Ever broken up with someone only to realise that your friends saw it coming half a year ago? Yeah. Thanks, guys.
The thing is, it can be hard to spot even glaring flaws in your relationship while you’re in it. With that in mind, Business Insider rounded up seven science-backed indicators that there might be trouble in your romantic paradise.
Before you read on, we should note that if you recognise one or more of these patterns in your relationship, that does not necessarily mean you’re destined for a breakup.
Keep in mind that these signs reflect general trends and might not fit your particular relationship. Plus, if you get the sense that there might be problems, it’s up to you to decide how best to address them.
So don’t get paranoid — but do get reflective — and check out what science has to say about the road to Splitsville.
1. You see your partner more or less as they are
Call it the “Shallow Hal” effect: A growing body of research suggests that partners who have “positive illusions” about each other are more likely to stay together. In other words, in stable, satisfying relationships, each partner somewhat idealizes the other and sees the best in them.
For example, you might rate your partner as more attractive, kinder, and smarter than they would rate themselves.
On the other hand, if you still see your partner as meh in the looks, intelligence, and kindness departments — and as totally different from your ideal mate — that’s probably not a good sign.
2. You view your partner as beneath you
John Gottman, a psychologist at the University of Washington and the founder of the Gottman Institute, has spent decades studying the science of relationship satisfaction and stability.
As Business Insider’s Erin Brodwin has reported, Gottman and his colleagues have come up with four factors — known as the “four horsemen” — that can reliably predict divorce: contempt, criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling.
Contempt, or seeing your partner as beneath you instead of as an equal, is what Gottman calls the “kiss of death” for a relationship. Here’s an example of what someone displaying contempt in a relationship might say to their partner, from the Gottman Institute website:
“You’re ‘tired’?! Cry me a river… I’ve been with the kids all day, running around like mad to keep this house going and all you do when you come home from work is flop down on that sofa like a child and play those idiotic video games. I don’t have time to deal with another kid…just try, try to be more pathetic…”
Same goes for name-calling, mimicking, and eye-rolling — they’re evidence that something is going wrong.
3. You think you have a good ‘alternative’ partner
If you think you’d be happier dating one of your friends, and that that person might want to date you, too … you might be in trouble.
In one study, undergrads in relationships answered questions about their best alternative to their current relationship, their best imagined alternative, and how easily they thought they could find someone to replace their current partner.
As it turned out, participants who had more desirable realistic or imagined partners, and who thought they could find an alternative partner more easily, were less likely to be in the same relationship three months later.
4. You feel stuck in the relationship
Fascinating research suggests that material constraints — think a joint bank account or a shared lease — make it less likely that an unmarried couple is going to break up.
On the other hand, what the researchers call felt constraints — wanting to leave but feeling trapped, for example — make a breakup more likely, even within eight months. The researchers write:
“[A]lthough felt constraint likely slows down a break up because it reflects a sense that termination would be emotionally or tangibly taxing, it nevertheless predicts termination because it also reflects strong feelings of wanting out.”
Bottom line: If you feel like you want out, you probably will get out eventually.
5. You or your partner are dissatisfied with the relationship
A Norwegian study of thousands of pregnant women and their male partners found that the predictors of a breakup differed between genders.
Specifically, a woman’s dissatisfaction with the relationship was a strong predictor that a relationship would end. The 20% of women in the study who reported the lowest relationship satisfaction were three times more likely to experience a breakup than the most satisfied women.
Interestingly, previous studies in the US had found that a man’s dissatisfaction is a better predictor of relationship dissolution. The researchers behind the Norwegian study say it’s possible that women in Norway in the early 2000s (when the study was conducted) were more independent than women in the US in the 1980s and 1990s — and therefore felt freer to end a dissatisfying relationship.
6. You have a lot of dramatic downturns in your relationship
Researchers recently looked at nearly 400 dating couples in their mid-20s and used their feedback about their relationships to identify four patterns of commitment: dramatic, conflict-ridden, socially involved, and partner-focused.
As psychologist and relationships expert Gary Lewandowski explains on Science of Relationships, dramatic couples showed a lot of fluctuation in their commitment to their partners over time. Lewandowski writes that they spent more time apart; they had lower opinions of the relationship; and their family and friends were less supportive of the relationship.
Partner-focused couples saw their partners positively and mostly experienced fluctuations in commitment when they couldn’t spend as much time together.
Socially involved couples usually experienced fluctuations when their friends and family changed what they thought of the relationship.
Finally, conflict-ridden couples fought often and had a lot of mini-fluctuations in their level of commitment.
As it turns out, dramatic couples were twice as likely to break up than couples in the other three groups, while partner-focused couples were most likely to get more serious in their relationship.
7. You and your partner don’t ‘bridge’ each other’s social worlds
The researchers, from Cornell University and Facebook, looked at a whopping 1.3 million Facebook users who had indicated that they were in a relationship. They were looking specifically at instances when someone’s relationship status changed to “single.”
Their analysis found that the main predictor of whether two people are in a relationship is whether they have distinct groups of friends who are connected mostly through the couple. (You can see a cool diagram of what this network looks like in Edwards’ article.) “You might expect that a cluster of mutual friends indicates two people are in a relationship but the opposite is the case: You’re more likely to have cluster of mutual coworkers listing each other as friends than a couple,” Edwards wrote.
“A spouse or romantic partner is a bridge between a person’s different social worlds,” one of the researchers told The New York Times.
When their algorithm failed to pick up this pattern, the couple was about 50% more likely to have broken up 60 days later.
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