No friendship or relationship is destined to last forever.
At some point, we outgrow the people in our lives, develop different interests, and even in the best circumstances, lose people due to the natural cycle of life and death.
But when is the right time to move on from a relationship that feels doomed? Should we wait it out … should we try to pick up the broken pieces, and if so, for how long? At what point is it acceptable to walk away and never look back?
Burning bridges is a tough and serious decision to make. When we “burn bridges” we are essentially cutting off all contact with a person and making it impossible to return. If you’re struggling with this decision, there are a few things you might like to know first.
When Burning Bridges is the Wrong Choice
Cutting people off is not always the right decision. As much as we would like to quickly dispose of a person who is causing us trouble, sometimes the problem originates more within us than them.
For instance, burning bridges might be the wrong choice if you’re wanting to dispose of a person due to fear of intimacy and the unwillingness to be vulnerable. Both of these problems will not be solved by cutting a person off, and in fact, making such a decision will exacerbate and deepen your insecurities. If you’re uncomfortable with sharing your entire self with another person in a friendship or relationship, the problem obviously isn’t the other person, but your own internal fears and traumas. In order to work through this problem, be honest with yourself and the person in your life. Explain how you feel. If they truly love you, they will understand and will stop trying to make you open up.
Another example of a wrong time to move on would be in the heat of anger (or another strong emotional reaction). When we are consumed by emotions our logic is overridden and we cannot think or see clearly. So many poor and even fatal decisions are made when our amygdala has gone haywire (bring to mind all the crimes of passion you hear on the news). In order to prevent yourself from making a rash decision, force yourself to breathe in and out for a couple of minutes. Removing yourself from the person or situation also helps your mind and body to settle down.
The final example of a wrong time to move on is when a relationship changes and stops being fun and exciting all the time. So many people tend to mistakenly believe that there’s something “wrong” with their relationship as it matures and grows because it’s no longer filled with the same ecstasy experienced at the beginning. But the reality is that every relationship changes: you will not experience the same dizzy euphoria as you did when you first fell in love. But there will be new emotions to experience as you grow and change with your partner. It is normal to feel a bit of boredom every now and then, but this does not necessarily mean that you need to burn bridges and move on. Obviously, if you’re feeling constantly bored and unfulfilled then you should seriously reconsider your relationship. But don’t make the mistake of hopping from partner to partner in an attempt to find that one person who makes you feel euphoric 100% of the time. It just won’t happen.
12 Signs it’s Time to Move On
So when is it the right time to move on?
At some point in our lives, we all need to make the heart-wrenching choice to sever contact with certain people. For some of us, that might mean burning bridges with our ex-partners or friends, and for others, this might mean cutting off contact with our parents, siblings or even our own children.
It is unrealistic – and even dangerous – to believe that all relationships can be repaired, no matter what has happened. We cannot change other people, no matter how hard we try. Yes, we might be able to influence them, but the choice to change comes from them, not us. We cannot force others to change. Therefore, sometimes we need to accept that it’s time to let go, move on, and open a new chapter of our lives because no matter what we do, a person will only change if they are interested in changing.
Letting go can even seem cruel to some people, especially if a strong emotional bond is present. But the reality is that we have to take care of ourselves as well. If a person is not a source of comfort or support in your life, then they hang around you like dead weight holding you back from self-fulfillment. It is not selfish to burn bridges when the person on the other end is feeding off your soul. In fact, deliberately moving toxic people from your life is a sign of self-love and respect for your personal needs.
Here are some major signs that it’s time to move on:
1. They don’t show interest in your thoughts, opinions or needs
Your relationship is very lopsided. Even when you try to express your thoughts and needs, you are met with a blank, uninterested wall. Life seems to revolve around the other person, and whenever you try to draw a conversation towards yourself, this person will immediately try to hog attention. In the past, you may have drawn attention to the fact that this person doesn’t show interest in your needs, but nothing changed and they made no effort to pay attention to you. This person has an “ME first, you second” attitude.
2. They emanate constant negativity
No matter what you do or say, the other person is always unhappy. This person might nitpick, whine, criticize, judge, and moan about you or other people all the time. Not only that, but you always seem to go away feeling miserable after spending time with this person. They are like a damp heavy blanket suffocating your soul.
3. They don’t encourage your freedom
A major red flag: if the other person is controlling and authoritative, back away slowly! If you feel trapped and unable to be your true self, it’s most definitely time to move on. Feeling trapped can also be subtle and passive, for example, a partner or parent who tries to keep you dependent on them so that they have power over you.
4. They twist the truth
You struggle to trust this person because they have lied to you so much in the past. Lying is not always active, it can also be passive, for example, withholding information or details that you needed to know. This person has repeatedly broken your trust and is not transparent with you.
5. They don’t prioritize your relationship
The other person doesn’t seem to value your relationship/friendship as much as you do. While you put in so much work to improve your relationship with them, the other person doesn’t seem to care at all. Even when you have asked them to uphold their side of the relationship, they still ended up prioritizing other things over you. For example, they might spend long nights out with their friends at the pub and return at 3am. Or they might forget dates, meetups or agreements and put work or other commitments above you. While busyness is a normal part of life, this person doesn’t seem to have time on their schedule for you at all.
6. They create constant drama
You feel exhausted having to deal with all of the problems and dramas surrounding this person. Even when something goes well for your friend/partner/family member, they quickly find something else to be unhappy about. You have a sense that this person thrives on drama and is empty without it. You’re tired of hearing detailed accounts of their fights, work dramas, relationship tragedies, righteous opinions, ad infinitum.
7. They feed off your energy
This person seems to be fuelled by your attention and emotional reactions. They might enjoy provoking you to elicit a response that makes them feel like they have power over you. You also feel very tired around them, and almost sucked into their gravitational pull. If you feel this way, you’ve likely got an energy vampire on your hands. While I don’t particularly like this term, it accurately describes people who enjoy leeching off our energy.
8. They’re relentlessly needy
You feel smothered by this other person and like you’re bound to them with a ball and chain. Not only do you have to take care of your needs, but you feel as though you have to take care of their needs as well. This person seems to constantly demand attention, pampering, affection, and favors from you. You’ve tried encouraging this person to stand on their own two feet, but they seem intent on clinging off you. This person seems to be incapable of being self-assured and constantly seeks approval from you.
9. They have physically hurt you
In moments of rage, your friend/partner/family member may have hit you or physically hurt you in some way. While they may have apologized, your trust and confidence around them have been broken. Physical abuse is a crystal clear sign that it’s time to move on and burn bridges, forever.
10. They make you want to hide your true self
You’ve tried being relaxed and open around this person, but you’ve been met with coldness, criticism or judgment. As a result, you may have resorted to hiding your true self and wearing a mask instead. Gradually, you may have even started to forget who you truly are, having become a shell of your former self instead. You feel sick of changing who you are for the other person.
11. They manipulate you
12. They intentionally hold you back
On the surface it may appear that your friend, partner or family member has “the best intentions for you,” but really, they don’t. They are scared. They don’t want you to change. They don’t want you to reach your full potential, for that will make them feel left behind. They don’t want to see you happy, for that will reflect how unhappy they are. They don’t want you to take risks, for that will force them to reconsider their own life choices. As the old truism goes, “misery loves company.” Unhappy people want to be surrounded by other unhappy people because it gives them some sense of consolation. As a result, you might feel like you have to dim down your lights, blend in, and become a wallflower.
After reading this list, please know that you don’t have to say “yes” to every sign. Even if you’re experiencing just one or two of these signs, you should seriously consider the possibility that it’s time to move on. While you don’t have to necessarily burn bridges, you might like to create space and distance and see how you feel.
Hopefully these signs can gently awaken you to the possibility that it’s time to open a new chapter of your life. And please know that feeling things like stress, shame, and grief are all normal reactions. Personally, when it was time for me to burn bridges I felt intense emotional and psychological turmoil for many months. In my case, I had to cut ties with my entire family in order to escape their oppressive fundamentalist religion. But to my surprise, I felt so free and liberated that all of the pain of going through separation was worth it.
I hope you can find the same kind of freedom. Your heart and soul are stronger than you may think.