for failure.

#1. Grade your relationship based on actions not words

Psychologists sometimes say that we fall in love with our partners based on their words but we stay with them because of their actions.

Have you noticed a growing disconnect between your partner's words and actions? Have the unkept promises piled up over time? Are you fed up with your partner sweet-talking themselves out of uncomfortable situations?

It's important to hold your partner accountable for what they say they will do — not in a way that makes them feel judged but in a way that reinforces mutual trust and commitment.

Psychological research shows that some of the most difficult personalities to be in a relationship with (narcissists, manipulators, sub-clinical psychopaths, etc.) are quite charming at the outset of the romance. It is only after someone spends a significant amount of time with this person that they begin to see them for who they truly are: all talk and little follow-through.

#2. Determine whether he/she passes the 'constructive criticism' test

Can your partner accept constructive feedback or do they react with hostility, anger, or retribution every time you attempt to make a suggestion? If it's the latter, you might be in for a difficult time.

All relationships involve give and take. Each partner has to be able to admit when they are wrong and engage in honest dialogue while keeping an open mind.

Partners who have an "I'm always right" or "My way or the highway" mentality rarely achieve success in their close relationships. It is the people who are able to empathize and see the perspective of others, even when they disagree with them, that are better suited for relationship success.

Psychologist Everett Worthington has this to say about responding positively to differences of opinion:

"Clearly, we must be able to discuss differences, but I believe that most change happens if we practice committed civility rather than simply react to perceived provocations. Committed civility is about holding our convictions firmly — that's the "committed" part — but acting civilly toward people who hold different positions. If we listen to others with empathy, seeking to understand their position, and act civilly to get behind the position to their real interests, we can often find common ground with our own interests."

Does this quote reflect the behaviors of your partner? Or, do they hold a fundamentally different philosophy on conflict and compromise?

#3. Assess whether your partner is holding up their end of the bargain

It's important to occasionally take stock of both your and your partner's relationship efforts, inputs, and sacrifices. Is each of you giving as much as you are receiving or is there an imbalance in the relationship?

While doing this exercise, remember that people express love and caring in different ways. So, be cautious not to judge someone based on your criteria of what a caring partner should act like. Instead, reflect upon what love and care means to your partner and grade them based on that.

#4. Ask yourself if you've already mentally checked out of the partnership

Sometimes we already know the answer we are looking for. When you're wracking your brain trying to figure out whether your relationship is worth pursuing, search your intuition for the answer. Do you have a feeling in your gut that it's not the right fit and probably never will be the right fit? Or, do you have some deep-down hope and optimism about your relationship's prospects? One question to ask yourself is whether, or how often, you've mentally checked out of your partnership.


Everyone deserves to be happy, whether you're single or in a relationship. If you find yourself feeling like your relationship isn't bringing you happiness, ask yourself:

  1. If your partner's actions speak louder than their words
  2. If your partner passes the constructive criticism test
  3. Whether your partner is giving as much as taking
  4. Whether your mind has already pressed the eject button