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People fall in love slowly over time. They meet, go out, do all first-time dates, become exclusive, and move in together. We all know the progression. However, what a lot of people don’t know is that two people also fall out of love slowly over time. Everything they build together can start collapsing at any moment. And sometimes, despite their best efforts, they can’t mend it or turn it around. They break up.
But why do they break up? Why do relationships fail — for what reasons, exactly? Well, there are surprisingly many of them. Below, I’ll go over 18 such reasons. The first 12 are mostly obvious, the last 6 might shock you. The overarching thread behind all of them however is that each eats away at the foundational pieces of any healthy relationship — trust, respect, and affection.
12 Well Known Reasons Why Relationships Fail
Cheaters have a significant flaw embedded in their minds. They value self-gratification over 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. After all, you always have to sleep with one eye open — you can never fully trust your partner and get comfortable while they’re away. And it’s this lack of trust that so often causes two people to break up.
Abuse 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. Rethink your life, who you are as a person, and go to therapy.
The reason someone would inflict pain on their loved one is usually a side-effect of a traumatic childhood. A therapist can help a person like that identify what events led to their trauma and how to grow and heal from it.
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 probably stupider.
The reason someone lets themselves be abused is, likewise, childhood trauma that diminished or obliterated their self-esteem. Again, as with the abuser, therapy is your friend. And also, if you’re not out yet, get out of your toxic relationship as soon as possible.
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 saved up for your kid’s colleague to buy a new car.
These are the kinds of lies that cause havoc in your relationship and have the potential to bury it.
At its core, neediness is a tendency to put the desires and opinions of your partner above your own. And regardless of how it 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 — it 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.”
5. Frequent (Unfruitful) Fighting
Contrary to the overarching societal notion, not all fighting is bad. Conflicts, disagreements, and fights are a healthy and normal part of any relationship.
It’s only when they become persistent, unproductive, and resentment-generating that they lead to a permanent loss of mutual trust and respect between two people, damage their mental health and ultimately tear them apart.
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 A Marriage Work.
The book is a bit academic, but thankfully it’s filled with simple explanations and ideas, as well as practical exercises that help you embody what the author preaches and teaches.
6. 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 people also get into a breakup because they form too rigid boundaries that prevent them from making compromises 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. The kind that don’t turn you into a pleaser nor a selfish asshole.
Finding this balance is no cakewalk, but it’s still necessary if you’d like to have healthy and mature relationships down the line.
7. 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 fosters feelings of acceptance and approval. The latter fosters the need to change your partner, stifle their identity, and mold them to your liking.
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.
8. Neglected Emotional Needs
People have all kinds of emotional needs. We want to feel special, important, appreciated, understood, safe, and secure.
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 sets of prioritized needs. Some people, for example, prioritize their need for connection and security. Other people prioritize their need for status and power.
And because everyone prioritizes their needs differently, there’s a good chance two partners are meeting each other’s wrong needs while neglecting the right ones. As a result, disagreements, resentment, arguments start to pop up, and a breakup follows.
I recommend picking up His needs, Her Needs, by Willard F Harley to avoid this predicament. The book will give you a solid intro to the many needs people hold, how to meet them, and how to communicate yours so your partner (or future partner) 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 — not many people notice it, at least not before it’s too late.
And the most common cause of this transition is that a couple forgets to date and court each other.
It’s not like you get to find someone (or get an ex back) and then have full permission to sit by the TV and eat cheerios all day. You have to date your partner, as they have to date you to keep the magic alive and the relationship going.
10. Bad Communication
While a relationship may start out fine in the communication aspect, it is not guaranteed to stay that way forever. Sometimes partners are too selfish, stubborn, shallow, and immature to communicate their problems regularly and in a healthy way.
So instead of turning toward each other, opening up about their problems and whatever bothers them, they turn away from each other, and resort to defensiveness, stonewalling, gaslighting, passive-aggressiveness, contempt, and critique.
These modes of communication (or miscommunication) only foster hostility and resentment, which lead to diminished mutual respect and trust, which lead to unfruitful and repeated arguments and conflicts (reason why relationships fail #6!), which lead to a breakup.
11. No Life
Another reason why relationships fail is one partner realizing that the other doesn’t have a life — they don’t have friends, hobbies, and, most importantly, purpose. They have absolutely nothing going on in their life outside their relationships.
Unsurprisingly, these types of people become a total bore to be with. A bore you’d like to break up with.
And like needy and toxic people always attract other needy and toxic people, those that have nothing going on in their lives will likewise attract others that have nothing going on in their lives.
Being compatible with someone refers to being aligned with them in values, beliefs, goals, and lifestyle choices. And while having chemistry, attraction, and similar or identical hobbies certainly improves compatibility, it’s of lesser importance.
To my knowledge, most couples break up due to primary 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. You can’t influence it, change it or mold it. It’s either there or it’s not. And even if it is there, there’s no guarantee it will stay since people change over time.
Sure, some couples can make their relationship work in spite of their incompatibility, but it’s not common. Most often, they move on. No shame in that, by the way.
6 Less Known Reasons Why Relationships Fail
The below reasons are based on three books. The first is Attached by Amir Levine, the second is Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix, and the third is the one I already mentioned awhile ago, The Seven Principles For Making A Marriage Work by John Gottman.
1. Hit Of Reality
A lot of people today hold a very romantic view of relationships. They think relationships should always be filled with joy, that they should always make sense, that they should always last, and that love is the only thing you need to make them last.
The reality is far different.
Relationships are inherently chaotic and often filled with uncomfortable and even embarrassing moments. They also seldom last forever. Most relationships you’ll have probably won’t work out. And no, love is not enough to keep a relationship afloat. There are many other values like trust, respect, empathy, honesty, etc., that one should prioritize over love to have a healthy relationship.
What tends to happen is that a person with a romantic view of relationships eventually gets hit by reality. From there, they either change their beliefs for the better or lose themselves and start sabotaging their relationship.
Analogous to skewed and outdated perspectives on relationships, many people also break up due to skewed and outdated perspectives on gender roles. For example, “men should focus on their carrier and earn more than women. Or women should focus on relationships and take care of the household.”
Years ago, when I was still a pimpled-faced high-schooler, I had a brilliant friend. He was probably the most brilliant person I knew.
He kept getting straight A’s, 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 brilliant friend fall for this shit?
Following the incident, my trust and respect for the guy plummeted. And gradually, I cut ties with him.
Interestingly, this same progression of events also pans out 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.
3. Honeymoon Phase Blowback
Imagine this: you meet someone, 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 metaphors.
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.
And before you know it, the tides turn, and your relationship starts tumbling downhill. You barely recognize your partner. You start arguing. Resentment builds up. And finally, after weeks of agony and madness, 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 their positive qualities 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. Soon after, the inevitable and obvious occurs — the two people break up.
4. The Four Horsemen
For years John Gottman studied the reasons why some relationships fail, and others stay together. He even went as far as to claim that you can easily predict whether a couple will break up or not by observing four key factors. These he coined the “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”
Criticism: meaning repeatedly attacking your partner’s identity, particularly personality and character, instead of focusing on the actual behaviors that bother you about them.
Contempt: meaning mocking, ridiculing, namecalling, and generally disrespecting your partner. Contempt goes far beyond criticism. While criticism attacks your partner’s character, contempt attacks their worth as a person.
Defensiveness: meaning needing to defend yourself whenever you feel your partner is criticizing you. Defensiveness also translates to rebutting your partner’s complaint or disagreeing with them.
Stonewalling: meaning withdrawing from your relationship, cloaking yourself in fake indifference, refusing to open up emotionally, getting cold, etc.
5. Insecure attachment styles
Attachment theory is a well-known psychology branch that makes the following claim: the nature in which an infant gets its needs met from its parents determines its attachment style. This attachment style then influences all of that infant’s relationships throughout his life and explains a great deal of why they fail or succeed.
According to psychologists, one can develop four attachment styles: secure, anxious, avoidant, and anxious-avoidant. The secure style is healthy and attractive. The rest are unhealthy and unattractive — at least to mature and healthy people.
For a deep dive into all of these attachment styles and how they influence your relationship and your response to your breakup, refer to my article on attachment theory. For now, let’s discuss how certain configurations of these styles make couples break up.
A relationship between two secure individuals most often works out. Although not likely, a relationship between a secure and anxious, secure and avoidant, or secure and anxious-avoidant may work out. And a relationship between an anxious and avoidant (including configurations with anxious-avoidants) usually turns out to be a raging fire dumpster.
Let’s zoom in on the last relational configuration since it’s the deadliest.
The dynamic between an anxious and avoidant is one of a chaser/chasee or fixer/breaker.
- The anxious always pleads, pursuits and chases. The avoidant always keeps running away and demanding more space.
- The anxious always keeps causing arguments and drama for the sake of attention. The avoidant always tries to fix and mend those arguments and drama.
- The anxious takes too much responsibility in their relationship. The avoidant takes little to none.
While these sorts of relationships seem passionate and loving on the surface, they’re actually dysfunctional and, for that reason, short-lasting. Many people break up due to their shitty attachment configurations.
6. Faulty love maps
As children, we never get all of our needs met. Some people grow up with an absent or semi-absent father. Some grow up with overbearing and over-controlling mothers. Some grow up amid daily doses of domestic violence. Some grow up without a family.
The degree to which we got our needs met/unmet varies widely from person to person. But the result is always the same: every unmet need imprints some form of trauma onto our unconscious.
These traumas vary in depth and intensity and, eventually, become the map of how we experience sexual and romantic relationships throughout our lives. In fact, they define our future relationships.
People who develop severe trauma usually adopt skewed representations of how they should behave in their relationships. They form faulty beliefs like:
- “I need to buy my partner nice shit to make them love me.”
- “I have to keep a lot of secrets, or else my partner will break up with me.”
- “I need to put my needs last and my partner’s needs first.”
- “I can’t let my partner get emotionally close to me. They won’t be able to handle it.”
- “I don’t need my partner. I only have them because there’s no one better at the moment.”
As you can probably guess, there’s a lot of overlap between love maps and attachment theory. Our love map shapes and determines our attachment style.
If our love map is filled with trauma after trauma, skewed belief after skewed belief, we often resort to objectification, sexism, manipulation, and games, and cheating. And after engaging with those modes of disassociation from our emotions, it’s only a matter of time before we break up with our partner.
If the reason for your breakup resembles any of the well-known ones, self-help books and a lot of self-improvement will help you attract a healthy and lasting relationship in the future.
But if the reason for your breakup resembles any of the less-known ones, consider seeking out a therapist. You might be in for a long journey of uncovering and overcoming deep-seated childhood trauma before reaping the benefits.
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