The beginning of a relationship is almost always accompanied with hopes that partners would continue to love and support each other in the days to come. Unfortunately, many times such hopes are belied and relationships run aground. Here are the ten most common reasons why people break up and couples drift apart.
Mutual love and trust are the foundation for a meaningful relationship in a mainstream monogamous society. When a partner indulges in an extramarital affair, the action strikes at the very heart of a relationship which is often unable to cope with the emotional and practical consequences and heads towards breakup. The strongest proof of how infidelity is the most common cause of a breakup lies in the rising divorce rates in modern society. Even though us government statistics1 put it at a rather conservative estimate of 3.6 divorces per thousand populations, so much is without doubt that marriages breaking up are more common now than ever in America. And one of the most common reasons for divorces is extra marital affairs. According to a statistics gleaned from 2004, the highest percentage of divorces - as much as 27% - in the US are caused by extramarital affairs with family strains and then marital abuse coming at the second - 18% - and third - 17% - most common reasons for divorce respectively. In yet another study2, more than 25 percent of the women said that their husbands' unfaithfulness was a factor in their divorce. If so many marriages are breaking up mainly because of infidelity, its impact on non-marital, monogamous relationships is bound to be even larger where the legal and family ties of a marriage are absent.
While sexual intercourse is not a necessary part of a relationship, physical intimacy certainly is. It is only when two people enjoy and desire intimacy with each other that they make a couple in the romantic sense and are different from close friends of opposite sexes. In fact for serious and long term relationships like marriage, the quality of sexual satisfaction can be a reliable indicator as to its health – while happy couples may differ on how often and how much they are doing it, a common characteristic of relationships on the verge of breakup is complete lack of sexual or even physical intimacy. Then again sex is not simply a physical act of release – there are a whole lot of other aspects to it like emotions, senses, hormones, perceptions and so on. Thus it is no wonder that different things satisfy different individuals. When taken to an extreme, diverging sexual likes and dislikes, sexual fetishes and sexual dysfunction induce sexual incompatibility and eventually lead to a breakup.
Together with sex and infidelity, money issues rank among the most common reasons for conflict in a committed relationship like marriage. Money may be used to dominate a relationship or satisfy a hungry ego. Too little of it can be a source of anxiety especially when there are mortgages to be paid off or kids to be educated. Again too much of it can also lead to inflated egos and breaking bonds. Conflicts about money usually arise when partners have differing priorities. While a man may believe in splurging on a new sports car, a woman may feel that the money is better spent on a long vacation to an exotic location. Yet another common complaint about money in a relationship is that the partner who controls the purse strings assumes that he or she can control the relationship. Traditionally, a husband took most of the decisions in a marriage since he was the major and often the only earning member. Even though the situation has now improved with women being financially independent and couples not always living as a married couple, the old mindset can still spell trouble in a relationship and lead to imbalance of power. Above all a relationship is doomed when money is used as a bartering counter. If one feels that any of his/her needs as a partner, like greater intimacy, are not being met within a relationship, he/she may be prone to using the lure of money or expensive gifts to get what he/she want. After the first few times, this will only make the other partner feel cheap about the relationship besides leaving the underlying issues unresolved, inevitably leading to a breakup.
When two people form a relationship, they are usually do it with the expectation that the heady days of love will last forever. But over time when the partners get accustomed to each other, they get comfortable in the relationship and settle down in a routine. Then one day this routine and the daily responsibilities of a shared life are too much to bear. One or both partners find out that the spark has gone from their relationship, the relationship is boring and no longer fulfills their needs. Breakups caused by this are commonly known as “falling out of love” or “growing apart”. Even if on its own, this may not be a common reason for splitting, the emotional disconnect caused by boredom makes the relationship prone to other dangers, most commonly affairs.
- Intellectual compatibility
While a sexual and emotional disconnect are the most common reasons for straying in a relationship, an equally valid reason could be lack of intellectual compatibility between the partners. Intellectual compatibility is an important force of attraction which enables a couple to be interested in roughly the same things and take pleasure in similar kinds of mental preoccupations. Essentially an intellectual compatible couple are on the same or at least similar intellectual wavelength – they can talk about, discuss and pursue things which are mutually enjoyable. After the initial euphoria of physical and emotional attraction is over, a relationship needs more substantial grounds to hold the partners together. Common values, shared interests and the ability to offer each other something new come to matter more in the long run. And for couples who cannot be on the same intellectual page, each will seek out enthusiasts of his or her own interests, thus drifting away from one other.
- Cultural differences
In these times when globalization has brought together different people and cultures closer than ever before, being in a relationship or marrying someone from another country and culture is not as unusual as it used to be a few decades ago. However cultural differences often turn out to be a major stumbling block that other forces like sexual chemistry and compatible personality are unable to cross. The most common sites of these cultural differences are culinary habits, religious practices, child rearing and the role of women. In general societies from Asia and Middle East expect a woman to take the primary responsibility of keeping house and bringing up children. While societies in North America and Western Europe are more egalitarian in terms of gender roles, Scandinavian countries accord the greatest degree of equality to men and women in marriage or a civil partnership; in fact certain east European societies can even seem quite conservative in comparison. While these are only very broad generalizations, they are an indication of how expectations from either partner in a relationship can create conflict and eventually lead to a breakup.
- Family interference
Though this figures more as a cause for marital breakups, excessive and negative interference from parents can sour many a budding relationship too. Parents may have issues with the class, cultural and racial background of their children’s partner and thus push to nip the growing bond. If the child is too weak to resist the interference or the bond between him/her and the partner is too weak, then it can spell the end of a relationship. Financial demands by parents can also wreak havoc in a marriage where the partners may be already struggling to balance expenses and income. In such a situation if one partner finds the other consistently lavishing precious resources on the latter’s parents, then he/she may opt of the marriage.
- Personality problems
Sometimes making a relationship work is not about a joint effort at all – it may just happen that one of the partners has personality issues which makes it simply impossible to have a relationship. For instance while narcissist and sex addicts find it impossible to remain faithful to a single partner, those suffering from sociopathic and borderline personality disorder may be extremely difficult to live and have a relationship with. Such personality disorders make unfaithful and unsupportive partners since people suffering from them are incapable of making an emotional connection with a primary partner. Unfortunately it is not always possible to spot personality disorders in the early stages of dating – by the time one feels something is off, he/she is already in the thick of a troubled relationship and the only way to safeguard one’s emotional health is to get out of it.
This is a far more serious cause of breakup and is often an extension of the above point – in most cases the abusive partner has a deep-rooted personality problem which leads him/her inflict abuse in some form or other – emotional, verbal, physical or sexual. Substance abuse is another variation whereupon drug use or alcohol addiction wreaks havoc in a relationship to the extent that the non-addicted partner has no other option but to leave for the sake of his/her well-being. While emotionally healthy and financially independent partners lose no time in getting out of such toxic relationships, the worst sufferers are partners who are financially dependent on the abusive partner or who have develop the habit of co-dependency due to long years in an unhealthy relationship or an unhappy past.
- Lack of purpose
And then there are couples who simply drift into a relationship and justify it perhaps by saying something like “it seemed the next logical thing to do”. Two people may have been merely dating each other and after a while moved in together. Or they may have been in an exclusive relationship for some time and then started looking at wedding rings. Marriage or any committed relationship for that matter is a complex thing with its specific responsibilities and privileges and unless both partners feel that they are completely ready for those, it is likely to end in a breakup.
- CDC - National Marriage and Divorce Rate Trends
- Margaret Guminski Cleek and T. Allan Pearson, "Perceived causes of divorce: An analysis of interrelationships," Journal of Marriage and the Family (February 1985) p. 179, 181.