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If Your Partner Is Doing This, They're About to Break Up With You

This is the "script" that narrates most breakups, according to research.

Research has shown that we tend to follow a script at the beginning of a courtship: we ask many of the same questions to get to know a potential partner in those early days of dating. But now, a new study reveals that breakups function in much the same way, by following certain steps to help us through what can be an emotionally messy process.

According to Psychology Today, researchers analyzed 1,480 survey responses to determine what exactly that cultural script of a breakup consists of. They found that most breakups tended to follow a cyclical pattern that could last for "weeks, months, or even years," revealing just how riddled with indecision most breakups can be. These cyclical elements caused many of the partners to act with what the researchers called "approach and avoidance behaviors." In other words, partners fluctuated between wanting to work things out, and revisiting the idea of separating.

While of course some relationships can turn on a dime after single conflict, most long-term relationships dissolve in stages. So, here it is: the 16-step script that most breakups follow. It may just reveal whether your own relationship is in its final act. And for more on breakups, check out The Real Reason Why Breakups Hurt So Much, According to Science.

A partner loses interest in his or her significant other.

Couple ignoring each other on the couch during a fight

Are you experiencing the normal ebb and flow of a relationship, or the beginning of the end? At this stage it's too early to tell. And for more on breakups, check out these 15 Celebrity Couple Breakups You're Probably Still Mourning.

The disinterested partner starts to notice other dating options.

woman looks very suspicious of her husband smiling when receiving a text. Is he cheating?

Being attracted to someone other than your partner can be totally normal, but viewing them as a potential dating partner means things have escalated in a less healthy direction. 

The disinterested partner begins to withdraw from the relationship.


Whether the withdrawal is emotional or physical, this isn't a good sign. But there's still time to resolve things by talking it out and really hearing your partner's concerns.

The partners try to work things out.

A young couple in discussion together as they walk by the Seine.

This resolution stage is an honest attempt at getting things back on track. Unfortunately, it often comes with a heightened sense of scrutiny for whether things are working. And for more on connecting with your partner, check out these 12 Tips for Couples Who Have Become Long Distance in Quarantine.

The partners spend less time together.

Woman feeling negative emotions lying on the sofa

Spending less time together when the relationship is strained could mean one of two things: that you need a break in order to return to a healthier dynamic, or that you are drifting irreversibly apart.

A lack of interest resurfaces again.

Couple not talking fighting

Obviously you want to avoid a screaming match, but at least if you're fighting, you're communicating. Disinterest, on the other hand, can permanently damage the relationship by shutting that communication down, and undermining confidence in the partnership.

At least one partner considers ending things permanently.


This can be a pretty dark time, and one plagued by indecision. Whatever you decide, it's best to be clear, honest, and compassionate. And for more on breakup ambivalence, check out the 15 Worst Reasons to Delay a Breakup.

The partners communicate their feelings with each other.

Stressed young woman saying sorry after quarrel to frustrated husband.

Voicing your breakup concerns could be exactly what you need to get things back on track. Or you might find that your grounds for breakup are legitimate, and you need to move on, apart. View this time as an opportunity to be as transparent and sincere as possible, so nothing is left unsaid (within reason).

The partners try to work things out again.

latinx man and woman smiling at female couples therapist

Many couples find that all that openness and transparency is exactly the kick in the pants the relationship needed. Some people go off script here, and manage to reconnect while rebuilding their relationship better than before. Others continue on to step 10 and beyond.

Despite trying to work things out, one or both begin to notice other people.

Woman flirting with man using facial expression

If your relationship is on the rocks, now is not a time for that "innocent" flirtation.

One or both partners begin to act distant.

man trying to kiss woman as she looks uncomfortable

At this stage, it's beginning to become clear that you and your partner are trapped in a cycle. Skepticism about the relationship can increasingly take hold if things don't change—and fast.

One or both may go on dates with other people, while still seeing each other.

Young man and woman on coffee date

If you or your partner begins trying on new partnerships, things may be past a point of no return. Usually if you reach this stage, there are other deceits and secrets building up and eroding trust between you.

The cycle repeats itself as the partners get back together one last time.

senior couple embracing at home

Maybe you love each other, or maybe you're just really used to each other and afraid of change. Maybe it's some heart-wrenching combination of the two! If you decide to go for one last Hail Mary to try to save the relationship, this is a time for some serious soul searching.

One or both partners consider breaking up again.

Unhappy lesbian couple sitting on sofa in living room

Indecision and the fear of making the wrong choice might just be the hardest part about breakups, but at some point, you've got to break the cycle one way or the other. Either you're in this relationship and fully committed to building it, or it's time to move on.

At least one partner feels they've moved on, while still technically being in the relationship.

Couple after breakup

At this stage, one or both partners begin to deeply distance themselves within the relationship. Some things can't be saved, despite your best efforts. 

The couple breaks up.

Unhappy young couple. Shadow DOF. Developed from RAW; retouched with special care and attention; Small amount of grain added for best final impression. 16 bit Adobe RGB color profile.

Finally, the relationship reaches an end. You've tried everything, it seems, but it's just not working. All you can do now is try to see eye to eye about the reasons for the breakup and give yourselves the closure you need to heal. This is a tough time, but know that so many people have gone through this same exact process, and know your pain. And, if you've just gone through a rough breakup, soothe that broken heart with The 100 Best Breakup Songs of All Time.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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