The real reason Nikki Bella and John Cena broke up

A little more than a year after their very public engagement — and less than a month before they were set to walk down to the aisle in a destination wedding in Mexico together — professional wrestlers John Cena and Nikki Bella announced that their relationship was over in April 2018.

"While this decision was a difficult one, we continue to have a great deal of love and respect for one another," the couple told Us Weekly in a statement. "We ask that you respect our privacy during this time in our lives."

What happened? A little and a lot, according to the rumor mill.

"Nikki and John wanted different things," an insider told People. "It's clear that they had issues over what they wanted from a marriage and from family. She wants kids. But despite their differences and the fights they had, people still thought they would go through with the wedding. Everyone is surprised that it ended. It's really sad. She's on a reality show, but this is real life."

A second source told the magazine, "He always put himself first. John's first concern is John. He will never put anyone first, and that will never change. That's who he is, and he's very open about it. Expensive cars and shoes are nice, but that doesn't take the place of someone putting your needs first."

Here's what went down in this heartbreaking, hard-bodied breakup.

They had trouble meeting in the middle

John Cena hinted that though love is supposed to be a two-way street, he found himself (in his eyes, anyway) compromising on things he never imagined simply to keep Nikki Bella happy.

"Don't ever think that love is easy. Love is beautiful, but we've had to come to the realization after being together for five years that love is not easy," Cena told Us Weekly in March 2018. "We work every day on us. We have our problems just like everybody else. Some of our problems are very public, some of them aren't. But we work every day on us. Anytime I get upset, I always just realize that I can't live without her and I love her and that's why I cave in on a lot of stuff."

He added, "It takes being able to mesh two lives. I would never ever want Nicole to be in a position where she says, 'I'm holding you back from doing this because I feel it's wrong for us.' And I would never say that to her."

They were too busy

John Cena revealed that because of their crazy work schedules, he and Nikki Bella sometimes went months without seeing one another, which can doom even the strongest romances.

"She's super busy and sometimes we don't see each other for months at a time," Cena told Us Weekly in March 2018. "But when we do see each other, it's our time and it's our time together. I think, for now at least, that is certainly what's making this work."

He also told Popcorn with Peter Travers that the periods of physical separation were tough on Bella. "For all that she had to put up with, 'Oh he's not with you.' 'He doesn't want to marry you.' All the while we both know how we felt about each other. [I proposed because] I wanted to do that for me, to be able to do it about the people I care about, but also for her, to let the world know how I feel about her."

In fact, these two were so busy that they actually had to change their wedding date and location because of their schedules, Bella told People in October 2017. 

'Nikki has to find Nikki'

A source told Us Weekly that Nikki Bella had been hurt by some of the things John Cena said in the press while promoting his 2018 movie, Blockers, but it's hard to narrow down what he said to make her so upset.

"The things he's been saying on television and in the press recently hurt Nikki," the insider claimed, noting that Bella was the one to call it quits. "John is a mess … [Bella isn't happy, but] she is not devastated. She's in a place where she's just exhausted by some of the things going on in the relationship. John is the love of her life [and] she adores him. They still speak. It's just very hard. But right now, she has to focus on herself."

A source expounded to People, "All the subtle and not so subtle ways he kept referencing what hard work it was to be in a relationship, all the ways he never wanted to change, how they didn't need to see each other that often, etc. — it was just so hurtful."

According to the Us Weekly insider, "Right now, Nikki has to find Nikki. She's in a great place with her career, has an amazing family who will be with her through this entire journey, and she needs some time to figure It all out."

Did he even want to get married?

It took a lot of convincing for John Cena to even consider marrying Nikki Bella.

"Both marriage and family and family are very difficult obstacles for me. I feel so s***ty because there are certain things I can't give," Cena said in a December 2013 episode of Bella's reality show, Total Divas (via E! News). 

However, in an October 2014 episode of Total Divas, it was Bella who began second-guessing marriage when she witnessed friends going through a divorce.

By 2015, however, Bella told E! News, "I definitely think in the future, people will be surprised where we end up because I'm seeing him more open to marriage. At least we're taking steps forward, and I honestly couldn't imagine my life without him." 

In 2016, Cena told Bella on Total Divas (via Us Weekly), "Would I love to marry you? Absolutely. I love you and I love you more than I've loved anyone in my entire life."

Fast-forward to September 2017: Bella was almost ready to throw in the towel on walking down the aisle, lamenting to sister Brie, "He's been saying he's for marriage for how long and I still haven't been proposed to … There is nothing wrong with being life partners."

That proposal finally happened at WrestleMania in April 2017. Almost exactly a year later, Cena told E! News, "I think the best thing about me being able to ask her hand in marriage was she doesn't need to question my commitment to our relationship. I am with her to death do us part."

She didn't want a 'pity husband'

Nikki Bella reportedly didn't want to force a reluctant John Cena to drag his feet down the aisle.

"He was making it abundantly clear that he was going into this gritting his teeth the whole way," a source told People. "Nikki is an amazing, talented, strong, one-of-a-kind woman. Anyone would be lucky to have her in their life — yet John acted more and more like he was doing her a favor by somehow conceding to go ahead and marry her. [Bella] doesn't need a pity proposal, a pity wedding, a pity husband. She's a phenomenal, tremendous woman."

The source added that Cena began to get cold feet as their May 2018 wedding date approached. "She never gave him an ultimatum. He talked a really good game about having changed, about having his priorities straight, about knowing what's important, and that it was her. But as the day got closer, it was like he just went back to who he's always been — which is someone who puts himself first, always. He's an incredibly dedicated, driven, ambitious guy. And for the longest time he said he didn't think he had room in his life for a spouse or kids. It seems like in the end that was still the truth. But in that case, he never should've proposed, let alone in front of millions of people. Now she's heartbroken. This was supposed to be the happiest time of her life. He ruined it and blew everything up."

He didn't want kids

John Cena has long admitted he has no interest in becoming a parent.

In a December 2013 episode of Total Divas, Nikki Bella told Cena she'd feel like she were missing out if she didn't become a mom someday, to which Cena replied, "I'm going to choose my words carefully. I can't give you that." Fair enough, right? At least he was honest.

The conversation came up again in a 2014 episode of the series. Cena bluntly told Bella, "I'm trying to be a realist. I've told you I don't want to get married and I don't want to have kids, and you do want to get married and you do want to have kids. I feel like there's a time bomb over my head."

Though Cena eventually came around to the marriage idea, they still didn't see eye-to-eye on eventually hearing the pitter-patter of little feet.

She kept trying to change his mind about parenthood

In April 2017, Nikki Bella admitted that she was happy to be engaged to John Cena, but that she still wished he'd come around to parenthood. It also sounded like she was trying very hard to convince herself she was okay with never being a mom.

"[Cena] says it's selfish but he knows that with his schedule he couldn't be an incredible father and that's why he chooses not to have kids, and I actually respect that because that would be very hard to raise a kid on my own and the dad to always be gone and not see that kid," she told People, adding, "When I see him with all the Make-a-Wish kids, I'm like, 'Gosh, this man would be the most incredible father ever.' … And I see him with his nieces and I see him with my cousin's kids, and I know, I know that he would be an amazing dad, but I guess that's what makes him amazing about his decision … I have come to that decision of being okay with it that I won't be a mom."

Bella told Us Weekly in December 2017 that her sister's pregnancy gave her baby fever. "John doesn't want to have kids, so it's taken a lot of therapy to be OK with knowing I won't be a mom," she confessed. "I'm not going to lie, there are times when I still pray that one day he'll change his mind. But as of now, no family."

Her family side-eyed him

NIkki Bella's sister, Brie Bella, along with her brother and mother, had a tough sit-down with John Cena in an October 2014 episode of Total Divas. Brie — who would later encourage Nikki to freeze her eggs — asked Cena what his intentions were with Nikki.

"Nicole and I were talking and she brought to my attention that she's over marriage, she doesn't want to have kids anymore. It was a little alarming to me," Brie told him, noting that she thought Nikki was lying to herself.

Cena didn't budge or apologize for his stance, pointing out that he's been 100 percent honest about his goals from the get-go. "I was abundantly clear about that from our very first date," Cena insists. "It wasn't like I tried to manipulate your sister into thinking a certain thing was going to happen and then all the sudden say, 'Haha!'" He adds, "I love this girl, but I love my life."

He couldn't even handle a pet

John Cena admitted to Rolling Stone that in terms of parenting, he couldn't even handle a puppy (even one as cute as Winston), let alone a child, with Nikki Bella — nor with anyone else, including his first wife, high school sweetheart Elizabeth Huberdeau.

"A lot of [our issues were] because of my inability to be a good husband, but then Nicole strolled into my life, and that did it," he said of his first marriage. 

When discussing his dynamic with Bella, Cena said, "Look, I know I cannot handle raising a child. It's like with the dog. My biggest thing to Nicole about the dog was: Love dogs, but I can't contribute to taking care of one. I don't have the time. And just because everyone else is happy with children doesn't mean that's how I have to live. I've been upfront about this. I just have things I need to get done. It's not negotiable. We've been to therapy over it. I don't think it will ever be over with. I'm stubborn as f**k and extremely selfish as well. I don't want kids, I don't want marriage. That's me just saying, 'Hey, this is my life and this is how I'm going to live.'"

They argued over literal life-or-death issues

In a September 2017 episode of Total Divas, John Cena and Nikki Bella argued over who'd have power of attorney to potentially pull the plug on the other if that decision ever needed to be made.

In a clip obtained by People, Bella tells Cena he is her choice, explaining, "I like the decisions you make and I know you'll get it done … If anything ever happened to me where I had to be put on life support, please unplug me."

Cena replies, "Life is a very crazy thing … You say that now, but you don't know."

Bella snaps, "No, I do know. I'm telling you — I don't want to be a vegetable … If the doctor comes in and I have this incredible chance, maybe keep me there for like, a week."

In that moment, Cena admits he doesn't want that responsibility, and when she asks who he'd pick as power of attorney for himself, he says that's "confidential information … You're not even on the list. I wouldn't take that as being offensive. I just told you I don't want the burden of making that decision for you, so I used the same thought process in making [my] decision."

Bella, visibly upset, replies, "I would hate to be pushed out and to have no decision about your life, especially when you're my man."

"I'm just not going to leave it up to you," he says. "I'm sorry your feelings are hurt, it's not my intention."

Was he a face or a heel? You decide

Was John Cena using his proposal to Nikki Bella to increase his own public profile? 

A source told People, "It's hard for anyone not to wonder why he [proposed to Bella], and did it in this hugely public way, in the literal arena where he is most popular. He knew exactly what sort of response he would get by doing that."

Cena also told People that he was considering changing his stance on fatherhood slightly after starring as a dad in movies, such as Blockers. "The movie helps with that, certainly my perspective on life helps with that, working on my relationship with my bride to be helps with that, so it's amazing what you can accomplish if you just sit down and talk with people, so I've done a lot of that," he said.

Or maybe not. As a source explained to People: "In wrestling there are two archetypes: faces and heels. A face is a good guy, a hero, who you root for. A heel is a villain, who sometimes can seem like a good guy but then turns around and shows his true, evil colors. John Cena just revealed himself as the ultimate heel."

They couldn't get past their differences

John Cena and Nikki Bella tried to come to terms with their difference, but when push came to suplex, well, they just couldn't get past their differing views on raising a family.

"When [Cena] proposed, he convinced [Bella] that he was a changed man. And if he can change his mind about never wanting to get married, why wouldn't he change his mind about not wanting kids?" a source told People. "They have had an on and off relationship for years. It's no secret that they didn't see eye to eye on a lot of things, but when you're in love, you turn a blind eye. And that's what Nikki did. When Nikki changed her stance about wanting kids, everyone knew that wasn't her. You can't take motherhood away from a woman."

"John never really wanted to get married in the first place but one of the biggest points of contention or disagreements they had through their relationship was that Nikki wanted to have kids and start a family and John didn't," a source told E! News. "They were not on the same page in that respect."

His workload got even crazier

Nikki Bella and John Cena's schedules are already hectic as it is, but now that Cena is a bona fide movie star after roles in 2015's Trainwreck and 2018's Blockers, the WWE veteran has even more on his plate than ever before.

In a Vanity Fair feature video from April 2018, Cena gave a peak at what his typical day is like, and there's barely any time for Bella.

"I do my first workout promptly after breakfast — I believe your memory is at its peak," he said in the clip. "Sometimes I choose to study, usually it's head to the gym and get business done." At the gym, Cena spends 45 minutes to an hour just warming up, not including his actual workout, plus a cooldown.

Then there are errands, 35 to 45 minutes each of studying Mandarin and piano. His day ends between 5 and 7 p.m. After that, Cena would actually find some time to spend with Bella.

"That is the start of our day. This is where time escapes me and this is where I don't necessarily watch the clock. It's like being in a casino: We could go to dinner at 7 p.m. and walk out of the restaurant at 1 o'clock in the morning."

All of that, combined with promoting a movie, doesn't sound easy to balance.

He made her sign a 75-page contract before moving in together

John Cena made Nikki Bella sign a 75-page document before moving with him in 2013 — and one of the conditions was that Bella had to vacate the property immediately if they split.

"I just don't understand it. I just don't know what to feel. I'm so confused," Bella told sister Brie on the phone upon receiving the document during an episode of Total Divas. She added in a confessional, "Maybe he knows that he doesn't want to be with me forever? Is that all I'm ever going to be in his heart, a guest? Am I ever going to have that permanent spot in the rest of [his] life?"

He later explained on the show, "This is what my life is. This is what it's become. You met my family. You think my mom paid for that house herself? She didn't. My brother lives in that house, they're expecting a child. My younger brother, he's got medical problems. I make sure he's okay. I always tell them, 'I'm a horrible [...] brother, but I try to be the best provider that I can.' I just don't want to ever be in a position where that's in jeopardy."

Bella later said, "I had no idea that my man supports this many people. If I had the money, I'd want to support my family, and I'd be damned to let anyone take that away from my family."

He claimed the contract was just to protect himself

In March 2018, John Cena told The Today Show that he somewhat regrets having Nikki Bella sign a contract before cohabiting with him.

"I was very abrasive and stern and she had to sign this huge, crazy agreement to come in the front door … [It was] just some sort of thing where I would be protected in case of a disaster," he said. 

He later explained to Fox Sports, "Having been through that process, here is how I view it. It is like buying a handgun for home defense. It gives you a sense of security, and it gives you a failsafe in case something happens. Those who buy a handgun for self defense pray they never have to use it."

A source elaborated even more to People, "He comes from a very poor background and he takes care of his entire family, so I see his point. He wanted to make sure he's protected and honestly, he was making sure she's not a gold digger. He's a top guy in WWE, which means she immediately gets a push and a great storyline and TV time."

She hid her first marriage from him

Nikki Bella was married once before and hid it from John Cena … and her own family.

"I got married when I was 20 and got divorced at 23 … We drove to Vegas, did it," she confessed to her parents and siblings in a 2014 episode of Total Divas. "Even when I started walking down the aisle, I knew this was a huge mistake … I tried to forget about it but now it's starting to come up, and I figured you guys have to hear from me before you hear from anyone else … John doesn't even know, and here we talk about marriage and we never bring it up."

Her brother, J.J. Garcia, told her, "John's gonna be p**sed … 'Cause you talk about marriage all the time with him, don't expect it to be easy."

Garcia later spilled the beans to Cena. For his part, Cena was blindsided, but played along and later confronted Bella about it privately. He explained that when it comes to matters of love and marriage, he should definitely be informed.

"What you did before you met me is what you did before you met me … It's just when you can tell other people, I kind of would like to be on that totem pole somewhere — I don't have to be at the top … I just would like to be on it."

They may reunite someday ... with conditions

Love may not be dead after all. An insider told Us Weekly, "They could get back together within a year." The source added, "John is one of the loveliest people, but he is not open-minded. He's controlling about everything in his life … Work always comes first  … John puts a lot before Nikki."

However, there may be conditions to a possible reconciliation: No more appearances on Total Divas. A source told People, "[Cena] really didn't want to do reality TV and show his private life. He loved being able to do his own thing. He hates answering to anyone, unless it's for work."

Still, the prospects of a reunion aren't the best. A source told Entertainment Tonight, "They had to split in order to give each other the life they both wanted. … They both wanted to make each other happy, but eventually realized they needed to move on without each other for them both to have the life they deserved. They do love each other, but Nikki realizes now that love just isn't enough."