There can be an infinite variety of reasons as to why someone wants to end a romantic relationship with someone else. This particular study shows 292 of them. Despite there being so many reasons, they can be grouped into distinct categories (which makes writing about them so much easier). Before I go on, the study is an old one (from 1986) yet the main categories will ring true for some of you 31 years later.
A total of 157 participants provided researchers stories about their breakups, detailing why they broke up with someone. The top reason (with 36.9% of people citing this) was a desire for autonomy. This means that the participants wanted to be acknowledge for their individuality and experiences beyond the relationship and as this wasn’t satisfied, they decided to end the relationship. One woman noted that her boyfriend was particularly controlling and would get mad about her spending time with friends even if he was busy doing other things. This is a very restrictive way to live and is not going to make a person happy so, it’s really no shock that she left.
The next most frequent reason was coded as similarity display (29.9%). This basically means that there is an expectation that those in a relationship should have similar attitudes on a range of topics. When two people begin to disagree on a lot of topics and it’s all they talk about, that obviously is not enjoyable. Considering the high emotional involvement in certain topics such as religion and politics, disagreeing on these issues can feel like a personal attack – not a productive feeling for sustaining love.
A lack of supportiveness was the next most common reason with 27.4% of respondents using it. This comes from the idea that in a relationship, the person you’re with should enhance your self-worth and self-esteem. One participant said that their partner became inconsiderate and stopped listening to them. Obviously, this is not nice to go through. If someone treats you poorly, you’re not going to feel good and the best way to feel better is to get rid of them.
The next most common reason is a lack of openness (21.7%). It is expected that partners are open about how they feel to us, that they are genuine. This did not happen for many of the participants and one woman noted how her boyfriend would not talk about his feelings (which is a male problem, higher suicide rates in men have been attributed to their unwillingness to discuss their emotions). In this study, it could also be seen as a male problem with only 8% of men citing this as a reason for a breakup while 31% of women did.
Failure to maintain loyalty/fidelity is next with 16.6% of people using this as a reason. Stemming form the idea that one should remain loyal and faithful to their partner, this can cause a breakup in two ways. The first is that a partner ends the relationship due to their partner’s infidelity and the second is when an individual ends a relationship due to the guilt they feel from their own lack of loyalty. Again, the relationship becomes a source of pain to the non-loyal individual due to their guilt and the easiest way to relieve themselves of that is to leave the relationship.
A reduction in shared time together as a result of physical separation is close with 16% of people giving this reason. Breakups happen as a result of this due to the reason that it is believed those in a close relationship need to share substantial time together. This is the only reason which immediately seems like it may have changed over 31 years. As the world becomes increasingly connected and people are required to move around for work, long-distance relationships are probably more acceptable. Not to mention that instead of just letters and phone calls, people now have video calling, instant messaging, social media and new long-distance devices for sexual and emotional intimacy available to them, making the relationship easier to maintain.
The penultimate of the top eight reasons is an absence of equity at 12%. This was cited as a reason as it is believed both individuals in the relationship should gain an equal amount from the relationship. Which they absolutely should. Not getting as much back as you feel like you give feels incredibly unfair to us so if this continues for a prolonged period of time then it’s obvious that a person would eventually want to leave.
Finally, an absence of romance was a reason that 9.6% of participants gave. Romance here is seen a mysterious “magic” which is felt in the other’s presence. This reason possibly stems from a poor construction of what love is by adopting unrealistic standards about love which I have written about here. Or, it relates to certain feelings which cannot be articulated and describing them as romance is just convenient. Not everything is so easily identifiable to humans.
So, there are the main reasons people give for initiating a breakup. You can take this information to help you understand where your dissatisfaction in your relationship is coming from, if you need to understand reasons for an impending relationship breakup you’re going to initiate (more on this coming next!), to understand how to be better in a relationship or anything else you can think of. If you try to make yourself better through this, understand that no matter what you do, sometimes things just don’t go how we want them to and that’s okay.
Baxter, L. A. (1986). Gender differences in the hetero-sexual relationship rules embedded in break-up accounts. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 3(3), 289-306. (http://coms.publishpath.com/Websites/coms/files/Content/317710/Baxter_Rules_Theory_in_BreakUps.pdf)