Why Do Relationships Fail?
As an outpatient psychologist, I have been in practice
over twenty years. I see eight conditions every day and
the one that stands out the most is "relationships." This
includes straight but also gay ones, and more often than not
the longer-term variety. While short-term relationships
present with their own specific problems, it is the longer-term
relationship that is the focus of this article.
Relationships go through stages. Stage One is about
novelty, fun, great sex, staying up all night and generally
just doing things together. When we first get involved,
it's a big rush and lots of stimulation. If this blows up,
we have had a short-term relationship. But what if "things"
Stage Two is when there is commitment or "exclusivity."
Stage Three is usually about marriage or its equivalent.
Stage Four is about separation or divorce if "things" go south.
I've rushed through the stages because they are not the main
point, here. But they do provide background to what happens
when relationships fail, short-term or long-term.
In the beginning, the dynamic nature of the first few
months of new relationships covers up our real selves.
The "deep stuff," as I like to call it, is who we really are,
and this core set of experiences and values develop from our
earliest experiences with significant others. Usually these
folks are our parents, but in all circumstance, our caretakers
bequeathed to us the values we espouse. Unfortunately, these
proclivities do not come out in everyday activities, unless
they are severe and/or profound. Instead, they lie in wait
until the rush of the new relationship subsides.
When we get used to each other, the deep stuff can surface.
This can but usually does not happen when there are the
distractions of newness. But in Stage two, and even in the
latter part of Stage One, and certainly by Stage Three, we know
each other more than just as a new person to date. Our habits,
patterns of behavior and other deep stuff emerge. We let our
guards down and we "leak."
Right about this time we start thinking whether or not we
are compatible with our partner. If our unconscious patterns
are adaptive and more importantly, "jive" with our partner's
unconscious patterns, harmony is more likely to ensue. These
people are "lucky" enough to be in a relationship with someone
who is not only compatible with them on the surface, but also
at deeper levels. Troubled couples do not have such luck.
When unconscious patterns collide, behavior changes from
fun seeking to fighting, from good sex to bad or no sex, from
approach to avoidance. Fixing such dynamics is the subject of
many a marriage manual, including a new ebook just written by
this author. But fixing such troubles requires more than
simply pointing out maladaptive behavior, like yelling, failing
to put away our socks, etc. It also requires digging a little
into our past patterns, especially the unconscious ones about
which we have little conscious awareness, unless prompted.
Prompting is what most couples start doing at this stage,
and it does not always go well. Couples argue, usually about
the yelling or the socks, but what is really contaminating the
relationship is the crummy deep stuff working its way up to the
surface; that is, increasingly playing out on the stage of daily
experiences. These are the expectations or bad behavior
patterns learned earlier in life, now projected onto our
partners, more or less automatically. These can be quite
bothersome and usually crescendo into not just arguments, but
fights, or worse. This is why couples fail to communicate and
relationships in general, fail. Couples fail to address the
deep stuff, thinking that talking about the superficial issue(s)
is sufficient. It is not.