image of a couple going through a breakup, sitting sadly on a bench
Quiet quitting can often be framed as protecting the other person | Credit: Pexels

“Quiet quitting” has been taking over social media, becoming something of a buzzword around the dating scene. Feeling like you’re over your partner or not motivated to keep up with the relationship? You’re a quiet quitter. 

The term was first coined in relation to jobs where workers would do the bare minimum and were not fully invested in their work. It was an ongoing struggle to find meaning in work, especially since the pandemic. This phenomenon has made its way over to TikTok with American TikTokker, @zaidlepplin posting a viral video and proclaiming that “work is not your life.”

But now, quiet quitting is also beginning to translate to dating and relationships. This new meaning of the term first emerged, of course, on TikTok. i-D credited user Daniel Hentschel played a part in starting the trend, and now the search for quiet quitting in relationships has over 50 million views according to Glamour, evidencing the rising issue in the dating scene. 

Quiet quitting, however, is different from the previous buzzword – ghosting. While ghosting is disappearing on someone without a trace, quiet quitting is a gradual distancing from said person. They are showing up and doing what they’re supposed to ‘on paper’ but the spark is essentially gone as they realise the relationship is not going to last. To some, it also helps in bypassing those awkward “we have to talk” or “it’s not you, it’s me” conversations.

Ashley Parker, 43, has been a relationship therapist for the last 17 years and defines quiet quitting as: “the term used for a partner who is consciously or unconsciously disengaging from their partner emotionally and physically.” She believes that it “can very often lead to the breakdown of the relationship and can be a strategy to avoid having to make active choices about ending things.”

The relationship therapist admits there “could be a multitude of reasons why someone may do this. If there’s a tendency to avoid conflict it may feel easier to withdraw and avoid these,” as awkward break-up conversations are not only uncomfortable but can lead to anxiety for both partners.

She says that another reason for the quiet quitting phenomena could be rooted in the temptation to “to try and convince the other person to feel the same as you,” which often results in quiet quitting and pointing out relationship flaws at the expense of acknowledging the good aspects of the relationship.

The act of quiet quitting in a relationship “can often be framed as protecting the other person and whilst that might seem virtuous, it is usually a mechanism to protect yourself from what you perceive as difficult.” Alternatively, Ashley suggests “it might be someone who feels they are not getting their needs met and believe that by doing this the other person will notice and start doing more without having to ask.” But this is often a misconception and can cause distance between partners. 

She credits the TikTok craze in naming the tendency, but shares that it is “something that has been going on for a long time in relationships.” Ashley adds that “there being a lot of hype may help people to identify it. But on the flip side some normal tendencies in relationships could now be mistaken for quiet quitting.”  

Ashley advises those who find themselves quiet quitting on their partners to “fundamentally do the opposite; notice responsiveness, enthusiasm, making plans, being available and prioritising your relationship alongside your individual needs.”

While there is no ideal way to break up, she advises everyone to remember that the relationship was once good and enjoyable and that being honest and transparent and doing so as soon as you realise the relationship is not going to continue. “Some people feel guilty about the change in feelings and hope that by gradually withdrawing, the other person will come to feel dissatisfied too and want the relationship to end, making it mutual rather than being the ‘bad guy’,” she says.

“There can be a level of guilt and shame attached to a failing relationship so there’s a hope that it may end without you having to be the one to do that.” Although she reminds us to remember the enjoyable aspects of a relationship, she insists boundaries must be set: “You don’t go from sharing a bed to shaking hands.”

But the all important question for lovers is how can you spot quiet quitting in your relationship? Ashley thinks she has cracked the code with her list of common indicators:

  • An avoidance of making or speaking about future plans
  • Withdrawal of affection
  • Creating more distance and pursuing more individual interests without maintaining joint interests
  • Lack of enthusiasm
  • Lack of availability both physically and emotionally
  • Focusing on independence in lieu of interdependence 

Once your partner has begun quitting quietly, it may seem impossible to save the relationship. But Ashley says that sharing how you are feeling with your partner and admitting what you have noticed in their behaviour “from a non-blaming stance will help to open up a dialogue which will be less likely to end in defence and attack.”

An image of a dark haired woman smiling at the camera. It is a selfie of relationship therapist Ashley Parker
Relationship therapist Ashley Parker has noticed the rise of quiet quitters in the dating scene | Credit: Ashley Parker

She says in all relationships, communication is key, and “the only way to invite change is to communicate about your experience of it. The more you are communicating about life in general the more trust will be built to deal with these difficult discussions.”  

While quiet quitting can seem like an easier option it can often cause more pain and confusion with your partner in the long run. It is okay to prioritise your own needs in a relationship but following Ashley’s advice on having open, respectful communication rather than gradually disengaging can mean you can both move on in a clearer, more positive way.