The 26 Most Common Reasons Why Couples Break Up
According to therapists, these are the problems couples face before they decide to call it quits.
When you think of the most common reasons couples break up, you probably envision infidelity, a partner with a bad temper, or difficulties agreeing on parenting style. But according to therapists, there are plenty more nuanced reasons why relationships fall apart. From small things like never saying thank you to major red flags like refusing to compromise, these are the biggest reasons why your partnership may fail. Read on to learn the biggest breakup reasons and how you can prevent them.
You withdraw during arguments.
In his 2015 research published in the journal Psychological Assessment, Keith Sanford, PhD, a psychology professor at Baylor University, found that partners who admitted to withdrawing often during arguments reported being unhappier and more apathetic about the relationship overall.
"Withdrawal is the most problematic for relationships," Sanford said in a statement. "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."
You don't agree on big-picture decisions.
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 how to save and spend money.
According to certified relationship coach Lesli Doares, "67 percent of disagreements in a relationship never get resolved and they don't need to, but the other 33 percent, if not resolved, can lead to the end of the relationship."
Doares notes that these dealbreakers are often "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."
You hold your partner to unrealistic standards.
Everyone is going to mess up and make mistakes sometimes. And while a supportive spouse handles these slip-ups like an adult, an unsupportive 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'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."
You rely on body language to convey your feelings.
At the beginning of a relationship, couples tend to be honest and open about their feelings and emotions. But as things progress, many people doom their relationships by assuming that their significant other can—and should be able to—read their body language and 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 relationship experts Greg Behrendt and Amiira Ruotola, 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."
Or sarcastic comments.
In addition to body language, sarcastic comments can be a passive-aggressive way of communicating one's feelings. A few harmless jokes here and there are completely normal, but when those jokes take on a biting edge, they could be a sign of trouble.
"Passive-aggressive comments or frequent sarcasm stand in the way of more tender vulnerable moments in a marriage," Nicole Rainey, licensed mental health counselor and co-owner of Mosaic Creative Counseling, previously told Best Life. And depending on the nature of the comment, they can hurt the other person's feelings and cause them to build up resentment.
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 one never knows what goes on behind closed doors.
"Comparison is the thief of joy," note 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 play the blame game in arguments.
Compromising isn't just about letting your spouse choose which restaurant you go to every once in a while. It's also about making sacrifices for the betterment of the relationship, including during arguments. But in a relationship that's reaching its breaking point, you might find that either you or your partner refuse to accept any of the blame, with one of you painting yourself as the victim.
"We are all taught a language of blame when we feel powerful emotions," says Carey Davidson, self-mastery expert, and author of The Five Archetypes. "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."
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.
"Holding resentment is the quickest way to destroy love," says psychotherapist Tina Tessina, PhD. "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 be worn down to the point of no return.
You 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 they feel about emotion—need to be on the same page.
As marriage researcher John Gottman, PhD, discovered, meta-emotion mismatches were 80 percent accurate in predicting divorce. It's not about the conflict itself—it's about handling it in a complementary way to how your partner handles it.
You see your partner as inferior.
Having contempt for your partner is one of the four behaviors that Gottman says is a telltale indicator of an impending divorce. In his research, he polled couples on how often they behaved with contempt, criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Then, he measured perceived relationship satisfaction and found that the behaviors were over 90 percent successful in predicting divorce.
According to Gottman, seeing your partner as inferior is the "kiss of death" for any relationship. And this makes sense, given that another 2010 study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that couples who showed contempt for each other within their first year of marriage were more likely to divorce before their 16th wedding anniversary.
You take your anger out on each other.
In a 2014 study published in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, researchers determined that the people you love most are also the people you're most likely to take your anger out on, given that you interact with them more than anyone. Unfortunately, what they 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.
You have trust issues.
Trust is not an easy thing to build with someone (especially if you've been betrayed in the past), but if you and your partner plan to be together for the long haul, you'll want to have a strong foundation of trust.
"When we trust someone we are assured that this is a safe space. We are secure that we're free from judgment, expectations, and hurt," David Tzall, PsyD, a licensed psychologist, previously told Best Life. "A relationship cannot last long-term if a foundational characteristic of a partnership is not met.
You blame your partner for your own lies.
It probably goes without saying that keeping secrets from your partner is a surefire way to ruin the relationship. But what's even worse is when one member of the couple blames the other for calling them out on the 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," she explains. This type of behavior yields mistrust, resentment, and insecurity.
You're not empathetic.
A healthy and happy relationship should revolve around how each person is feeling. "In times of conflict… we shift our mindset toward recognizing core needs for ourselves and our partners," explains Davidson. "[We try] empathizing with our own unmet needs, empathizing with our partner's unmet needs, and then coming up with a plan for meeting them both."
However, partners in unstable relationships often find themselves fighting with their significant other, with little to no regard for how the other person feels.
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, oftentimes, these life-changing moments will result in other major changes that many relationships struggle to survive.
"Sometimes due to a death in the family, development of an illness, or simply a desire to change careers, a person may want to move to a different area, work less, or pick up bad habits, like drinking, drugs, [or] sex addiction," says family law attorney Regina DeMeo. "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.
It's not necessarily how each partner spends money that causes problems in a marriage, it's how one partner thinks their significant other is spending that does.
When Ashley LeBaron, a graduate student at Brigham Young University (BYU), and her fellow researchers studied couples and their spending habits in 2017, they found that husbands who viewed their wives as big spenders had the greatest financial conflicts, regardless of actual spending habits. "When it comes to the impact of finances on relationships, perceptions may be just as important, if not more important, than reality," LeBaron said in a statement.
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.
According to Mark V. Redmond of Iowa State University, the theory outlines how "we are disturbed when there is no equity in an exchange or where others are rewarded more for the same costs we incurred."
You don't express gratitude.
When your significant other spends the entire day cooking your favorite meal, don't forget to thank them for all that hard work. Otherwise, your partner may feel like 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, MS, CPC, 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 thanks are implied, but it helps your partner to hear that they're appreciated.
You don't go out on dates anymore.
After being together for a long time, it takes work to maintain the spark that once existed in your relationship.
"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."
You'll need to schedule dates (or even intimate time), plan vacations, or even just set aside time to watch your favorite show together.
There's a lack of respect.
A couple will never understand each other 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."
You put every bit of energy into your kids.
Of course, once a couple has children, their entire dynamic will change. But it's still important to make time for the relationship. If you don't, once the kids are out of the house, you might be left feeling like strangers.
Rich Heller, MSW, CPC, founder of Rich in Relationship, previously explained to Best Life that in these cases, couples often "slip into parallel and even divergent lifestyles" and become more like roommates.
You got married too young.
If you got married straight out of high school or college, you may have been too young to fully grasp the challenges that come with marriage later on. And a 2013 study published in Couple and Family Psychology found that marrying in one's early 20s led to a higher likelihood of divorce.
Perhaps the reason for this is that figuring out things like finances, living arrangements, and future career paths set up a solid relationship foundation. To this point, a 2001 survey of more than 2,000 married and divorced people in Oklahoma found that "little or no helpful premarital preparation" was a top reason cited by divorcees for why their marriages didn't last.
Things fizzle out in the bedroom.
Sometimes relationships fall apart because of issues in the bedroom. And more often than not, this disconnect has nothing to do with sexual attraction or desire, but rather with poor communication and an emotional distance that's built up between you and your partner.
"The [impetus] is that you no longer feel safe, comfortable, or connected with your partner," Tzall previously explained to Best Life. "The couple speaks less and less and does not share their needs or desires, emotionally, mentally, and physically." In these cases, it can help to speak to a couples counselor about the root of the problem.
Or the relationship is too intimate.
All newlyweds should express some level of affection—but too much of any good thing can be a problem too. According to an oft-cited 2001 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, so naturally, it will burn out faster than one that starts as a manageable spark.
Unsurprisingly, infidelity is one of the most common reasons why relationships fall apart. In fact, a 2022 survey conducted by YouGov found that 33 percent of Americans have cheated on a partner (either physically, emotionally, or both), while 54 percent have been cheated on. And such a blow to a relationship can be hard to recover from.
"The partner who was hurt by the infidelity may find it difficult to move on, as they might be plagued by thoughts, questions, and memories related to the infidelity, while the partner who was unfaithful may experience frustration over needing to rehash conversations or answer questions they've already addressed," Denise Fournier, LMHC, CCTP, a therapist at Evergreen Therapy, previously explained to Best Life.