For all the joy that romantic relationships bring us, it is needless to say that they are hard work. In the United States, it is estimated that one in two marriages ends in divorce. Other data show that approximately 33 percent of people find it difficult to maintain their romantic relationships.
What makes sustaining a romantic relationship so difficult? A new study forthcoming in the journal Evolutionary Psychology has an answer. A team of psychologists led by Menelaos Apostolou of the University of Nicosia in Greece found that ‘fading enthusiasm,’ ‘long work hours,’ and ‘lack of personal time and space’ are the three most common problems that prevent people from staying together. They also estimate that only 30 percent of adults find it easy to sustain long-term romantic relationships.
To come to this conclusion, the researchers recruited 123 Greek adults to participate in a 40-minute survey interview. During the interview, participants discussed various difficulties they had in their romantic relationships. The researchers kept track of the challenges mentioned by the participants, identifying 78 in total, and grouped them into 12 broad themes. Finally, they ranked these themes from most common to least common. Here’s what they found.
The 12 most common problems that prevent people from sustaining intimate relationships
- Fading enthusiasm. The top concern has to do with the difficulty of sustaining energy and enthusiasm in a long-term relationship. Many partners/spouses find long-term relationships to be tiring and they get bored quickly. They also feel that the passion and romantic intensity fades sooner than expected. Fading enthusiasm is especially problematic among people who struggle with routines.
- Long work hours. Some have speculated that divorce rates can be predicted by the length of a spouse’s commute. This research adds credibility to this claim. Partners who spend many hours working or put their careers ahead of their relationships are, not surprisingly, less likely to sustain a romantic relationship.
- Lack of personal time and space. Feeling ‘suffocated’ or lacking sufficient ‘me time’ is another common reason why people have difficulty maintaining romantic relationships. People who feel constrained or oppressed by their relationship, or feel that their partner is constantly nagging them, will have issues sustaining their intimate relationship.
- Character issues. People who view themselves as quirky or selfish also have difficulty sustaining long-term romantic relationships. Moreover, people who complain often to their romantic partners — perhaps reflecting deeper insecurity or character issue — also find it difficult to maintain a relationship for the long haul.
- Clinginess. Clingy partners — people who become easily dependent on others and too often put their partner’s needs ahead of their own — have difficulty maintaining romantic relationships. But there’s another aspect to it. People who exercise constant control over their partner, or easily become jealous of their partner, also have difficulty sustaining relationships (especially when coupled with a tendency to expect too much of their partner).
- Bad sex. Sexual chemistry is important to the long-term success of a relationship. Couples who disagree about the frequency and quality of sexual intimacy will find it difficult to maintain their relationship.
- Infidelity and abuse. Lacking sexual interest in a partner, or engaging in infidelities, is one reason that prevents relationships from lasting. Abuse, especially in the form of physical violence, is another reason.
- Children. Some couples with children report feeling that their kids absorb too much of their energy which can lead to relationship dissolution. Frequent disagreements about how to parent is another commonly cited reason that leads to relationship issues.
- Lack of effort. All relationships require effort and some couples simply run out of steam. Individuals who do not take their partners’ needs into consideration, or neglect their partner, face serious relationship challenges. The hallmarks of this form of relationships neglect are ‘becoming distant,’ ‘taking one’s partner for granted,’ ‘not being honest,’ ‘not compromising,’ and ‘not tolerating a partner’s idiosyncrasies.’
- Social circle issues. Individuals who do not have good relationships with their partners’ parents, relatives, and friends also find it difficult to sustain their romantic relationships.
- Not being monogamous. Individuals who have difficulty resisting temptations and engage in adultery or affairs, not surprisingly, have difficulty sustaining long-term relationships. That said, partners do not need to be cheating on their significant other to face these types of challenges. Simply feeling like one is ‘missing opportunities,’ or constantly making comparisons with previous relationships, without engaging in an affair, is enough to drive a wedge between a couple.
- Behavioral issues. Psychological problems, addiction (for example, gambling or alcohol), and/or having to rely on family members to engage relationship interventions are all signs that a romance may not last.
The researchers found the importance of each of these themes to depend on a partner’s gender. For instance, ‘character issues’ were more likely to be cited as a problem area among women while ‘fading enthusiasm’ was more common among men.
The authors theorize that many of these problems are compounded by the modern way of life. They state, “The mismatch between ancestral and modern conditions is likely to account for many of the factors that have emerged here. In more detail, in the ancestral context, enthusiasm and intense romantic feelings would motivate people to start a relationship, and they are expected to reside as the relationship progresses. In a pre-industrial context, the support, protection, and subsistence benefits would take over, providing the incentive to people to keep the relationship. The absence of these factors in the post-industrial context makes the fading away of enthusiasm and romantic feelings impairing for keeping a relationship, as people lose the incentive to do so.”
Facebook image: New Africa/Shutterstock
Apostolou, M., & Wang, Y. (2020). The Challenges of Keeping an Intimate Relationship: An Evolutionary Examination. Evolutionary Psychology.