Sometimes relationships end for a good reason. People grow apart, and both parties are happier on their own, or with other people.
But sometimes, relationships end because one or both partners made an avoidable, but incredibly destructive mistake.
Psychological literature is rife with examples of behaviours that can hurt a romantic relationship. We rounded up seven of the most common.
Don’t get paranoid. If you recognise one or more of these patterns in your relationship, you can now take steps to remedy the problem instead of staying mired in conflict.
Read on and learn how to stop a breakup in its tracks.
Distancing yourself from your partner
Recent research found there’s a deadly combination of characteristics that predict relationship dissatisfaction: sensitivity to rejection and the tendency to cut your partner off emotionally.
People who are really worried about getting hurt might distance themselves from their partners, which ends up making the relationship less satisfying in the long run. In other words, they effectively create what they fear.
If this sounds like you, try telling your partner about your fears. You might be surprised to learn that they share some of those concerns, and you can work through them together.
Hiding your finances
The problem is that money isn’t just about numbers — it can symbolise power and love. So insecurity about what your partner’s doing with his or her money means insecurity about the relationship in general.
Before you decide to combine (or even partially combine) finances with your partner, it helps to have a conversation about budgeting and your financial histories, and to come up with guidelines for making big individual purchases.
Forming a ‘fantasy bond’
Psychologist Robert Firestone coined the term ‘fantasy bond,’ which describes the illusion of connection with your partner.
You replace genuine feelings of love and passion with the idea of being a couple, or a unit. Emotional closeness is often replaced by adherence to routines.
The real danger, according to Firestone’s daughter, the psychologist Lisa Firestone, is that you start to lose your individuality in your attempt to find safety in the relationship.
If you feel like you’ve entered into a fantasy bond, Robert Firestone says it helps to explore your fears of individuation and separation from your partner and work toward developing a more honest communication style.
Closing yourself off to new experiences
Research suggests that couples who try new things together are happier in their relationship.
The inverse might be true, too: Writing in Psychology Today, Lisa Firestone says when you stop being open to developing shared new interests, it can hurt the relationship and create resentment between partners.
So take up your partner’s offer to try a new restaurant or go hiking instead of spending Saturday at the movies — at least once in a while.
Giving your partner the silent treatment
Research suggests that couples engaged in ‘demand-withdrawal’ patterns — i.e. one partner pressuring the other and receiving silence in return — are less happy in their relationships.
The lead study author says it’s a hard pattern to break because each partner thinks the other is the cause of the problem. It requires seeing how your individual behaviours are contributing to the issue and using different, more respectful conflict-management strategies.
Showing contempt for your partner
As Business Insider’s Erin Brodwin has reported, couples who display contempt are more likely to split up.
According to relationship expert John Gottman, contempt — a mix of anger and disgust that involves seeing your partner as beneath you — is the No. 1 predictor of divorce. That’s because it becomes harder to see things from your partner’s perspective.
The first step to resolving the problem is cultivating appreciation and respect from both partners, and finding a more positive way to express your feelings.
Hashing out tough topics via text
One study found that, while women tend to be happier in relationships the more texts they send, men are less happy.
The lead study author told NPR that, for men, texting may be a way to withdraw from the relationship.
In some situations, texting may not be the best alternative for either partner. The study author advises couples to consider moving upsetting conversations offline. She told NPR: ‘You may need ways to say, ‘This is getting too heated for me. I need to talk with you later about this in person.”