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Top 12 Reasons Why Couples Break Up

Many people come to therapy when their relationship is on the brink of collapse. They ask questions like:

  • “Should I have seen this coming?”
  • “Why do I always feel like I’m failing at love? Is it all my fault?”
  • “Is there any way I can stop the ship from sinking?”
  • “What does this mean for my future?”

Whether it’s a relatively new relationship or a long-time marriage, breaking up is hard. Research published in the Journal of Family Psychology shows that breakups increase psychological distress and reduce life satisfaction. Often, the negative effects of a breakup can impact one’s mental health for months, even years, after the dissolution.

After a relationship goes south, it’s important to take stock of what went wrong. This can be done by yourself or with the help of a therapist and it can prevent you from entering a similarly vulnerable situation in the future.

It’s also important to orient yourself to the common things that lead to breakups. This can help normalize your own situation and perhaps steer you down a better path in the future. Remember, breaking up is a part of life: approximately half of first-time marriages end in divorce and research shows that more than one in three unmarried people between the age of 18 and 35 have experienced at least one breakup in the past two years. In other words, this is not just a ‘you’ problem.

Here are the top 12 reasons why couples break up, according to scientific research conducted on couples in Britain and published in the journal PLOS-ONE.

  1. Grew apart
  2. Arguments
  3. Unfaithfulness
  4. Lack of respect
  5. Different interests
  6. Moved
  7. Money problems
  8. Not sharing housework
  9. Difficulties with sex
  10. Domestic violence
  11. Not having children
  12. Drinking/drugs/gambling


Interestingly, the results were relatively consistent for men and women. Both genders cited ‘growing apart’ and ‘arguments’ as the top two dissolution factors. ‘Lack of respect’ was a more important factor for women than men, as were ‘money problems,’ ‘not sharing household responsibilities,’ and ‘domestic violence.’

Other research published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that many problems that ultimately led to a divorce (e.g., communication issues, infidelity, etc.) were present at the start of the relationship. It’s important to tune into warning signs early and not expect these things to correct themselves on their own.

It’s also important to keep in mind that, as hard as it may seem, you do heal after a breakup. One study found that divorcing couples reap significant psychological gains from the dissolution of their marriages and that men and women tend to benefit equally.

“Divorce works,” state the authors. “The evidence suggests that marital dissolution eventually produces a rise in psychological well-being. For those couples who take it, the leap into the dark seems to improve their lives.”


Breaking up can be an emotionally devastating experience. But it’s important to learn from it. Take time to reflect on what went wrong and what you might be able to do in the future to protect yourself from another letdown. Research suggests that breakups hurt more when couples’ lives are more intertwined (e.g., you live together, you share finances, you have children or pets together, you share the same friend network, etc.). Take this into account when you’re ready to explore a new relationship.

Mark Travers