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The End of Relationships

Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

Some people can walk away from years of marriage and instantly feel relieved and unburdened. For others, the end of a relationship that lasted just a few weeks can bring on intense emotional trauma that lingers for years. Whatever the circumstances of a breakup, experts suggest, it is potentially a major life stressor whose effect on one’s ego and self-esteem should not be dismissed.

Why Couples Split

In some failed relationships, partners endure a gradual decline of connection, intimacy, and affection, while in others, one or the other partner can identify moment when they knew it was over. When a relationship experiences strain, couples must decide if they have built a connection that can sustain it, and if not, whether it’s best to end it.

What do couples fight about most?

Surveys of what couples argue about find many common sources of conflict including affection, communication, jealousy, sexual frequency, control, future plans, chores and responsibilities, secrets, and finances. Being aware of the topics that tend to frustrate couples most often, experts say, would help new partners prepare, and perhaps stay together longer.

What are “the four horsemen of the apocalypse”?

Psychologist John Gottman famously pointed to four core issues as most likely to derail a relationship—criticism (questioning a partner’s character), contempt (acting superior to a partner), defensiveness (avoiding responsibility), and stonewalling (refusing to engage with issues). When these negative interactions outnumber positive ones, he suggested, these “four horsemen of the apocalypse” have taken hold, and a couple may not survive.


Standing at the altar, few couples can imagine that they will one day be signing divorce papers. And yet many will. Spouses lose their connection to each other for some common reasons—infidelity, financial stress, a decline of affection, or incompatibility—and so experts suggest that couples remain vigilant about these challenges even during their honeymoon period and, if those issues become insurmountable, they honestly assess whether it’s time to part ways.

For more, see Divorce.

Why do longtime spouses get divorced?

It’s less common for people to divorce after long marriages, but the divorce rate for couples over 50 has doubled since 1990. The strongest predictor of divorce among older couples is whether one or both partners has been divorced before, although many older partners say they divorced because of long-ignored issues they were only prepared to face after their children left home.

How can partners benefit from a divorce?

Research shows that in many cases, divorce can boost self-esteem. In the months or years leading up to divorce, partners’ self-esteem tends to dip, and while it may take a while to recover after a split, it generally does, suggesting that divorce is the antidote, albeit a painful one, to an unhappy marriage.

Getting Over a Breakup

Even if you didn’t believe a relationship would last a lifetime, its ending can hurt, especially if you feel that you’ve been rejected by someone you loved and trusted. Understanding why breakups are painful, and what you can learn from them, are crucial steps toward bouncing back.

How can I recover from a breakup?

Recommended strategies to get over a breakup include maintaining distance from an ex; reminding yourself of their bad qualities, and not just the good ones you may miss; taking up new activities; and making sure to maintain your health. Some people find that repeating certain phrases or mantras, like “I love myself,” “I want to be happy,” or “I am better off,” can hasten emotional recovery.

Why are some breakups more painful than others?

There are some proven reasons it can take so long to get over an ex: People who tend to catastrophize may find it harder to see a positive future post-breakup; those who ruminate on negative thoughts and “what ifs” can struggle to move one; and those who have a weaker sense of self may wonder who they are without a partner.

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