The number of couples who call it quits after a year or so is staggering. But why do so many couples break up after a year? Is it nature? Nurture? Or just something that has to happen, if the relationship isn't destined for forever? Well, as it turns out, there are actual statistics to which we can look to answer this question. Executive editor and founder of Cupid's Pulse Lori Bizzoco tells Bustle that a piece in the Washington Post in March “reported on a study that indicated about 70 percent of straight unmarried couples break up within the first year.” Yeah, that’s high.
Sociologist Michael Rosenfeld tracked more than 3,000 people since 2009 to find out what happens to relationships over time. He tracked married and unmarried straight and gay couples to peek at what time does to partnerships, and it looks as though the chances for breakup come way down after a few years. By five years in, most couples only had a 20 percent breakup rate, and by 10, they come down even more.
So why is it that people are so prone to splits in the beginning? Here's what nine relationships experts had to say about the matter.
1. Projection, Disillusionment, And Power Struggles
“The first year of a relationship can be a very exciting time, but it doesn't come without challenges,” Bizzoco tells Bustle. “The first year is when you and your partner are getting to know each other's personalities and determining whether you see a future with them or not.” Naturally, there will be some push and pull here. “In the beginning, relationships are like a trial run and sometimes they just don't work out,” she said.
“We recently interviewed relationship expert Neil Strauss, who says that there are three stages to the first year of a relationship: projection, disillusionment, and a power struggle.” In the beginning, things are perhaps a bit rosy than they really are. “A relationship begins with projection, which means you don't see who the other person is, just who you want them to be,” she says. “The next stage is disillusionment, where you see who they really are and not your fantasy, which is why people break up in the three-to-nine-month window.”
And then, of course, there’s the final stage: “There's a power struggle or conflict,” she says. “It takes more than a year to truly know if you and your partner are compatible; however, it takes less than a year to know if your partner is worth the effort of love.” They might be worth the effort, but if you aren’t compatible, you won’t likely last the test of time.
2. Certain Times Are Breakup-Prone
Just like we’re more likely to break up with someone around the one year mark, we’re also more likely to split up during certain holidays and such. Psychologist Nicole Martinez, who is the author of eight books, including The Reality of Relationships , tells Bustle that there are certain times of year that are breakup-prone. According to a study by Hephzibah Asolu, we most often split around Valentine’s day, in the spring, on April fool’s day (what?!), on Mondays, during summer holidays, two weeks before Christmas, and on Christmas itself.
“There is a pressure, a feelings of cleansing and starting anew, and a want to be free during these times which increases the rates of breakups,” Martinez says. But don’t dread every Monday: This only happens when it needs to. “The reality is that if your relationship is on strong ground, if the partner is not listless or questioning, you should be able to make it through these times and events unscathed.” Don’t worry!
3. The Façade Fades
“Many people break up around the one year mark because they tend to realize that they are simply not as into their mate as they thought they were,” author and relationship expert Alexis Nicole White tells Bustle. “For instance, we know that around the three-to-four-month mark, we know that the representative [image] typically fades away.” By then, you really start seeing your partner. “Between the five-to-six-month mark, people are typically really trying to decipher their feelings, and by the seventh-to-ninth-month mark, they are trying to determine if they really want to be with you.”
Coming up on a year, stuff gets real. “This point is really critical because you will definitely see this person’s character,” she says. “Either you will be really attracted to them or exceptionally turned off, By this point, they are so invested they are spending the rest of the year trying to hope away your flaws.” Oh, dear.
4. Your Brain Deactivates At First
“Researchers in London discovered that when you fall in love, certain parts of your brain deactivate,” Dawn Maslar, aka “the Love Biologist,” tells Bustle. “Specifically, your ventromedial prefrontal cortex — that's the part of your brain that judges the other person.” If that’s off, you’re not going judgmental on someone — you’re just going googly. “It's also why they say love is blind,” she says, “because you really can't see the other person for who they really are; you just think they are wonderful.”
But this doesn’t last. “You can't run around like this forever, and eventually you are going to need your brain back,” she says. “The re-activation occurs between one and three years.” At this point, you see your partner for who they are. “You go to bed basking in the warm glow of love and wake up to a snoring irritating person with morning breath,” she says. “When this happens, some couples believe the love is over and break up.”
5. People Don’t Want To Leave Too Soon
“I've found two main reasons for couples breaking up around the year mark,” life coach Kali Rogers tells Bustle. “First, infatuation, or the initial excited state of a relationship, can last anywhere between six months to two years.” If you’re infatuated, you’re all in — for now. “Once infatuation ceases to exist, couples have to decide if they are a good match for each other emotionally, mentally, and spiritually — not just physically.”
“Second, I've found through my own research in coaching young women that females love to get an emotional return on investment from their relationships,” Rogers says. “Once they have committed a certain amount of time — typically six months — they like to hold on as long as possible.” It’s hard to let go of something after you’ve sunk a lot of hard work and energy into it.
“They've dumped their love, attention, money and time into this relationship and they want a return,” she says. “Leaving before a year has hit seems too soon. So they like to ensure that there is no possible way for the relationship to give them their return, and then they leave,” she says. “This typically happens after the first or second year mark."
6. Reality Can Set In After A Year
“After a year or so, the new relationship euphoria begins to wear off, and reality sets in,” Tina B. Tessina, aka Dr. Romance, psychotherapist and author of How to Be Happy Partners: Working it out Together, tells Bustle. “Both partners relax, and stop being on their best behavior.” But this isn’t all good. “Old family habits assert themselves, and they begin to disagree about things they were tolerant of before,” she says. “Both partners are realizing this is about the rest of our lives, and that is a scary concept.”
If your past wasn’t too awesome on the relationship front, this can lead to big problems. “People who have grown up in divorced or single parent households have little experience of what good marriages look like,” she says. “Even if their own parents' marriage is intact, they're surrounded by peers whose parents — and they themselves — are having relationship disasters.” This can make it hard to be together for a long time. “Lacking skills, partners wind up fighting and shutting down,” Tessina adds. “If communication gets bad, so does sex, and because they feel hopeless about relationships, they don’t try to fix it, they just break up.”
7. The Love Drugs Wear Off
“One year is often where the honeymoon fades and all of the love drugs that float through our brains begin to wear off,” licensed marriage and family therapist and certified sex therapist Natalie Finegood Goldberg tells Bustle. “Many of the things that used to be 'cute' or 'endearing' become annoyances or frustrations.” If this wears too thin, the couple says peace to each other.
“Also, if there was any hope of the person ‘changing’ over time, one year is often the time when it becomes clear that the person is who they are, and aren't changing,” she adds. “When the fog of new-relationship bliss wears off, this is when couples have to decide if they like — or love — each other, warts and all.” Often, the answer is no.
8. You Find Out Your Partner Isn’t Generous
“Sometimes it's after a few holidays and a birthday that you find out that the person you are with is not as generous as you had hoped,” Stefanie Safran, Chicago's "Introductionista" and founder of Stef and the City, tells Bustle. “People who are not seeking marriage or kids tend to stay in relationships longer than just 12 months if they don't have to ‘rush’ to make a decision on where the relationship is headed.” But if you realize this person isn’t keeping your best interest in mind, sooner or later, you’ll split.
“With more people dating and not moving forward, it's smarter to end something if the person doesn't seem serious about you,” she says. “According to Helen Chen, whose marriage philosophies have been quoted in over 200 media publications in 18 countries, over 85 percent of dating ends up in breakups.” Well, there you go.
9. A Year Is When You Determine If You're Really On The Same Page
“A year is when most couples of a certain age decide to make it official,” New York–based relationship expert and author April Masini tells Bustle. “If, after a year of dating, one or the other doesn’t want to take that step — whether it’s moving in together, getting married or simply making monogamy important — this is when the one who wants a commitment should leave to pursue their personal relationship goals.” It’s an all or nothing moment.
“Having given a relationship a year is a good time frame,” she says. “People who are looking for a solid commitment shouldn’t waste time, and if after a year there’s no commitment, and one person is looking for one, it’s a good idea to break up.” In other words, people often break up after a year if one person wants something and the other one wants to keep their options open.
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