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10 Signs That a Relationship Could Be in Trouble

7. Becoming unsure that a partner is happy.

Key points

  • While oxytocin ramps up in the early stages of romantic attachment, cortisol increases near its end.
  • Right before a breakup, many use more I-words, we-words, and cognitive processing content in online posts.
  • While no one can predict a relationship's viability, each partner's level of satisfaction can be assessed.

Being in love, or being in blissful “maybe it’s love,” can be a magical experience. When you are in love, or even think you’re in love, and your romantic interest shares that feeling, you see the world differently. For example, when couples face stressors that might totally wreck someone’s day, those in love can see them differently. They might laugh about the challenge they faced in the moment or later recount them as shared experiences that bound them closer together.

Facing a risk with someone you love can be sexy, and the feeling of success you feel at having “powered through” a challenge is likely to also power up your sexual attraction to your partner (Zheng et al., 2018). In high-anxiety situations, going into survival mode can also send you into mating mode. When faced with anxiety-producing situations, you’re more likely to feel sexual attraction for someone, which also allows for the transformation of everyday hassles or major upsets into mutual bonding experiences with a partner.

However, as a relationship settles into a regular routine and the newness of the relationship has worn out, some couples will find themselves “happily ever after-ing” while other couples may find themselves on the verge of a breakup. What are the signs that a relationship is heading downhill?

Hormones Tell a Tale

While oxytocin, the bonding hormone, ramps up in the early stages of romantic attachment, your level of cortisol, the stress hormone, increases in both you and your partner as a relationship nears its end and your empathy for one another begins to wane (Schneiderman et al., 2014). Not only do your hormones tell the inside story, but so will your online posts.

Pre- and Post-Breakup Posts

Online telltale signs include changes in the pronouns and articles you use in your posts (Seraj et al., 2021). Three months before a breakup, you may find yourself using more I-words (which are connected to depressive feelings), we-words (indicating a focus on the collective/couple-ness), and cognitive processing content (related to meaning-making). These patterns of posting were found to be consistent across even non-relationship-focused posts—breakups can affect us across multiple domains. The pattern tends to shift back to a person’s regular posting style around six months after the breakup. If you find yourself continuing to obsess and post about your breakup after a year, you may want to consider speaking with a therapist, as research suggests that posting for lengthier periods was correlated with poorer post-breakup adjustment.

What Determines the Viability of Your Romantic Relationship?

You may wish someone could tell you whether your current relationship will last or to prepare for a breakup or walk away before a relationship has a chance to really get going. Unfortunately, no one can make that call with any certainty due to the highly individual nature of who you are, how your relationships unfold, and with whom.

While no factor can truly predict whether you and your partner will break up, there are factors that affect your level of satisfaction with your relationship. Research has shown that there are five individual factors and five relationship factors (Joel et al., 2020) that are most likely to influence whether or not you will be making long-term plans or filling time until things come to an end.

Five individual factors that predict relationship quality are:

  1. Life satisfaction. When you, or your partner, is feeling miserable or less happy in life than you normally do, or just in general, that can be a warning sign.
  2. Negative affect. When you or your partner have a negative outlook overall, experience low self-esteem, have trouble finding the positive things in life, or always assume the worst, it can be hard to make a relationship work for the long term as every relationship hits challenges along the way and a positive outlook may be needed to ensure the relationship manages the hurdles.
  3. Depression. When a person suffers from depression, they don’t feel good about themselves and can have a hard time showing up in a relationship in the way that their partner might need.
  4. Attachment avoidance. If you have difficulty letting yourself be vulnerable with your partner, or vice versa, and intimacy is something that is too big a climb, this can cause relationships to falter over time.
  5. Attachment anxiety. This describes feelings that a person longs for an intimate connection with a partner, but they feel that they are unworthy of their partner’s love or have fears about rejection or being abandoned by their partner.

The five relationship-related factors are:

  1. Perceived partner commitment. When you believe your partner is committed to you, you’re more likely to feel good about the relationship.
  2. Perceived partner satisfaction. If you feel like your partner is happy with you and the relationship, you are more likely to feel satisfied with things.
  3. Appreciation. Everyone needs to feel appreciated, and when your partner shows you that they appreciate you, you’re happier in the relationship.
  4. Sexual satisfaction. While this isn’t the only factor that predicts a person’s satisfaction with a relationship, it is definitely in the top five.
  5. Conflict. The more conflict in a relationship, the less satisfied people are going to feel; it seems like a no-brainer, but some people do not realize the damage that relational conflict can cause.

While science continues to shed more light on relationship beginnings and endings, the unique individuality of each member of the relationship ultimately determines the longevity of a relationship. Sadly, it takes two people to build a relationship, but only one person to end it.

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