Concerns about why people break up and why they reconcile is a rather new topic. For this reason, there are relatively few studies that address it. So forgive me for being slightly biased, but I’ll have to rely on my own consulting experience in certain sections of this article.
Talking about this article, its purpose is threefold. To present the reasons why people break up, the reasons why they get back together and explore how some get stuck in a cycle of breaking up and getting back together — and how to break that cycle.
13 Reasons Why People Break Up
I primarily based the below reasons on two studies. One is from the Journal Of Social Psychology, and the other from the Journal of Adolescent Research. The common thread behind all following reasons for people breaking up is that each eats away at the foundational pieces of any lasting relationship — trust, respect, and affection. (1)(2)
Cheaters have a significant flaw embedded in their minds. They value self-gratification more than intimacy and honesty. That’s what makes them cheat in the first place. However, the reasons why they do it differ from person to person.
Usually, it’s either because they feel smothered and restrained in their relationship or because they feel neglected and unwanted.
The bottom line is that being committed to someone who has a history of cheating causes mind-crunching frustration. Primarily because you always have to sleep with one eye opened — you can never fully trust your partner and get comfortable while they’re away. And this lack of trust is many times what causes a relationship’s downfall.
This can be either physical or emotional. Either way, it’s a horrible way to approach relationships, and there’s not much more to be said about it.
If you’re the abuser, go fuck yourself. Seriously rethink your life and who you are as a person. And if you still have some sense left in you, seek professional help.
The reason you’re inflicting pain on your partner is likely a side-effect of a traumatic childhood. A therapist will help you identify what events led to your trauma and how to grow from it and become a more mature person despite it — someone who knows how to love in a healthy way and isn’t an all around fuck-up.
If you’re the abuse-taker or the enabler, on the other hand, also go fuck yourself. You’re not a victim; you’re just as guilty as the abuser. And you’re not much different from them either. You’re most likely letting them get away with their shit due to your own emotional issues. So, likewise, seek therapy. And obviously, get out of the relationship if you haven’t already.
When it comes to lying, it’s not the tiny, trivial ones like, “I totally brushed my teeth before I sucked you off…” that cause drama in relationships. It’s the big, nefarious ones that do.
Like when you tell your partner how you’ve been studying with a friend the whole night while you’ve been on a giant rave in reality. Or when your partner tells you how they have a squeaky clean history of cheating, while in reality, they don’t. Or when you tell your partner that you totally didn’t use the cash you both saved up for your kid’s colleague to buy a new car.
(But, it has extra cup-holders, honey…)
These are the kinds of lies that cause havoc and have the potential to bury a relationship with only one blow.
Years ago, when I was still a pimpled-faced high-schooler, I had a friend who was the most brilliant person I knew.
He kept getting straight A’s throughout high school, acquired a shelf-full of awards only smart people can get their hands on, and, as the cherry on top, he got accepted into one of the most prestigious colleagues in our country.
I really thought this guy was going to be the next Elon Musk or something. But no. What actually happened is that he got suckered into the most glaring and obvious scheme of all, a scheme to which he lost all of his friends and most of his savings: a pyramid scheme.
I couldn’t fathom it. How could my friend fall for this shit?
Following that incident, my trust and respect for the guy plummeted, and I cut ties with him shortly after.
The same thing happens in romantic relationships. One partner makes a stupid decision, like spending all their money on bullshit (i.e., an expensive car, a self-help seminar, or a pyramid scheme), and the other loses trust and respect for them. And when there’s no trust or respect left — a.k.a., if the partner keeps making shitty decisions — the relationship ends.
Neediness comes in many shapes and sizes. It can manifest itself as an excessive need to stay in touch with your partner, a craving to control them, an inability to validate yourself, or a tendency to put the desires and opinions of others above your own.
Regardless of how neediness manifests in you, the result is always the same: your partner’s interest plummets.
However, neediness doesn’t always solely affect your partner. It affects everyone. In other words, neediness transcends romantic relationships. It applies to all relationships.
The needier you are, the less anyone will want to be around you. The only exception are people who are needy themselves. Hence the saying, “you are what you attract.”
I already wrote an entire article explaining compatibility, so I won’t go too deep into this topic now. However, here’s the gist.
Being compatible with someone refers to being aligned with them in values, beliefs, goals, and lifestyle choices.
And while having the same hobbies and a complementary personality certainly improves compatibility, it’s of lesser importance.
To my knowledge, most couples break up due to incompatibility. One person wants kids; the other doesn’t. One person is of one religion; the other of another. One person wants to live in the bustling center of New York; the other in a hut on top of some remote mountain-top.
The bottom line is that compatibility — or incompatibility — is a bitch. The reason being, you can’t influence it, change it or mold it to your liking. It’s either there or it’s not. And even if it is there, there’s no guarantee it will stay there since people change throughout the ebbs and flows of life.
Sure, some couples can make their relationship work in spite of their stark incompatibility, but it’s not a common sight to behold.
7. Frequent (Unfruitful) Fighting
To be clear, not all fighting is bad. As I’ve argued in a previous article, conflicts, disagreements, and fights are a healthy and normal part of any relationship.
It’s only when they become persistent, heated, and unproductive that they lead to a permanent loss of mutual trust and respect between two lovers and damage both participants’ mental health.
If you’re looking for practical, proven, and surefire ways to mend, treat and resolve fights — basically how to fight well — I recommend picking up John Gottman’s book, The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work.
It’s a bit academic, but thankfully it’s filled with exercises that help you practice what the author preaches and make it easy to understand the concepts and ideas of the book.
8. Inflexible boundaries
Initially, I thought most people get into a breakup because they can’t set and keep healthy personal boundaries. Turns out, I was only half right. Many of them get into a breakup due to overly rigid boundaries that prevent them from making compromsies with their partner.
So, If you want your relationships to work out, one of the skills you need to develop is setting just the right kind of boundaries — not too rigid, but also not too frail and weak. The kind that don’t turn you into a pleaser but also not into a selfish asshole.
Finding this balance is no cakewalk, yet it’s still necessary if you’d like to have healthy and mature relationships somewhere down the line.
9. Conditional love
There are two ways one could love another: unconditionally and conditionally.
The former means loving your partner regardless of who they are, what they think, and what they do. The latter means loving your partner only when they show up and do what you want.
The former is the equivalent of, “I’ll love you for who you are.” The latter is the equivalent of, “I’ll love you as long as you keep doing/thinking what I want.”
The former leads to trust, respect, affection, and a lasting relationship. The latter leads to a loss of trust, respect, affection, and a rise in resentment, conflict, pointless suffering, and the obvious: a breakup.
Choose how you love wisely.
10. Honeymoon Phase Blowback
Imagine this. You meet a person, you click with them, they’re everything you ever wanted. For the first few months, everything is rainbows and unicorns, fun and fellatio, peanut butter and jelly, and a bunch of other cheesy analogies.
Then, after the initial Honeymoon period fades, you’re met with the brass-tacks of who your partner is. Turns out who they are is not really suitable for who you are.
Oh, oh spaghettios!
So before you know it, the tides turn, and the relationship starts going downhill. You barely recognize your partner. You start arguing. Resentment begins to build. And finally, after weeks in agony, you break up.
This is the same pattern many breakup survivors fall into — especially younger ones.
At first, their high attraction clouds their best judgment about who they’re dating. They overlook the flaws in their partner, the incompatibilities, the obvious red flags, and they begin to exaggerate the positive qualities of their lover and minimize the negative.
All of this leads to unhealthy delusion for the next few months. Then, reality kicks in, and those same people are left wondering why they even fell for the person next to them. Then the relationship begins to disintegrate.
11. Neglected emotional needs
People have all kinds of emotional needs. We want to feel special, important, appreciated, understood, safe, secure, and so forth.
While meeting our partner’s needs (and vice versa) sounds easy on paper, it’s really not — primarily because each person shares his or her own unique set of prioritized needs.
For this reason, there’s a good chance two people are meeting the other partner’s wrong needs and neglecting the right ones. As a result, disagreements, resentment, arguments start to pop up, and the inevitable breakup follows.
So, to avoid this predicament, I recommend picking up His needs, Her Needs, by Willard F Harley. The book will give you a solid intro to the many needs you and your partner hold, how to meet them, and how to communicate yours so they can meet them.
Loads of people get into the habit of being exciting and confident the first few months of their relationship, but then that excitement turns dullness and confidence into neediness.
Soon after, the touching stops. The compliments turn silent. And both partners begin to take each other for granted. And before you know it, what were once ravishing feelings of love now turn into feelings of merely existing in a relationship.
Now, this transition — from excitement and confidence to dullness and neediness — doesn’t happen all at once. It’s a gradual, slow, and subtle transition. But this is also why it’s so dangerous. Because of its attributes, not many people notice it, at least not before it’s too late.
The most common cause of this transition is that a couple forgets to date and court each other.
It’s not like you get a girlfriend or boyfriend and then have full permission to sit by the TV and eat cheerios all day. You have to date them, as they have to date you to keep the magic alive and the relationship going.
13. Bad Communication
While a relationship may start fine in the communication aspect, it is not guaranteed that it will stay that way forever. Sometimes people are too selfish, stubborn, shallow, and immature to communicate their problems frequently and in a healthy way.
Therefore, criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, gaslighting, passive-aggressiveness, and contempt, toped with resentment, become the new norm.
Consequently, communication quickly shuts down. And when — or if — that happens, the whole relationship shuts down.
6 Reasons Why People Get Back Together
For this section, I’ll primarily base the reasons people get back together on, yet again, two studies. One is from The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships and the other from the Journal Of Social Psychology (It’s the same study from the previous point). (3)(4)
The first 5 reasons I’ll go over are fear/insecurity-based and almost always guarantee a second breakup. In contrast, the last reason is based on love/non-needless and more often leads to a successful reconciliation. One could even say it’s the only reason that justifies pursuing the goal of getting an ex back.
1. Emotional Frustration
Sometimes people become doubtful that they’ll ever find anyone else after their breakup. That is, someone better, smarter and who’ll love them in the same way their ex did.
This faulty belief causes further emotional problems. One could feel shame because of it — “How could I let this happen?!” — as well as loneliness, anxiety, guilt, fear, and heaps of insecurity.
Ultimately all the above leads to emotional frustration, which has the potential to become so unbearable that it forces people into desperate attempts at reconciling with their ex.
There’s something called scarcity bias that plays a significant role in one’s post-breakup life. It goes like this: the fewer chances you have to acquire something, the more value you’ll attribute to that something. (5)
In other words, the scarcer the attention your ex gives you, the more you’ll probably want them back. However, there are exceptions to this rule. For example, dumpers don’t feel this effect nearly as much as dumpees do.
Sometimes people just don’t find the post-breakup life thrilling. The parties seem dull, the dating gets stale, and the duller everything gets, the more a person becomes inclined to miss and ponder their previous relationship.
This dullness could be instantaneous following your breakup, or it may wash over you gradually throughout the weeks or months. And once it covers you entirely, that’s when you start thinking of contacting your ex.
There are loads of people who can’t find happiness within themselves. They rely on the emotional support, validation, and approval of others instead of their own. And they pretty much resemble someone soaked in neediness.
These people also base their happiness on their ex and even make them responsible for it. Therefore, when they break up, they blame their unhappiness on their ex while at the same time are try to get back with them — since without them, they can’t be happy.
Are you one of these people? If so, here’s a painful truth: Until you repair the relationship with yourself, you’ll continue to form unhealthy relationships with others, be that your ex, your friends, your family — anyone.
5. Ego Issues
There are some fucked up people in the world. The kinds who will get back with an ex who dumped them, just so they can return the favor.
As ashamed as I am to admit, I was one of those people. Thankfully, I haven’t reconciled with my ex, so my master plan couldn’t unfold. But shit, man. I was toxic. And I’m disgusted that this is a typical pattern amid breakup survivors.
So, if you’re one of the few people who have these same sick intentions, please get help: therapy, books, Youtube videos, anything. You have to change your attitude and forgive your ex, even if the breakup is their fault entirely. It’s either that or staying stuck in your suffering.
6. Genuine curiosity
This is probably the only legit reason to pursue reconciliation with your ex. If you were able to recover and let them go and still have a subtle, controllable desire to get them back, plus, you know they are a healthy and compatible person, then, by all means, pursue reconciliation. Pursue it bravely.
However, always keep in mind intentions: your desire to get an ex back has to come out of a place of unconditional love, curiosity, and unattachment to the outcome, and not out of fear, anxiety, desperation, or insecurity. If it comes out of the latter, you’ve already lost.
The Cycle Of Breaking Up And Getting Back Together
Ah yes, the infamous make-up/break-up cycle — the core of on/off relationships. It’s a confusing time, full of drama and toxicity. Here are just some of the problems people trapped in these relationships report. (6)
“Emotional rollercoaster with the ups and downs and breaking up and getting back together.” “It is emotionally exhausting for both people.” “The major frustrations about experiencing this is just that it takes your mind away and [you] can’t concentrate. You think about the person when they are not even thinking about you.”
Uncertainty of relational status
“A big major stressor was the uncertainty. I wasn’t even sure myself if we were really broken up or not.” “Not knowing whether we were completely not dating if it was okay to date someone else in that time.” “The not being in control, the unknown of what was going to happen.”
“Inconsistency. You care about the person, but you can’t get along with them. You don’t want anyone else, but that person isn’t really a good partner at the time. When you break up with them, you miss them. When you get back with them, sometimes things don’t change.” “The same sort of excitement that was intoxicating at the beginning ended up being stressful in the long run.”
Third-party or external forces
“I was continually guilt-ridden because I shouldn’t be with him, according to my friends and my parents.” “I felt that other people viewed our relationship as a joke. People were less sympathetic when we broke up.” “I hated the long-distance issue of it.”
“Him/her being indifferent, non-committal, me wanting more than he would give.”
Despite all the above remarks, the back and forth cycling is addictive as hell. And its victims stay in it as long as they can. Well, at least until one of the partners (or ex-partners, depending on the mood) sobers up, grows a spine, and ends the cycle.
The reason on/off relationships are so addictive fundamentally boils down to intense feelings, unhealthy attachment, inability to validate and approve of oneself, codependency issues, neediness, desperation, and low or non-existent self-esteem.
Those reasons also explain why people stay in on/off relationships even though it’s hurting their mental and emotional health.
But how does one end the whole ordeal — how can you get out of the infamous cycle of breaking up and getting back together?
It all starts with being honest with yourself and ends with therapy and self-work. As most things in breakup recovery… Ask yourself, why are you repeatedly getting into a relationship with your ex?
Is it because you don’t believe you can find anyone better? Is it because you think you’re unworthy of finding someone else? Do you think you’re unlovable? Do you think your ex is somehow special or “the one?” Or are you just scared to be alone, to be single, to meet face to face with uncertainty?
If the reasons why you’re in an on/off relationship resemble any of the above, you should seek professional help. In fact, if you’re a victim of an on/off relationship, it’s almost always wise to seek professional help.
The relationship is not the problem, nor is your ex. You’re the problem. Your mind is fucked. And to normalize things and save your mental health, you have to unfuck it. As I’ve mentioned, this means therapy and a lot of grueling self-improvement stuff.
Ultimately, it’s a difficult path to go on and stay on, but it will be worth the struggle in the long term, for you’ll be a better person due to the challenges it brings into your life.
Receive a free copy of my popular breakup survival guide, 56 Tips To Heal A Broken Heart, with three bonus exercises on how to stop obsessing over your ex. Remember: whether you want to get over or re-attract your ex, recovery is always the first step.
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