What to Do When a Relationship No Longer Sparks Joy

For many people, the completion of a tidying festival is a powerful reset that marks the beginning of a new lifestyle. Tidying is not a destination, but rather a tool that drops you into the present moment and helps you to discern the life you truly want.

A natural next step after tidying is to examine the other areas of your life that need decluttering: your career, your finances, and, perhaps most significantly, your relationships.

When it comes to intimate relationships, knowing what does and does not spark joy isn’t as simple as it is for objects, but the KonMari philosophy is the same.

Here are Marie’s guiding principles for exploring what to do when you feel like a relationship isn’t sparking joy:

  • Step 01Use Your Intuition
  • Step 02Evaluate the Relationship and Your Role In It
  • Step 03If Moving On, Let Go With Gratitude
  • Step 04If Staying, Accept The Person Fully and Commit

To expand on this process, we spoke with award-winning clinical therapist, author and interpersonal architect Dr. Judith Coché, an expert in couples psychotherapy with over four decades of experience in the field.

Use Your Intuition

We all have the innate ability to detect what sparks joy in us, whether it’s an item of clothing or a person we’re connecting with.

Dr. Coché describes intuition as that feeling inside that says, “Come closer so I can know you better,” or warns, “Back off! This is frightening or maddening or boring or not good for me.”

The first step in assessing any relationship is to tap into that intuition.

Evaluate the Relationship and Your Role In It

If you recognize through your intuition that a relationship may not be sparking joy, analyze it more closely.

Ask yourself: “What’s working, what’s not, and what do I really want?”

If there are aspects of the relationship that you have the power to change, Dr. Coché suggests taking charge of those areas and moving the relationship forward by changing within it. This will get you farther than trying to change the other person or waiting for them to do so. As you shift, so will the relationship. “When you change,” says Dr. Coché, “the other person will be forced to make changes in order to be with you.”

“If you determine that the other person’s values are fundamentally different or in conflict with your own, you should consider letting the relationship go.”

By looking frankly at yourself, the relationship and your own role within it, you will also have to confront your past choices and identify your needs in the present. This is often the most painful and tedious part of the process, but at the end of it you will come to understand what you value the most – in life, in yourself and in the relationship.

If, after doing this work, you determine that the other person’s values are fundamentally different or in conflict with your own, you should consider letting the relationship go.

If Moving On, Let Go With Gratitude

The end of a relationship is an opportunity for growth and reflection. If you determine that you should part ways, remember to be grateful for what the relationship has taught you about your values and what you’re seeking in a relationship moving forward.

At this stage, it may be wise to ask for guidance from a professional. Dr. Coché advocates for leaving a relationship when it’s time, but she advises against a sloppy exit. Disentanglement can be complex, especially in cases of co-parenting or for people whose lives are deeply entwined; delicacy and care are required for the welfare of all involved.

Dr. Coché’s rules of deportment are simple: Leave in such a way that you can look back and say, “I did this with integrity.”

Ending a relationship with intentionality and gratitude makes it easier to grow. “We learn so much about ourselves when it is time to move on,” says Dr. Coché. “Loss teaches us to love again.”

“Be grateful for what the relationship has taught you about your values and what you’re seeking in a relationship moving forward.”

If Staying, Accept the Person Fully and Commit

If you decide to hold onto the relationship, you must accept the other person as they are and commit to the relationship fully.

“It’s not necessary to toss out a marriage or loved one just because the relationship sparks inadequate joy,” says Dr. Coché. “Skillful learning, with the help of books and expert intervention, can help couples love the best in their partner and repair what is dysfunctional.”

In her work, Dr. Coché teaches two fundamental sets of skills: building intimacy through active listening and expressing your feelings – as opposed to your thoughts – and interpersonal problem solving, the art of solving problems in a way that works for both people.

She has guided hundreds of people and couples through tough times by teaching these skills. In her estimation, the strongest relationships are the ones in which both people are respectful of each other’s differences but make the health of the relationship their true lodestar.

Relationships are powerful teachers. The process of assessing ones that feel like they are no longer sparking joy is a chance to examine your inner self. The end of an intimate relationship or the renewed commitment to one is a rite of passage to a new life. By going through the steps outlined above you are honoring the person you are becoming now, not the person you were in the past.

This article features the advice of a licensed expert, but it is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment from a trained professional. If you or someone you know needs help leaving an abusive or dangerous relationship, visit The National Domestic Violence Hotline or call at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE).

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.