Paul Simon’s 1975 hit song Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover, offers simple strategies on how people can break things off with their partner. These days, many people now have mastered the “how” to split up. But the “why” it ended, for some, can feel confusing and unclear. Even worse, when the one you love decides to “slip out the back” or “make a new plan” that doesn’t include you, not understanding the many reasons why people break up, can deeply scar the one who was broken up with.
As a psychotherapist who has spent almost twenty years helping people navigate the stormy seas of complicated relationships, I’ve come to know a thing or two about why couples get together, stay together and, as you’ve probably guessed by the title of this article, why they break up.
Some reasons that cause a relationship to fail may seem simple, and others may not. While, there are countless answers to the question: “why do people break up?”, I believe most answers fall into some major league categories such as: it ran its course, not understanding relationship fundamentals, they just weren’t ready for real intimacy, the relationship was toxic, there was betrayal trauma, and last but not least, the sex wasn’t hot or even satisfying.
This article will get into all the above! So with that said, here are 40 reasons that cause a couple to break up.
The relationship ran its course
In the first major category we find some of the most common reasons that cause a couple to break up. When people initially choose a partner, there are many factors that come into play and influence this choice.
1. People are often looking for someone in their current stage of life who makes sense to be their partner in crime for that stage. For example, both may be focussed on their careers, or starting a family, etc. When that stage ends very often, so does the relationship. Why is that?
2. Because sometimes people outgrow each other. As people change and grow over time, so does what they are looking for in a partner. A relationship that makes sense for someone in their twenties, when they are just getting started in their adult life, may not make sense for someone in their late 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and beyond.
3. People discover they have different values. One person wants children and the other doesn’t. One wants to follow the traditions they were raised with and the other wants to explore the world. This difference can cause conflict between the couple. And that conflict can cause a split.
4. Some relationships are intended to be transitional. Sometimes, people get together because they are trying to get over their ex. They aren’t ready for or looking for something long term.
5. Some people serve as each other’s muse. Remember the film La La Land? A creative couple falls in love but can’t negotiate the relationship and make it last. They inspire each other to follow their dreams and become who they were meant to be. This type of relationship serves its purpose and then ends.
Unrealistic expectations from their partner
Another factor that can cause a relationship to fail is that many people also don’t understand the fundamentals of relationships and have unrealistic expectations from their partner. Here are some widely misunderstood relationship basics.
6. No one can be 100% of what a person wants and needs. People are complex with different parts to them. What matters most is if there’s a good enough emotional connection between the couple, with shared values and common goals, not that they fit every check box on your list.
7. Love and desire are two different things. Love requires consistency and connection. Desire needs mystery, space and play. Without creating time for both, people can drift apart.
8. People are driven by paradoxical needs. All people, to some degree long for connection and also long to be free. It’s important to learn how to negotiate this with yourself and your partner.
9. Falling in love is very different than loving someone. Falling in love is a euphoric high that can last up to a couple of years, but then fades. Loving someone has more to do with what you do e.g. following through on what you say, empathetic listening, and respecting each other.
10. Almost every long term couple falls out of love at some point. The question then becomes, will people consciously try to create a next chapter in their love story?
11. Many couples can fall back in love too, but don’t realize that. Creating that next chapter requires an honest will from both people who are willing to try.
12. Many people don’t know how to follow the platinum rule and or have never heard of it. That rule is: “Treat others as they would like to be treated, not as you would”.
13. Marriage was never designed or meant for love. While many people can and do have loving marriages, it was always intended for creating economic stability and continuing family lineage.
14. People are living much longer than they used too. This means that “until death do us part” is a longer wait as well. Some people want to experience more before they take their final breath.
15. More economic freedom results in more breakups. Often people stay in a relationship for financial stability. Now that more people have it, they don’t stay for that reason.
Not ready for intimacy
Sometimes people don’t understand relationship fundamentals because they aren’t really ready for real intimacy. Often that’s because there is early childhood relationship wounding. If that wounding isn’t healed, (which it can through therapy), then it will get replayed and acted out in adult relationships. This will also cause a relationship to fail. Here are some examples of how that wounding plays out.
16. One person can’t tolerate when their partner isn’t tuned into what they need. E.G. “ Why did they get me a blue birthday card when they know I like red! The Nerve!”.
17.They believe their partner is an extension of themself and should want what they want. This belief doesn’t allow for any empathy for one person being different.
18. They can’t tolerate when their partner has different wants and needs than they do. The fight then becomes: “It’s my way or the highway!”
19. They score keep the fight rather than listen with empathy. Instead of hearing feedback from their partner who may be upset at them, they say things such as “well you did this, so that’s why I did that!”
20. They don’t know that they can listen to their partner’s concerns and feedback without agreeing. Agreeing to disagree is the key to getting along.
Moving beyond a person not being ready for real intimacy, some relationships fail for what may seem like trivial reasons, such as breaking up over spilled milk. However, a more nuanced look at the spilled milk may reveal that it was mixed with vodka or that spilling it triggered an irrational reaction in one person such as panic or rage. These are expressions of toxic relationships that are also caused by one or both partners having unhealed childhood wounds. These relationships often last for a while, but in the long run, are almost always destined to fail.
21. If one member of the couple has an addiction and the other is rescuing and care taking them, it will inevitably kill the initial chemistry and exhaust the one who’s doing the rescuing.
22. One person always feels like they are walking on eggshells. They are terrified of their partner’s reaction if they do spill some milk.
23. #21 and #22 can leave a person feeling as though they don’t matter and therefore:
24. They don’t feel seen.
25. They don’t feel heard.
26. They don’t feel respected.
27. They don’t feel valued.
28. They do feel forgotten and neglected.
29. When #24-28 occur, they often look outside the relationship for someone who will respect and value them.
30. Some people get tired of always being organized around their partner’s needs and decide enough is enough!
In long term relationships where people find themselves going through life changes that are different from their partner’s or if they get tired of the toxic roller coaster they may be riding, sometimes they act out and betray their partner. Betrayal trauma is a leading cause of painful break ups. There are many ways a person can betray their partner such as:
31. Shaming their partner for having different ideas e.g. saying “that’s stupid”.
32. Invalidating their partner’s experience when they try to share how they feel: e.g. “ You’re wrong or crazy to think or feel that way”.
33. Using children to get what you want from your partner.
34. Emotional cheating.
35. Physical cheating.
Differing erotic styles
And last but not least, let’s talk about sex. Sometimes it was once good and changed, and sometimes it was never really that great for one person, but they never spoke up. People have different erotic styles. This by the way, also goes back to childhood stuff. How people were loved and the models of love they experienced, influence how they love and make love as adults. Therefore the following can be an erotic buzz kill and deal breaker that can cause a couple to break up:
36. They don’t ask for what they want and like in bed. If you don’t ask, you may not get!
37. They don’t ask their partner what they like and want. Talking about sex is sexy. And people feel loved when their partner asks “How can I please you?”.
38. They don’t understand that their partner may eroticize differently than they do.
39. People have different sex drives and desires and may want more or less from their partner.
40. People don’t practice the platinum rule in the bedroom!!!
3 Tips To Stop This All of This From Happening!
Well done for reading all the way to end! If you are not ready to give up on your relationship yet, take a look at my 3 top tips to safeguard your relationship and prevent you from losing the one you love.
Spend More Time Together
In today’s over scheduled, time sensitive lifestyle it’s no surprise that we neglect to spend time and focus on our loving partners. Now that doesn’t mean just being together while you take on the daily tasks of life, but spending that clichéd ‘quality time’ together. Do something different and exciting such as a physical activity, or enjoy the outdoors in natural surroundings to get the positive energy flowing.
It can be easy to communicate like cavemen when the pressure’s on and in the heat of an argument. Sometimes the easiest thing to do in these situations is to have a shouting contest. When feeling frustrated with your partner, the best thing you can do is to take a deep breath and try and disconnect feelings of anger or defense. Slow down and take the time to discuss things as the people you once were.
Relight Your Sensual Spark
When you get in that dreaded rut of not getting along with your partner, sometimes the last thing you want to do is be sexual. Also, over time the sexual excitement you once felt for each other can diminish which is totally natural. Doing something different sexually can change the game for you both. Modern couples tantric therapy for example can help to teach you how to move forward positively as a couple and rediscover a flame that you thought was gone. To find out more about how couples tantric massage can help you reignite the passion of your relationship, read our Ultimate Couples Tantric Massage Guide.
About The Author
Maura Matarese, M.A., LMHC, R.Y.T. is a psychotherapist and author of the book: Finding Hope in the Crisis, A Therapist’s Perspective on Love, Loss and Courage. Her new online course: Finding Hope After Heartbreak: Learn the Secret “How” to Start Feeling Better “Now” will be available soon. In the meantime, enjoy this free Healing From Heartbreak Workbook.