While the last thing couples want to think about is breaking up, the sad reality is that it happens—a lot. In fact, according to recent figures out of the American Psychological Association, as many as 50 percent of marriages in the United States eventually end in divorce.
So how can you tell whether your marriage will survive? Well, there are surefire predictive tells. Your credit is one. So are your bedroom habits. Even the way you carry your day-to-day conversations can shed light on your relationship’s long-term potential.
But you needn’t worry! To prevent your relationship from shattering beyond repair, we’ve talked to relationship experts and combed psychological studies to reveal the most common reasons why relationships fall apart. Hopefully, it’ll help point you in the right direction. And for more relationship advice, don’t miss the 30 Ways to Have a Happy Long-Distance Relationship.
You (or your partner) withdraw during arguments.
“Withdrawal is the most problematic for relationships,” Keith Sanford, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Baylor University, told Science Daily. In his research, Sanford found that partners who admitted that they withdrew often during arguments reported being unhappier and more apathetic about the relationship overall.
“It’s a defense tactic that people use when they feel they are being attacked, and there’s a direct association between withdrawal and lower satisfaction overall with the relationship,” Sanford said. And if you’re fighting with your partner often, then you may want to consider these 20 Surefire Signs Your Relationship Is Over.
There are trust issues.
Trust is not an easy thing to build with someone (especially if you’ve been betrayed in the past), but you should at least have faith in the person with whom you intend to spend the rest of your life. Should you build a partnership on a foundation of mistrust, you risk being in a relationship lacking intimacy both physical and emotional, and you can almost guarantee that eventually your partner will get fed up and walk away. And if you struggle with opening up, try these 50 Easy Ways to Be Nicer to Yourself.
You’re not on the same page.
When Virgil wrote that love overcomes all obstacles, he had clearly never been in a serious relationship. Yes, love can overcome many things, but if there’s one thing that it can’t overcome, it’s not being on the same page. At the end of the day, you and your partner need to be clear about fundamental decisions like where to live, when and if to have kids, and when you want to get married—because otherwise, the relationship will fall apart, and it won’t be amicable.
“Sixty-seven percent of disagreements in a relationship never get resolved and they don’t need to,” explains Lesli Doares, a certified relationship coach. “But the other 33 percent, if not resolved, can lead to the end of the relationship. Desires of one partner for the relationship to get more serious, personal beliefs and values, the kind of lifestyle each person wants to live, and wanting to have children are just some of the issues that need to be resolved if the relationship is going to survive. These are the ‘deal breaker’ issues.”
You only think about yourself.
Relationships are all about give and take—and if you take more than you give, then the balance will be thrown off and your partner will likely seek comfort in other places and people. In fact, this is such a well-known phenomenon that experts have even given it a name: It’s called the Social Exchange Theory, and it outlines how “we are disturbed when there is not equity in an exchange or where others are rewarded more for the same costs we incurred.”
You’re just not compatible.
Sure, opposites attract. But at the end of the day, opposites are also extremely incompatible, and they can’t always figure out how to make a long-lasting relationship work. Little things like messiness and movie preferences are negligible, but it’s the bigger things like political views, senses of humor, and spending habits that can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. And for more things that might be ruining your romance, don’t miss The 50 Worst Pet Peeves That Grind on Relationships.
You and your partner don’t express your emotions similarly.
Have you ever found yourself crying in a fit of rage while your partner hasn’t so much as shed a tear? This may be a sign that your relationship is on the rocks. A couple’s meta-emotions—that is, how people feel about emotion—need to be on the same page, and as John Gottman, PhD, marriage research extraordinaire, discovered, meta-emotion mismatches were 80 percent accurate in predicting divorce. Basically, it’s not about avoiding conflict, but about handling it in a similar way to your partner.
You refuse to compromise.
Compromising isn’t just about letting your spouse choosing which restaurant to go to every once in a while. In a healthy, committed relationship, to compromise is to make “the conscious choice to accept each other for exactly who you are,” writes Dr. Laura Schlessinger, a relationship expert and host of The Dr. Laura Program, a Sirius XM radio show. “If you want your relationship to last, you need to give up your need to be right and in control all of the time.”
You take your anger out on your significant other.
Scientists have determined that the people you love most are also the people you’re most likely to take our anger out on, given that you interact with them more than anyone else. But unfortunately, what they’ve also found is that “aggression is harmful to individuals and to relationships,” meaning that the more you hurt the people you love, the more you risk pushing them away. And if you find yourself constantly enraged, try these 20 Best Ways to Calm Your Anger Instantly.
You’re holding on to the past.
It’s hard to focus on the present when you’re too busy living in the past. And this is especially true when something like a romantic relationship is involved, as your complete and undivided emotional and physical presence are required in order to make that relationship work. If you’re struggling to get over an ex or can’t move on from a bad breakup, try these 75 Genius Tricks to Get Instantly Happy.
You got married too soon.
As a general rule of thumb, you should get married if and when you are ready, and you shouldn’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. However, if you got married straight out of high school or college and are now starting to reconsider your relationship, then you might want to look at the results of a study from Nicholas Wolfinger, a professor at the University of Utah.
He found that couples who married younger are at greater risk for divorce compared to couples who wed in their late 20s and early 30s. Unfortunately, if you got hitched when you were under the age of 20, Wolfinger estimates that your divorce risk is at 32 percent based on age alone, compared to just a 14 percent risk for those who wed in their early 30s.
You see your partner as inferior.
Having contempt for your partner is one of the four behaviors discovered by Gottman to be a telltale indicator of impending divorce. When he and psychologist Robert Levenson polled how often couples behaved with contempt, criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling and subsequently measured perceived relationship satisfaction, they found that the behaviors were 93 percent successful in predicting divorce.
According to Gottman, seeing your partner as inferior in particular is the “kiss of death” for any relationship. And this makes sense, given that another recent study found that couples who showed contempt for one another within their first year of marriage were more likely to divorce up to 16 years into the holy matrimony. Before your relationship becomes just another divorce statistic, try these 50 Relationship Quotes to Reignite Your Love.
The relationship was too intimate.
All newlyweds should express some level of affection—but too much of any good thing is just too much. According to one study published in the journal Interpersonal Relationships and Group Processes, couples who displayed overly intense amounts of affection at the onset of the marriage were more likely to get divorced in the long-run compared to couples who were less overtly affectionate. A fire that strong takes a lot of effort to keep alive, and so naturally it will burn out faster than one that starts as a manageable spark.
You love alcohol, but your partner doesn’t.
If you love a good nightcap before heading to bed, then you should be sure that the partner of your choosing enjoys one as well. One study from the University of Buffalo found that 45 to 55 percent of couples with differing alcohol habits got divorced before they hit the 10-year mark in their marriage.
However, partners who had similar drinking habits (either adoring or abhorring alcohol) only had a divorce rate of about 35 percent. And if you’re one of those people who loves a good cocktail, know that This Is Exactly How Much Alcohol You Should Drink.
Your relationship is full of secrets.
Secrets, secrets are no fun—especially in a long-term relationship. And what’s even worse than lying is when “your partner keeps secrets from you and blames you when you call them out on their secrecy,” according to Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW, a relationship expert and therapist.
“They will say things like, ‘You just couldn’t handle it if I was open and honest with you, which is why I had to lie,'” Gaspard explains. If you notice your partner lying to your face and then holding you responsible for their loathsome actions, it might be time to sit down with them and address the problem directly—before things escalate further.
You never take any blame.
In a good relationship, a fight will end with both parties apologizing and taking partial blame for what has transpired. But in a relationship that’s reaching its breaking point, you might find that either you or your partner refuses to accept any of the blame, with one of you painting themselves entirely as the victim.
“We are all taught a language of blame when we feel powerful emotions,” says Carey Davidson, CEO of integrative healthcare company Tournesol Wellness. “It’s so much easier to become a victim than it is to think about our emotions as our body’s way of telling us [that] our core needs for growth aren’t being met.”
Your relationship lacks respect.
A couple will never understand one another when there is a lack of reverence in the relationship. And if one partner has a blatant disrespect for the other’s life choices, neither partner will ever feel comfortable talking about their day, let alone their feelings or beliefs.
“The biggest reason that I see on why a relationship does not work out is that one partner does not respect the other,” says Alexis Dent, owner of wedding vow company XO Juliet. “That is a formula for disaster, as they will never be on the same page and things will fall apart.”
A big life event rocked the relationship.
A big and unexpected life event like the death of a parent or a sudden job layoff can shake a relationship to its core. And often times, these big events will result in other long-term life changes that many relationships just can’t survive.
“Sometimes due to a death in the family, development of an illness, or simply [due to] a desire to change careers, a person may want to move to a different area, work less, or they pick up bad habits like drinking, drugs, sex addiction—things like that,” says Regina DeMeo, a matrimonial attorney. “If your partner doesn’t agree with these changes, then you no longer have a shared vision of where you need to be or where you are heading, which leads to irreconcilable differences.”
You don’t trust your spouse with money—or vice versa.
“When it comes to the impact of finances on relationships, perceptions may be just as important, if not more important, than reality,” says Ashley LeBaron, a graduate student at Brigham Young University (BYU). When she and fellow researchers studied couples and spending habits, they found that husbands who viewed their wives as big spenders created the greatest financial conflicts, regardless of actual spending habits. And as perception was the issue more so than actual money, the BYU team also determined that these financial issues led to marriage difficulties overall.
You started a family right off the bat.
Starting a family is a big decision that shouldn’t be rushed into, and if you do jump the gun on that choice, it could kill your marriage. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, couples in their first marriage who waited at least eight months after their wedding day to conceive were more likely to still be together after 15 years than those who got pregnant before getting married or within the first seven months.
You’re not empathetic.
A healthy and happy relationship should revolve around how each person is feeling. However, partners in unstable relationships often find themselves fighting with their significant other with little to no regard for what the other person feels.
“In times of conflict, when we shift our mindset toward recognizing core needs for ourselves and our partners, we become heroic—empathizing with our own unmet needs [and] empathizing with our partner’s unmet needs and then coming up with a plan for meeting them both,” explains Davidson. And if you want to focus on your partner and make your relationship work, try these 10 Bedroom Moves That Will Save Your Relationship.
You don’t express your gratitude.
When your significant other spends the entire day slaving away on a home-cooked meal, don’t forget to thank them for all that hard work. Otherwise, your partner will feel like all their efforts have gone unnoticed, or that you feel like your time is more valuable than theirs.
“Taking a partner for granted undermines all relationships,” explains Poppy Spencer, M.S., LCPC, a certified counselor and relationship expert. “Whether people acknowledge it or not, being a value to a significant other is essential. When gratitude is not expressed, emotional, and sometimes physical, health is compromised.” You might think that your gratitude is implied, but it helps your partner to hear that they’re appreciated. And if you really want to show your spouse you care, take them on one of the 40 Best Date Ideas If You’re Over 40.
You’re afraid of being alone.
Many people will avoid conflict and pretend that issues in their relationship don’t exist simply because they live in fear of being alone. However, this strategy backfires, as all conflicts will rear their ugly heads eventually—and by then, it’s usually too late to solve them. “Being afraid of being alone, and thus willing to accept any relationship no matter how unhealthy, is another common pattern that keeps relationships from working,” says Doares. “Appropriate boundaries need to be identified and enforced.” And to easily spot if you’re guilty of this behavior, bone up on the 20 Signs You’re Afraid of Being Alone.
You rely on body language to convey your feelings.
At the beginning of a relationship, good couples tend to be honest and open about their feelings and emotions. But as it progresses, many people doom their relationships by assuming that their significant other can—and should be able to—read their body language and just know what’s on their mind.
“Where a conversation once existed, now there is silence, an eye roll, or edgy energy emitting that becomes divisive if not ultimately crushing,” explain Greg Behrendt and Amiira Ruotola, relationship experts and authors of It’s Called a Breakup Because It’s Broken. “Over time we get too comfortable in our partnership, too lazy, or sometimes even become apprehensive and we stop communicating thoughtfully with each other.”
You rely on your partner to validate you.
Insecure folks use their partners as a crutch in order to feel better about their many perceived shortcomings. And when the relationship is less than satisfactory, they see this as a slight against who they are as a person, which can lead to anger, frustration, and ultimately, the end of the relationship. Unfortunately, there’s just no reasoning with someone who pins their self-worth to the status of their relationship.
You keep trying to change your significant other.
One of the most important parts of being in a relationship is loving your partner for who they are, without trying to change them. People who secretly wish that their partner was just a little bit more fashionable or athletic will find that they love an unrealistic version of their partner, and not the actual person with whom they’re coupled. It always helps to remember that love is unconditional—and if yours isn’t, then it might not be love after all.
You hold your partner to unrealistic standards.
Your partner is likely doing the best they can—but like any human, they’re going to mess up and make mistakes sometimes. And while a good spouse handles these slip-ups like an adult, a bad one will treat their partner like they should be perfect 100 percent of the time, leading to frustration on both ends.
“When your partner doesn’t measure up to something they didn’t even sign up for, there is a tendency to try to change them with no understanding that your own behavior plays a huge role,” says Doares. “By focusing on your partner, it allows for justification as to why they are the problem.”
You don’t forgive or forget.
You can pretend to settle an argument with your spouse just to make it go away, but that is only going to make things worse. Why? “Holding resentment is the quickest way to destroy love,” says Tina Tessina, Ph.D., a psychotherapist. “Resentment is like the rust that eats away at the bonds of your relationship.” If you don’t resolve the underlying issues that are causing your resentment and anger, then your relationship will inevitably burst at the seams like an overstuffed teddy bear. And if you find yourself constantly annoyed, read up on the 23 Signs You’re Too Negative.
You don’t go out on dates anymore.
After getting married, it takes work to maintain the spark that once existed in your relationship. If you don’t work on keeping it alive, you risk falling into the same old routines, until seeing each other becomes a chore rather than a blessing.
“From the moment you begin to live together, romantic moments are no longer automatic,” says Tessina. “Instead, much of your time together is spent on more mundane things: doing laundry, washing dishes, paying bills, or going to work. As soon as the initial newness of living together wears off, such everyday things cease to feel exciting and romantic, and you may find yourself feeling worried that your partner no longer cares as much or is as excited to be with you.” If you want to make an effort to show your partner that you care, try these 50 Ways to Keep Your Marriage Fresh.
You compare your relationship to everyone else’s.
The worse things are in your own relationship, the better everyone else’s is going to look. But by comparing yourself, you are only going to feel worse about things and ultimately sabotage whatever of your relationship there is left to salvage. “Comparison is the thief of joy,” say Behrendt and Ruotola. “Focus on your own relationship rather than coveting someone else’s. The grass is greener where you water it and no relationship is as flawless as it looks on Instagram.”
You don’t listen.
Every person in a relationship just wants their voice to be heard—but in return, you need to give your partner that same respect and actually listen to what they’re saying. If your partner sees you ignoring them as they speak, they will feel like their opinions and feelings aren’t important to you—and consequently, neither is the relationship. And for more ways to spot a sinking ship, check out the 20 Relationship Warning Signs Smart Couples Never Ignore.
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