For decades, psychological research on attractiveness has revealed what qualities people tend to seek in romantic partners. Intelligence, honesty and a sense of humor are the most reliable traits. This study gives us a good look at what people say they want, but what do they not want? What is the biggest "breaking factor" that causes people to reject potential romantic prospects?
Recently, a set of studies published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences attempted to quantify this, and revealed seven key characteristics of the most common reasons for breakups. Here's what they found:
In the first study, the researchers conducted an online survey of 155 heterosexual adults aged 18-45 in Europe. Participants were asked to list the characteristics of a person who was not suitable as a potential long-term partner as well as a short-term partner.
Looking at the answers, the researchers identified 96 of the most cited reasons for breakups, including indecision, filth, ego and aggression. The researchers then conducted a second study to extract the broader themes raised by these deal-breakers.
In the second study, 2,445 Heterosexual European adults aged 18-45 assessed their likelihood of rejecting a potential partner based on each trait. Scores for short - and long-term relationships were collected separately.
The results showed that there were seven different factors, which were the most common cause of breakups. These factors are:
Lack of ambition (indecision, no sense of purpose)
Hostile (unfriendly, irritable)
Dirty (dirty, smelly)
Arrogance = being self-centered and too opinionated
Unattractive (not physically attractive)
Stickiness (persistence, desire for commitment)
Abuse (radicalism, violence)
These seven major breakup factors were consistent between men and women, but their importance varied in different relationship contexts (short and long term). For example, being dirty was the biggest reason for breaking up in a variety of situations, while clingy wasn't seen as a problem in long-term relationships and lack of ambition wasn't seen as a problem in short-term relationships.
In two other studies, researchers asked participants to consider both "deal breakers" (who they didn't want) and "deal facilitators" (who they wanted). The findings point to the importance of studying what we want and don't want, rather than just one. But they also show that people care more about -- or are more eager to know -- the dealmakers than the people who stand in their way.
It's worth noting, however, that some dealmakers and dealbreakers seem to be opposite messages (for example, attractive and unattractive) -- so if you already know one, you know the other.
The results of this study were limited because all participants were heterosexual and European, so we can't extend the results to LGBTQ+ people or people from different cultures. The reasons for breakups are likely to be different in different communities and different regions, depending on what is (or is not) valued or considered attractive in a particular population.
That is, the results suggest that certain traits that lead to breakups seem to be interconnected and can be thought of as a smaller set of big themes that make a particular partner less popular.
However, more research is needed to understand how well people stick to their principles in practice. It's easy to say what we want and don't want to do with our partner, but what we say and what we actually do don't always agree. For example, some research on relationships has found that what people want in a partner in a survey doesn't predict who they really want in real life.
So an interesting line of research in this area for the future is to explore deal-breakers that represent absolutes or red lines, rather than those that simply reflect preferences that people may be willing to compromise.
Do you have any reason to break up? Are they similar or different from those identified in this study? Let us know in the comment section below.
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