Considering the emotional chaos a breakup can cause, we compiled the following list of questions everybody should ask themselves before terminating a long-term relationship:

1. Do we still laugh?

Relationships require negotiation and maintenance, but they should also contain healthy doses of fun, frivolity, and maybe even silliness. Because even in the most workable relationships partners will get on each other’s nerves, the ability to laugh at both oneself and with the other is crucial for counter-balancing conflict.

So ask yourself… Is there too much drama in your relationship? Does it wear you out? Does your time together always end up in conflict? Do little things produce big power struggles? If most of your encounters bring you down, it may be time for a change.

2. How’s our sex life?

Sex and intimacy are very important ingredients in a successful relationship. Especially during stressful times, sex simplifies back to the physical. This allows both tension relief and deeper, more soulful connections between partners.

While there’s no “right” amount of sexual relations, it’s important that both partners feel content with the kind of sex their having, and how much sex they’re having. An infrequent sex arrangement may be perfectly fine, but only if both partners are ok with it..

3. Are we still each other’s first priority?

Think about this… Stephanie and Tom have been seeing each other for six years. Tom is enmeshed with his family and what they think of everything. He consults with them every time he and Stephanie have a disagreement. He asks his father’s and brother’s opinion on every aspect of his and Stephanie’s partnership, and uses this to guide how he negotiates his needs with Stephanie. Do you think this healthy?

A primary love relationship should take precedence over all other relationships, including families of origin, friends, and coworkers. One’s ability to prioritize one’s mate over all others is an accurate measure of a person’s maturity and ability to negotiate from a place of autonomy.

4. Do we fight constructively, i.e., are we able to effectively resolve conflicts?

While excessive fighting strains a relationship, a lack of conflict is not necessarily a good thing either. If partners have to tip-toe around each other, thereby failing to communicate and oppressing their feelings, their relationship will become growth-stunted and stagnant.

It is better to agree on fighting constructively. Try to diffuse any power struggles that ensue in favour of objective resolution of any underlying issues (including agreeing to disagree when appropriate). Strive for a “win-win” compromise. Doubt any partnership where there is no conflict or mutually agreed upon rules for fighting. You don’t want to wake up one day wondering what happened when your partner decides to leave the relationship.

5. Do we still love each other?

This may seem obvious and oversimplified, but if there is no love left, your relationship is not sustainable.

6. Do we share a common vision about life together as we go forward?

Consider this… Anne is the oldest of nine children and always assumed she would be the mother of many children. Although Frank also has many siblings, he loves his peaceful and perfectionistic life. When they fell for one another, Frank jumped into the relationship with both feet. However, now that they are committed to one another, Frank is feeling trapped into going in a direction he doesn’t want, and is balking at having children at all; Anne now feels robbed of a family and future she thought they had openly agreed to.

Nothing breaks up a relationship faster than one or both partners asking the other to be someone they are not.

Be honest with both your partner and yourself. Does your partner want an open relationship whereas you do not? Do you both want children? What are your financial goals? What kind of lifestyle do each of you want?

For each of the questions above, make an honest appraisal of your relationship for what it is, not what you want it to be. If there are deal breakers present… you may as well end things before you invest too many years and too much energy in something that is inevitably unsustainable. If there are no deal breakers, be prepared to do the work of a relationship!

So really, what does your brain have to do with having better relationships? The answer is… well,…everything! Studies have shown that specific neural pathways are already hard-wired in to actively aid us in engaging in happy, healthy relationships. Not only that, happy, healthy relationships cause those pathways to grow stronger and stronger.

In short, stronger neural pathways for connecting with others make your relationships more resilient and rewarding. However, the reverse is also true. In chronically bad relationships, the pathways do not get enough reps of stimulation they need, in other words, they are not activated often enough. Then the neural pathways actually lose their strength, and your relationship gets weaker. That is very significant! Because people who are chronically isolated and disconnected fro others get ill more often and have shorter life spans.

For these reasons, it’s best you explore and enhance your brain-relationships connections. Here are some tips to begin:

1. Practice acceptance… and your pain will decrease or vanish.

Acceptance is the new pill for pain relief. Have you ever been at a family holiday gathering where all you got was negative attention? Have you ever been ignored at work meetings, like no one is open to your suggestions? Are you a member of a minority group that is marginalized for reasons beyond your control? If any of these resonate (and they do for most of us) chances are you are in some kind of emotional pain. This type of pain is as real to your brain as any other.

Relational neuroscience reveals the neural pathway activated during physical injury or illness is the EXACT SAME one that is activated while feeling the pain of social exclusion. If you are humiliated, bullied or shunned regularly, your pain pathways are literally electrified… and not in a way that feels pleasant!

Here are a few tips for easing relationship pain:

Stop judging yourself so harshly. It is likely that if you’ve been negatively judged regularly by others, you are too well practiced at judging yourself negatively. In other words, you don’t even need to avoid others because you self-administer your own pain! Spend awhile on two or three separate occasions and write down each judgment (they can be directed at yourself or others) that comes into your head. With this new-found awareness, start labeling the judgments as neutral “thoughts & projections… not reality or truth”, and shift your focus to a time when you felt accepted and unconditionally accepted within a relationship. Negatively judging yourself or others perpetuates the pain and feeds the power of social rejection. As you practice self-acceptance, pain will decrease!

Practice a daily love-based meditation… this will lead to a deep-seated feeling of being one with an all accepting universe.

2. Understand the power of being calm.

Do your best friends and family members help you feel calm, or do you need to escape to your peaceful hideaway after being with them? Your response to this question will be hugely dependent on the functioning of your smart vagus nerve.

If you have “good vagal tone”, this neural network (which innervates your inner ear, face, and throat) signals the stress response system to shut off so that you can interact safely with others. When vagal tone is low, you may feel more agitated or even frightened around others. Naturally, if someone is threatening you, you’ll want that sympathetic nervous system to invoke the “fight or flight response”. But quite often, when someone’s smart vagus is weak, they feel frightened even when their environment is not dangerous.
To strengthen your smart vagus, give the following a try:

Make an extra effort to make eye contact and greet people you normally walk past. This could be a colleague, somebody at the hardware store… literally anyone you encounter. Be conscious of the uplifting feeling you get when they reciprocate. This is a small workout for your smart vagus nerve.

Or… take action to lower your stress response every single day. This could be as easy as breaking three times throughout your day and taking nine deep breaths. You could meditate for five minutes, or go for a speed walk at lunchtime. As your sympathetic nervous system slowly deactivates, your smart vagus will become more efficient re: allowing you to feel calm in the presence of people who are non-threatening to you.

3. Tap into the power of emotional resonance.

Understanding others and being understood are the hallmarks of a happy, healthy relationship. This resonance exists not only in the gaps among people, but also in the brains and bodies of each person in the relationship. This is possible via the “mirror neuron system” (MNS). The MNS lets you automatically “get” what other people are intending, doing, or feeling because it produces an internal mimicking of the other person’s experience. For instance, if I hug somebody, in your nervous system you are doing it too. In other words, MNS helps put you in others’ shoes… allows you to feel empathy. To maintain this system so it remains active and accurate, you need to stimulate it often.

Here are some methods for increasing the power of emotional resonance and firing up your MNS:

Leave your phone at home and have real “face time” with others more often. This lets you have a whole body workout of the MNS because you experience the other person totally and in context. Both are crucial for accurate people-reading.

Practice! Next time you’re with a friend you are comfortable with, agree to pause throughout your time together to practice “reading” each other. Check in for accuracy. You’ll probably find that you make some interesting but wrong projections about each other!.

4. Ask yourself if your relationships feel safe and energizing.

The dopamine (neurotransmitter) reward system can be your biggest ally, or your hardiest foe. When present during a healthy relationship, you get hits of energy, pleasure, and motivation from your dopamine secretions. However, when you are isolated or disconnected fro others, this same system can steer you toward vices like drugs, Internet porn, gambling, and other addictions that isolate you further.

Here’s how to sustain high relational energy levels:

Identify relationships in your life that you really enjoy. When you feel depressed, stressed or lonely, reach out to those people. If you feel too clingy or needy doing that, invite them into mutual pacts… they can connect with you when they need a lift.

Pat and cuddle your pets. That’s right, relationships with animals can conjure up some of the same wonderful dopamine that human relationships can, for both you and your pet.

So there you go! Emotions (including love) don’t just live in “your heart,” they also inhabit your mind. It’s not easy, but you can train your brain to strengthen your ability to make connections with others. In other words, the same way you go to the gym as part of a healthy lifestyle, make sure to exercise your brain as well. You’ll not only be wiser, but your emotional intelligence will skyrocket… as will the health and happiness of your relationships.