Science Knows If (or When) Your Long-Term Relationship Is Going to End

Think seeing into the future would be a blessing or a curse? Your answer will predict how you feel about some new research which has identified the five stages that relationships go through as they swirl the drain for good.


University of Tennessee researchers submitted a questionnaire to 83 college students already in a serious relationship. Then, they surveyed the group again two months later. By that time, 20 percent had split up with their partner, so the researchers were able to go back through their answers and see what telltale signs they gave that the end was nigh.

The result: Stages of Change in Relationship Status (SCORS), a succinct scale that shows the five stages a couple goes through when it's about to be kaput. Think about previous breakups you've gone through and the stages below will likely sound familiar. 

But maybe you've had an inkling as early as stage one or two that you were just not that into your partner anymore. Which begs the question -- why don't more people just rip off the Band-Aid and get the whole thing over with?

"It's much easier to get into a relationship than out of one," notes Paul Hokemeyer, PhD, JD, a licensed marriage and family therapist in New York City. "We're biologically wired to mate with other human beings. Connecting with other people causes our bodies to release a host of delicious hormones that make us feel like we've been wrapped in a cashmere blanket."

Leaving relationships, on the other hand, invokes the opposite feelings. "We're filled with self-doubt, dread, and fear for our well-being," Hokemeyer says.

And that's why couples stay together looooong after their relationship has passed its expiration date. "We keep going back and swigging from the carton of sour milk, knowing that it's rancid, but desperately craving some kind of nurturance," Hokemeyer points out. 

Want to see what science has to say on the matter? 

1. There's no change.

You don't think there's anything wrong with your relationship and you're not driven to change it. It's Netflix and chill as usual, all day every day.

2. You're starting to THINK about change.

You've got a nagging feeling that your relationship isn't right for you. But you know, it's just a thought in the back of your head as you go through the usual motions.

More from CafeMom: 13 Cowardly, Insensitive & Just Plain Heartless Breakup Stories

3. You're working up the courage. Maybe you admit to yourself that something's not working. (And never will.) Or maybe you begin thinking about how you're going to leave your SO and when.

4. The end is nigh. Some people in this stage choose the direct route: actually telling their partner they want to call it quits. Others take a more passive approach: spending less time together, for instance, or just thinking about their partner far less.

5. You are DONE. The researchers refer to this stage as "maintenance." You've made your decision, you're sticking to it, and you're cleaning up any loose ends. You've returned all your SO's belongings (including his comfy sweatshirt you love). You find a different coffee shop so you don't accidentally run into him, and ... moving on.

So what happens if you read through the list above and get a nasty little realization that your LTR is trending toward #5? All is not lost, says Hokemeyer. Because if you take another look, you'll see that certain stages (even #4) can be reversed.

"By empowering a person to take responsibility for their place and feelings in the relationship," says Hokemeyer, "it also empowers them to take reparative actions to heal the relationship."

In other words, although the train may have left the station, you're still the one deciding which direction you go.


Image via Studio DIY

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