No two breakups are exactly alike ― but the fights couples have along the road to splitting up tend to be remarkably similar.
Below, marriage therapists share seven fights couples usually have right before they call it quits.
1. The “I feel like we’re roommates” fight
Most marriages can’t survive on birthday sex alone: Although some couples don’t place a priority on sex, many feel it’s critical to a satisfying relationship. When sex is put on the back burner, the “I feel like we’re roommates” argument isn’t usually far behind, said Sari Cooper, a therapist in New York City and host of the web show “Sex Esteem.”
“The partner who complains is letting the other person know that the erotic frisson has evaporated and that the lack of sexual contact really is no longer acceptable,” she said. “If the listening partner isn’t willing to work together to renew the erotic connection, the relationship may be headed toward a breakup.”
2. The “we never should have gotten together” fight
Couples in healthy relationships usually think back fondly on their early days together. If you’re more inclined to dredge up the negative memories (”Hey, remember that time two months into our relationship when you forgot to pick me up at the airport?”), it doesn’t bode well for your future, said Kari Carroll, a marriage and family therapist in Portland, Oregon.
“When positive memories start to fade, it’s a signal that partners are emotionally distancing themselves from each other,” she said. “They’re rewriting the past and convincing themselves that this partnership must have been doomed from the start.”
To save the relationship, Carroll tells couples to remind themselves of the good times, even if it means spending a little time clicking through old Facebook photo albums.
“This helps shift the tempting negative thinking into an optimistic perspective,” she said.
3. The “I’m sorry you feel that way” fight
For an apology to mean anything, it has to be genuine. When you tell your spouse “I’m sorry you feel that way” after you get into a heated argument, you’re dismissing his feelings and essentially issuing a non-apology apology, said Danielle Kepler, a therapist based in Chicago, Illinois.
“Instead of reducing the tension, this sort of apology comes off as condescending and contemptuous,” she said. “Apologising for your partner’s feelings does not convey that you understand where they are coming from. Failed repair attempts are another sign of a possible unhappy future.”
4. The hyperbolic “you always do this” or “never do that” fight
Stay clear of blanket statements when you’re arguing with your partner ― “You never think to invite me out with your friends,” for instance, or “You always leave the dishes piled up for me to wash.”
Whatever the issue, using accusatory generalisations and words like “never” and “always” tends to lead to resentment and big, overblown fights, said Marni Feuerman, a marriage and family therapist in Boca Raton, Florida.
“Sometimes people realise they are using these extreme terms and stop themselves,” she said. “Other times, they start to believe it really is the case ― ‘He does always take his mother’s side over mine,’ for instance. That’s when it can lead to a big relationship blowup.”
5. The “why do you walk away when we fight?” fight
This statement suggests at least one spouse is stonewalling ― a cardinal sin in any relationship, according to Feuerman. Stonewalling occurs when a person gets so upset, they shut down and disengage from the argument.
“When a partner is unwilling to engage and resolve a conflict, it escalates the problems,” she said. “Sometimes the person who walks away is just overwhelmed and needs to decompress, but they need to be willing to come back to the conversation and resolve it.”
If one partner is prone to stonewalling and avoiding conflict, “it can easily put the couple on the road to splitsville,” Feuerman said.
6. The “I have to do most of the chores” fight
Leaving the dishes in the sink time after time hurts your marriage more than you realise: A 2015 study from the University of Alberta suggested that people in more egalitarian relationships have higher relationship satisfaction and more sex than couples who don’t divvy up chores.
As a marriage therapist, Carroll has seen firsthand how this scenario plays out.
“For couples I work with in therapy, conflict about household tasks tends to continue until they’ve addressed deeper issues ― usually related to a power imbalance in the relationship,” she said. “Meanwhile, people in relationships who feel that power is fair and balanced generally don’t mind taking on certain chores or responsibilities.
“This is because at the core of all romantic relationships, people want to feel valued and understood on a deep emotional level,” she explained. “Chipping in with chores shows you value and care for your partner.”
7. The “I don’t want to fight anymore” fight
Paradoxical as it may sound, when the fighting stops, it usually signals the beginning of a breakup, said Amy Begel, a marriage and family therapist in New York City.
“It’s almost like a symbolic emotional divorce: You’re too emotionally detached to care,” she said. “Usually when one partner says they don’t want to fight anymore, they simply figure they won’t be heard by their partner. But when you don’t talk about your problems, inner conflict festers, and that’s when many people decide to divorce.”