When you’re head over heels—or married for ages—it’s hard to be certain that your relationship is forever. But researchers have discovered some unexpected red flags that may tip you off. Here, 10 study-backed signs your relationship might be in trouble.
1. You’re fuzzy on events from your relationship.
If you remember a happy time at your friend’s party, but your guy recalls a lover’s quarrel, beware. A small study from the University of Illinois of established, but never-before-married, couples found those who said they were growing closer to marriage remembered their relationship more accurately than those who didn’t. The experts suggest that misremembering key events may stem from a desire to feel better about where the relationship is headed.
2. You met online.
Sorry, cyber daters. A 2014 study of about 4,000 revealed that less than a third of couples who met online ended up marrying, whereas more than two-thirds of couples who met offline tied the knot. Researchers think there are more obstacles to online daters settling down, such as the abundance of options they know are out there and longer courtships because of the extended online “getting to know you” phase.
3. You post glowing Facebook statuses about your partner.
There may be good reason to roll your eyes at lovey-dovey Facebook updates spouses post. According to research in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, people in unhappy relationships tend to brag about their significant others on Facebook to deliberately remind others (and themselves) that yes, I’m in a happy relationship. So if you routinely share, say, pictures of your hubby’s surprise bouquets after spats, you might be trying to reassure yourself everything’s OK.
4. You keep in touch with potential romantic prospects.
According to a 2014 study, occasionally flirtatiously texting a former coworker (but never making a move) is how you maintain a backburner relationship, just in case your current situation changes. Surprisingly, researchers discovered that people in relationships and single people are equally likely to have these kinds of connections. From an evolutionary standpoint, this simply means you’re keeping your options open so you eventually procreate, but if you’re in a relationship and feel you need to keep guys on the line, you’re probably also unsure about your current partner.
5. Your partner is much older (or younger) than you are.
You may find salt-and-pepper hair sexy on your Clooney look-alike, but science says you’re less likely to find lasting love with a much-older man. A 2014 study of 3,000 couples showed that same-age partners are most likely to stay together. Even a five-year age gap bumps up odds of divorce by 18%. A 10-year difference increases the percentage to 39%, and after 20? Going the distance is unlikely, perhaps because the partners don’t have enough similarities, like life experience and shared cultural references.
6. You skip sex whenever you don’t feel like having it.
Few sexless relationships go the distance. But if you’re never in the mood, there may be a simple fix. Have sex anyway. According to a study published in Social Psychological & Personality Science, participants with a stronger motivation to respond to a partner’s needs reported higher levels of daily desire during the 21-day period, themselves—and that held four months later. People who didn’t care to help out their partners reported lower sexual desire that declined after the 21 days. The takeaway? Keep doing it, even when you don’t feel like it—and he should do the same for you.
7. You work out problems via text.
Listen up, 21st Century Couples. A small 2013 Brigham Young University study found that couples who argue about their problems, apologize to each other or make big decisions via text message tend to be less happy in their relationship than those who tackle issues in person. (Or when necessary, phone calls.) So talk it out. The researchers did, however, find expressing affection over text improved the relationship—so go ahead and drop him that “Love you” text with a bunch of smiley faces.
8. You’ve never fought.
Arguing early in your relationship might not mean you’re doomed. It actually might be a good thing.A 2012 Florida State University study found that having “angry but honest” conversations with your partner early in a serious relationship can lead to better communication and more happiness down the road. If you’ve been avoiding arguments and bottling up grievances, those small irritations could blow up later on—and destroy the very relationship you’ve been careful to “preserve.”
9. You argued about money early in your relationship.
There is one exception to that “you should fight” rule. According to 2013 research published in the journal Family Relations, fighting about money was found to be the top predictor of divorce among 4,000 couples. “Fights about money [may actually be] about deeper issues in the relationship,” like power and trust, says study coauthor Jeffrey Dew. Refusing to spend on a quick getaway might not be about saving money to your partner, but rather about exerting power. “If these deep issues are problematic, then these couples may be more likely to divorce,” he explains.
10. You have divorced friends—or even divorced friends of friends.
If the D-word has been floating around your social sphere, Pew Research shows that might be bad news for your relationship. According to 2013 statistics, you’re 75% more likely to divorce if you have a friend who already has done so, and 33% more likely if merely a friend of a friend divorces. This “social contagion” also happens when friend groups are struck with baby fever, or everyone in your office seems to be catching a phantom “cold.”