Announcing you’ll never have sex again will do it, so will emptying your joint bank account and leaving the country.
But sometimes you don’t need to do anything dramatic to completely ruin things with your partner.
There are other, less obvious factors that can blow up a relationship almost instantly.
It’s possible you could lose your partner pronto if you…
SHOW A PREVIOUSLY UNSEEN SIDE OF YOURSELF
‘I’d already asked her to marry me when we visited some friends who have a really old, terribly smelly dog called George. I’d never seen her with an animal before and it was clear she found the dog incredibly distasteful.
‘George would come up for a pat and she’d push him away and shout at him to get off her. My friends and I exchanged looks and I felt embarrassed.
‘When we left, the dog tried to jump up and she pushed him away so forcibly, he fell backwards and was hurt. He was an old much-loved dog.
‘She told me I was pathetic for breaking up with her over something so ‘trivial’. But she revealed her true self by how she treated animals, and it wasn’t pretty.’
We all like to think we ‘know’ our partner. That we could predict how they’d behave in most scenarios. Guess the type of things they got up to in their past but haven’t owned up to. Feel confident we could do a ‘Mr and Mrs’ style quiz and answer, ‘No, they’re definitely not the sort to have had a threesome/tried heroin/kicked a puppy/stolen from an old person’.
When we find out we’ve been horribly wrong and they have behaved in a way that’s completely uncharacteristic, marriages topple.
For good reason: it feels like you’ve been living a lie.
You’ll fair better if the unexpected bad behaviour was long ago: everyone deserves a second chance and there’s also the whole ‘walk a mile in the person’s shoes’ thing to console themselves with.
It’s when they witness something inexcusable in the moment – outright racism, sexism, cruelty – that commitment is sorely tested.
How could they have missed such a crucial character flaw? How can they be sure there aren’t other unsavoury things that have slipped under the radar.
They can’t – which is why lots of people exit left.
INSULT THEIR FAMILY
‘When we were younger, my big sister and I would hang out a lot. We are still incredibly close. It was surprising how many partners were threatened by that.
‘Some said it was “weird” to be so close as siblings, others asked if “something was going on”. Seriously, what is wrong with people!
‘We both quickly learnt it’s only people who don’t get on with their own family who make such stupid remarks.
‘We didn’t care what the reason was, potential partners who said negative things were dumped on the spot and rightly so.’
Anyone who has been in a few long-term relationships has learnt this lesson first-hand. While it’s fine for your partner to moan and vent about their family, you must NEVER join in. Or agree.
He can call his sister an interfering cow and carry on for days, but God forbid you so much as nod an affirmation.
Few of us can be objective about our families: even if you know they’re difficult or behaving badly, it’s natural to get defensive and overprotective of them.
Which is why even a one-off insult can irrevocably damage a relationship. Bad mouth your partner’s family on an ongoing basis and you’re dicing with divorce every time a criticism escapes your mouth.
More than half of married people say in-laws cause major arguments – and one in five would ‘divorce’ their partners family if they could.
NOT BE THERE FOR THEM AT A CRUCIAL TIME
‘I knew my wife was selfish and needy, but I had no idea just how much until my brother was badly injured in a car accident at the age of 25. He needed a ton of help to recover, and it took a lot of my time which I gladly gave.
‘My wife was supportive at the start but when it all didn’t fix itself in week or two, she grew resentful of him taking my attention. She “couldn’t understand” why I wasn’t at home with her. He had other people, she didn’t. (She had loads of friends and family around, he was stuck in hospital.)
‘She’d roll her eyes if I cried over his condition, tell people it was his fault because he was driving too fast. (He wasn’t.)
‘There was zero support and no empathy at all. I lost all respect for her.’
When the proverbial hits the fan, most of us expect our partner to be by our side, offering support and help in any way they can.
What about cheating? Is it always the death knell for a relationship?
‘We’d been married 15 years, got along extremely well, and have two amazing children.
‘Everyone told me I overreacted by divorcing her pronto when I found out she’d had a year-long affair.
‘But anyone who would jeopardise what we had didn’t deserve to have it. I haven’t looked back…though she has and desperately regrets it.’
Infidelity is not always a deal breaker.
About a quarter of marriages survive after cheating is discovered but it’s bad news if you’re a woman who has stepped outside the relationship.
More men than women stay married when they are the person who committed infidelity. In one study, about 61 per cent of men who cheated are still married, with 34 per cent separated or divorced.
But only 44 per cent of women who cheated are still married, with 47 per cent separated or divorced.
This could be because men are more likely to indulge in opportunistic cheating – spur of the moment, because-it-was-put-in-front-of-me temptation.
If a woman cheats, it usually means there is real trouble in the relationship, so she’s more likely to leave anyway.
Either way, having sex with someone other than your partner is the most successful way to get rid of a spouse – fast.
When this doesn’t happen, it can come as quite a shock.
‘I didn’t feel heard’, ‘I didn’t feel like my feelings mattered’, ‘They weren’t on my side’, ‘They weren’t there for me’. Not feeling emotionally supported by your partner is a justifiable reason why people split.
The clue is in the vows: most of us pledge to stick around ‘through good times and bad’.
Seeing stark evidence your partner is clearly only in it when there’s blue skies, isn’t a nice feeling. If they’re not there for you for the little bumps, what’s going to happen later in life when obstacles get bigger and life gets harder?
LIE TO THEM
‘We’d been living together five years before I found out she’d been married before to a man in America.
I saw a comment on her social media from an old friend, asking about her ex-husband, before she could delete it. She told me she’d never been married; turned out she was for eight years.
I found her ex and he said she walked out one day and never came back, and he never knew why she left.
I challenged her and she said she’d just had enough and didn’t feel she “owed him an explanation”. What a cruel thing to do to someone. We split within a week of me finding out.’
We all lie – most of us one or two times a day. Necessarily, actually: white, ‘social’ lies (‘Of course you aren’t losing your hair darling’) help relationships run smoothly rather than create trouble.
It’s big lies (lying about debt, an affair, health issues, substance abuse) that have a big impact – and the longer the truth is hidden, the more chance it has of instantly ending the relationship.
This is because the liar often continues to lie to protect the original fib: one lie multiplies to become dozens of untruths.
Men and women lie about different things. Both sexes lie most about infidelity (roughly 25 per cent of both men and women).
Women then lie about debt (15 per cent), their health (16 per cent) and claiming to make less money than they do (8 per cent).
Men lie about alcohol intake (20 per cent), debt (16 per cent), dating site activity (15 per cent) and health (10 per cent).
Even if the secret is never discovered, lies unravel relationships because the guilty person feels ashamed.
Certain topics need to be avoided to maintain the lie. Meeting your partner’s eye now feels uncomfortable; the ‘you and me against the world’ feeling that most couples cherish is eroded.
If you’re good at compartmentalising – keeping certain parts of yourself separate from others – you’ll cope better dealing with dishonesty. But if you aren’t, the relationship implodes because you can’t live with yourself any longer.
Either way, plenty walk out the door after discovering their partner has kept something important from them for years – but would have stayed if it was admitted at the time.
‘It started with shouting from a distance. Then shouting in my face. Humiliating me when we were alone. Then in public.
‘I kept telling myself words couldn’t hurt me, but they did hurt. I told some close friends what was happening and their faces told me what I needed to know. It was obvious and inexcusable.
‘She punched me in the face when I said I was leaving.’
Around 2.4 million adults in the UK experienced domestic violence last year: 1.7 million of those were women and 700,000 were men.
It’s impossible to find out the true figure of how many marriages break down because of violence because so many victims are too frightened to admit it’s happening (or embarrassed to reveal it did).
If you think it’s shameful to admit your husband beats you up, imagine how humiliating it is for men to confess their wives are doing it. A ‘real man’ would never let that happen.
The truth is women do abuse men.
Of all the reasons to leave someone as soon as humanely possible, violence is top of the list.
Early red flags that alert you to an abusive personality include controlling behaviour, jealousy, getting involved quickly, having unrealistic expectations, isolating you from friends and family, blaming others for their problems and being hypersensitive.
Later in the relationship you’ll see ‘playful’ use of force during sex, verbal abuse, sudden mood changes, discover previous abusive relationships and watch them start to break or hit objects. Your body and face are next, if you stick around.
REVEAL A SUBSTANCE ABUSE PROBLEM
‘It was like someone stole the sweet, happy, generous woman I’d fallen in love with. In her place was someone I didn’t know. She became sullen, had dramatic mood swings, was withdrawn and defensive.
‘It didn’t occur to me she might have a drug addiction: she was successful, driven, ambitious.
‘We’d done coke on the odd occasion when we first met. I had no idea it had always been a problem for her and was now out of control.
‘When I confronted her, she chose the drugs not us. I want children. I don’t want a druggie as their mother.’
If infidelity and financial issues are seen as the main causes of divorce, addiction runs a close third – and is often the cause of the first two. It’s the third most cited reason for women seeking a divorce and the eighth most common for men.
Let us count the ways how addiction ruins the best of relationships. First up, addicts lie about their addiction for fear of losing their partner. There are lies aplenty. Lies about where they’ve been and who they’ve seen. Where they’ve spent all that money.
Their judgement becomes permanently skewed. Sex with their partner stops but sex with other people starts. Anger thrives. Shame moves in and stays. Ultimately, the habit becomes more important than the relationship.
An alarming number of addicts hide their true addiction from their partner for a considerable time.
It could be years before they realise that ‘cheeky line or two’ of cocaine you did at a party is now something you’re doing in your lunch hour in the office loo.
Sometimes a relationship can survive addiction. Most times, it doesn’t. If your partner isn’t interested in even trying to beat it, self-preservation makes most people walk away.
‘One of the reasons I divorced my first wife was that she snored loud enough to wake the dead but refused to get a simple operation to cure it.
‘I couldn’t sleep in the same room. Then I had problems even being in the same house. Her snoring was out of control and legendary.
‘Instead of understanding how badly it was impacting my health, she wore it like a badge of honour.
‘It came down to her getting the operation or me leaving. She refused.’
A trivial reason to end a relationship? Ask anyone who has ever laid beside a snoring partner, half mad from lack of sleep and frustration, and they’ll tell you it is anything but.
Most solve the problem by using ear plugs, noise cancelling devices and sleeping separately but some people refuse to ‘allow this to happen’. ‘A wife and husband should sleep in the same bed’.
Never mind that they’re getting a full eight hours and you’re getting less than three. They believe you’re making a fuss over nothing because they aren’t privy to the situation you’re in. (Most snorers don’t believe the recordings you make are ‘real’.)
A recent survey found when one person can’t sleep and the other can, they’re less grateful, more angry and less happy in their relationship.
Even if their sleep problem isn’t caused by their partner (snoring, stealing covers, moving around), 45 per cent feel resentful and jealous if their partner is getting eight hours, no problems at all.
Any new mother can tell you the detrimental affect lack of sleep has on your relationship. Children grow up, ingrain sleep problems are often there to stay.
Yes, it is unfair for someone to up and leave you because you sleep like a baby. But it can be a strong contributing factor.
- Tracey’s weekly podcast, SexTok with Tracey and Kelsey is out every Wednesday. Listen wherever you listen to your podcasts. Check out her product range at lovehoney and traceycox.com.