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Top 10 Reasons Relationships Fail

Why do relationships fail? Here are 10 common reasons.

Key points

  • The longer two people share their lives together, the more likely complex factors are involved in their breakup.
  • According to research, having differences over money is one of the top reasons for marital dissolution.
  • Over time, a couple’s expectations in the relationship may differentiate.

Most of us want to meet and settle down with the “right” person, and most of us want such a relationship to last. At the same time, the majority of romantic partnerships end in dissolution. What are some of the major causes? Below are 10 reasons why relationships fail, excerpted from my books, 7 Keys to Long-Term Relationship Success and How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult People.

Of course, every couple is unique. The longer two people shared their lives together, the more likely complex factors are involved. The list of reasons below is not meant to be comprehensive. They simply represent some of the most common and damaging factors behind relational dissolution.

1. Trust Issues

Lack or loss of trust is one of the most harmful contagions to a couple’s long-term success. Without trust, a relationship misses two key anchors to a strong bond: safety and security.

Trust issues may include factors such as jealousy, possessiveness, unreasonable rigidity, emotional infidelity, physical/sexual infidelity, relational game playing, lack of reliability and dependability, lack of emotional support, lack of financial compatibility, and lack of mutually-supportive goals.

If you believe trust is a major issue in your relationship (or was in your former relationship), examine whether the lack of trust is based on a pattern of evidence (such as significant broken promises), or mostly subjective emotions (such as jealousy without proof). Consider honestly whether the lack of trust is based on tangible substance or unjustified fears.

2. Different Expectations

"Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option."―Mark Twain

It’s not easy for a couple to walk a journey together for a long time. The elements that frequently draw two people toward one another at the beginning of a relationship—physical attraction, sexual passion, common interests, personality connections, socio-economic backgrounds—often become less central as the realities and demands of day-to-day life sets in. Over time, a couple’s expectations in the relationship may differentiate, as they begin to see their respective life plans as “what I want,” instead of “what we want.”

Some of the reasons relationship divergence occurs between a couple include:

Mister/Miss Right or Mister/Miss Right Now?

Does your partner see you as “Mister/Miss Right” or “Mister/Miss Right Now”? In other words, how serious is your partner about being in a long-term committed relationship with you? What about you with your partner?

Differences in Priorities

Your partner has different priorities and expectations regarding the relationship.

For some, the significant-other relationship (and family) is the primary center of gravity for life. Nothing else comes close in its importance.

For others, a romantic relationship, even a committed one, is but one facet of life. There are many other aspects of life that, in their perspective, can justifiably take higher priority.

3. Moving Through Life at Different Speeds

When one partner is learning and growing at a rapid pace, while the other is stagnating, this may be a source of relational divergence. One example of this would be a partner advancing quickly in her career and society, while her significant other is stagnating at home. The professional and social circles of the couple begin to diverge, and soon the couple themselves differentiate. They have physically, intellectually, and socially grown apart.

4. Compatibility Issues

Relational compatibility is a significant topic worthy of full volumes of its own. In my books, relationship compatibility is explored in detail from several perspectives, including compatibility in intimacy, compatibility in personality types, and compatibility in attachment styles.

5. Communication Issues

This is a big one. Numerous studies have identified communication (or a lack thereof) as one of the top reasons for couples therapy, as well as one of the top reasons for break-up and divorce (1)(2).

Dr. John Gottman of the University of Washington, a foremost expert on couples studies, concluded after over 20 years of research that the single, best predictor of divorce is when one or both partners show contempt in the relationship.

Contempt, the opposite of respect, is often expressed via negative judgment, criticism, or sarcasm regarding the worth of an individual. In communication studies, this is known as being “tough on the person, soft on the issue." Contemptuous communication works like poison—it destroys the health and well-being of a romantic relationship.

6. Narcissism

Narcissists have an inflated sense of their own importance and need to be admired. Narcissism is often marked by a lack of true intimacy in relationship (3).

Signs of narcissism may include (and are not limited to) superiority complex, grandiose self-image, entitlement, conceit, boundary violations, false charm, the Don Juan syndrome, manipulation, irresponsibility, rule-breaking, extreme selfishness, negative emotions, and contempt towards others. Significantly, research indicates that high narcissism is correlated with susceptibility to infidelity (4)(5).

7. Relational Abuse

For the purpose of this writing, relational abuse is defined as the repeated mistreatment of an individual. Examples of relational abuse include verbal, emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse, pathological manipulation, pathological narcissism, pathological passive-aggressiveness, and excessive control and dominance.

8. Life Habit Abuse

Life habit abuses are traits that, although they may or may not directly involve the partner (such as a secret gambling addiction), they may ultimately affect the relationship in a destructive way. Examples of life habit abuse include drug addiction, alcohol addiction, gambling addiction, and sexual addiction.

9. Grown Apart, Boredom, Staleness, Rut

If any of the four terms written above resonates with your relationship experience, there are a couple of elements to consider:

If you have been in a relationship for two years or less, and you and your partner have “grown apart," it could be due to a lack of commitment, different expectations, lack of compatibility, or the natural process of trial and error in mate-finding.

If you are in a long-term relationship, it is possible that life obligations (such as school, work, and especially child-rearing) got in the way of couple connectedness and mutual evolvement. A classic example is the “empty nest” syndrome, where after all the children have grown and left home, the parents suddenly feel like strangers to one another, due to not having focused on each another for so many years.

10. Money Issues

The longer a couple has been together in a committed relationship, the greater the possibility of financial incompatibility. According to research, having differences over money is one of the top reasons for marital dissolution (6)(7). A couple also doesn’t need to be married to have money challenges.

Money issues and disputes tap into some of our deepest psychological needs and fears, including and not limited to trust, safety, security, power, control, and survival.

© 2015 by Preston C. Ni. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright violation may subject the violator to legal prosecution.


(1) Gottman, J. The Relationship Cure. Harmony. (2002)

(2) The Huffington Post. Poor Communication Is The #1 Reason Couples Split Up. (2013)

(3) Johnson, Stephen. “Humanizing the Narcissistic Style”. W. W. Norton & Company. (1987)

(4) McNulty, J. K., & Widman, L. Susceptibility to Infidelity in the First Year of

Marriage. Archives of Sexual Behavior. (2014)

(5) Buss, D., & Shackelford, T. Sexual Narcissism and Infidelity in Early Marriage. Journal of Research in Personality. (1997)

(6) Dew, J., Britt, S., Huston.S. Examining the Relationship Between Financial Issues and Divorce. Family Relations Journal. (2012)

(7) Survey: Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® (CDFA™) Professionals Reveal the Leading Causes of Divorce. Institute for Divorce Financial Analysis. (2013)

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