6 Things That Kill A Relationship (Pretty Much) Every Time

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couple sitting on couch wondering what is killing their relationship NDAB Creativity / Shutterstock

By Dr. Helen Fisher and Dr. Lucy L. Brown

While some people are fiercely dedicated to the single life, human nature and evolutionary biology mean that the vast majority of people crave an intimate relationship.

Yet sustaining those relationships is not easy. Roughly 40% of first marriages fail, while subsequent marriages are even less likely to succeed.

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What kills a relationship?

The reasons are as varied as the individuals, but, in addition to a lack of sex and financial troubles, six of the most common relationship killers are trust issues, infidelity and jealousy, communication difficulties, lack of balance, compatibility problems, and abusive behavior.

1. Trust issues

Trust is absolutely essential to the companionship and intimacy that hold relationships together. Yet it is also one of the hardest things to earn and keep. Trust issues run the gamut from financial choices to emotional dependability.

Often, there is an underlying issue that was never fully discussed and resolved, such as one partner’s gambling spree in Las Vegas or an inability to agree on whether to relocate to a new city. Over time, these unresolved issues can carry over into your day-to-day relationship, casting a cloud of suspicion and doubt over even the most mundane situations.


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2. Infidelity and jealousy

While trust can break down in many facets of a relationship, suspected or confirmed infidelity can be the hardest to overcome. From emotional affairs to physical dalliances, infidelity tends to destroy nearly half of the relationships that it impacts. Even if you decide to stay together, learning to rebuild what you had before is an arduous and emotionally draining experience.

This is equally true in cases where no affair actually occurred, but accusations were made. Because infidelity is such a devastating experience, being falsely accused can feel like an intensely personal attack, destroying trust and intimacy. It is absolutely critical that you avoid making accusations without proof, and talk out any fears or doubts you have in a non-threatening and open way.

3. Communication difficulties

Many couples struggle with communication, often claiming that they speak different languages. Yet failure to communicate can lead a once-close couple to begin operating in completely different spheres, living more like roommates than partners.


Over time, you will begin to feel isolated and lonely and might seek emotional intimacy elsewhere. Lack of communication can also lead to contempt, or the tendency for every meaningful conversation to devolve into sarcasm and belittling rather than healthy resolution.

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4. Lack of balance

Unbalanced relationships are particularly common among young couples and those with new children or aging parents, but they can happen to anyone. Imbalance occurs when one or both partners fail to prioritize the relationship, instead of placing unusual importance on other people or other situations.

It is normal for relationships to ebb and flow, and in times of crisis, it is only natural for the relationship to take a backseat. When it becomes a problem, though, is when one partner begins to feel consistently taken for granted, unheard, or devalued.


Examples of a lack of balance that can destroy a relationship include: always spending the holidays with one set of parents, one partner drinking with friends every night after work, or one partner making all of the vacation decisions. Even when you are coping with issues outside your relationship, be sure to check in frequently with your partner and let him or her call some of the shots.

5. Compatibility problems

Opposites may attract, but it is extremely tough to keep a relationship of opposites together. Basic compatibility on such things as values and worldview is essential to a comfortable, long-term relationship. If you are radically different, respect and compromise are absolutely critical.

Everything from whether to celebrate Santa Claus with your kids to whether to attend religious services could be a sticking point for couples without basic compatibility. Over time, only the most stubbornly dedicated couples are able to overcome major compatibility problems.

6. Abusive behavior

Abuse should never be tolerated in any relationship, but abusive behaviors tend to fall along a continuum. Rage, disrespect, and emotional stonewalling may not be relationship-ending in and of themselves, but continuing patterns can wear people down. An inability or unwillingness to respect your partner’s thoughts, beliefs, and feelings can destroy the trust and intimacy in any relationship.


While these common relationship problems can destroy relationships, they can also be opportunities to get your relationship back on track. If you and your partner face difficulties, consider seeking advice from a professional counselor. If both people are willing and able to face their own responsibilities in the situation, with a lot of hard work, the relationship can often be saved.

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Lucy L. Brown, Ph.D. is a neuroscientist and Helen Fisher, Ph.D. biological anthropologist. Each has written books and has been published on numerous websites including Frontiers in Psychology, CNN, Ted Talk, Dating News, Journal of Neuro Physiology, Journal of Comparative Neurology, and more.