I get a lot of people telling me variations of ‘I don’t understand why my relationship failed! Help!’
This is particularly difficult to comprehend when it seemed like your relationship had so much promise. We can internalise this ‘failure’ and also miss the point of our relationships, and so end up repeating the same patterns in new relationships and wondering what the hell is going on.
Yesterday I talked about how relationships serve to teach us more about ourselves and that we keep getting the same lesson put in front of us until we learn what we need to. I also believe that potentially there are a number of people who could be ‘right’ for you, so you shouldn’t write off yourself or your life if and when a relationship ends.
If you can understand why your relationships haven’t worked out, you can help to minimise some of the causes for future relationships. It’s a bit like increasing your odds…
Relationships don’t work out because we don’t always behave in the most beneficial way for the relationship. We can meet people who are actually potentially ‘right’ for us…and then screw it up. It’s often unintentional and in some cases, it can effectively be sabotage, when you engage in behaviour that brings about a self-fulfilling prophecy that let’s you keep believing the worst. This is a potentially right person but unfortunately the wrong behaviours.
And then…a lot of relationships don’t work out because you’re with the wrong person. Period. It wouldn’t matter if you ran through fire, acted perfect, gave them everything they want, and cartwheeled around naked. The person is wrong for you. It’s likely to be a mix of boundary crossing, blatant red flags, a fundamental inability to meet one another’s needs (or you meet theirs but they don’t meet yours…), a lack of shared values, and being uncommitted, or being committed for the wrong reasons. You’re fundamentally incompatible.
When you’re with the potentially right person, there will be windows of opportunity in the relationship where if both of you acknowledge what is happening to contribute to the issues, you can overcome the issues and move on from them. At these windows of opportunity, the changes will be appreciated and you’re both likely to transcend whatever caused you to falter.
If the windows of opportunity are missed, fatigue sets in and one or both of you will stop believing that the other is capable of action and change. Faith is lost and the behaviours stick, which means the problems get worse. In a lot of relationships like this, one party tries to compensate for the other and ends up being emotionally, mentally, and sometimes physically spent. You end up being incompatible.
When you’re with the wrong person and not acknowledging why they are the wrong person because you may be caught up in denial and illusions, you’re effectively flogging a dead horse. In fact, you have your relationship flatlining on the table and you keep trying to pump life into it. You hear faint reassuring beeps and it flatlines again. And lather rinse repeat until you realise what being with the wrong person in the wrong relationship is doing to you.
The consistent issue that a lot of Baggage Reclaim readers find themselves dealing with is that they realise that their version of love is actually counterproductive, not only to the relationship, but also to their sense of self. In fact, in the wider sense, these issues affect many people.
We have misguided ideas about unconditional love. To many, unconditional love means loving without boundaries and loving people regardless, in the hope that they reciprocate. This is a bit like loving with IOU’s. By having little or no boundaries, we communicate to partners that we don’t love, care, trust, and respect ourselves enough.
We love blindly. It’s like being a racehorse dashing off down the track into illusion land. There’s no marrying the reality with the illusion. You start out with one vision based on what you think you’re getting at the beginning, and even though you may get contradictory information that says you need to reassess your decision to love, you continue anyway.
We trust blindly. Much like loving blindly, there is sometimes a naivety about our levels of trust. It’s not about being distrusting, it’s about having a basis for trust, or readjusting how much we trust someone when you get signals that they are not to be trusted. Until then, you’re trusting in them because you’d rather not trust yourself. You also have a responsibility to access the risks and act accordingly.
We don’t communicate effectively. This comes down to believing that communication is all verbal, discussing the nth out of relationships but not being action focused, and not understanding one another’s communication styles and how to get the best out of them. One person is speaking French, the other is speaking Chinese. Each person wants the other to not only speak their language but take on their communication style.
We don’t understand intimacy. Some people think the sexual side is reflective of the intimacy in the relationship. Others can’t seem to cope with intimacy and push it away. Some will believe that intimacy is co-dependency.
We think that people who love us will figure out what we want. This is a bit like setting people impossible tests and expecting them to play Mystic Meg and read your mind. Of course, when they don’t figure out what we want, we get p*ssed off with them and lament their shortcomings. This stems from fundamental beliefs that ‘right’ relationships means that the other person will know what we want, when, and how.
‘If you love me, you’ll know when I’m in pain’
Not only might they not have the skills to cope with your pain, but you may not have even really shown them that you are in pain.
We neglect the relationship. This can be a case of thinking solo rather than realising that you can be a teamplayer and still be an individual.
We can lack in empathy. So many of you have been involved with people who are lacking in empathy. They have an inability to think about anything from any other perspective than theirs. They cannot get in your shoes, and they don’t want to. It’s all about them and even when they say it’s about you, it’s about them. They operate on their terms. If someone cannot empathise, they cannot love, trust, care, or respect you.
We don’t understand compatibility. From a shared love of the great outdoors, to listening to opera music, to reading high brow books, you look for compatibility in your interests but don’t seek compatibility in your values. You end up loving for the wrong reasons and you also fail to see the bigger picture.
We project and dine off illusions. This means that you’re not having real relationships because you’re too focused on what’s in your head, missing out on getting to know the real person. This sets people up for impossible tests that they’ll fail. You’ll also be taken advantage of by the wrong types of people who exploit your tendency to work off illusions.
We expect perfection. If you’ve ever found yourself with someone who basically marked your cards as soon as conflict arose in the relationship, they have a misguided belief that relationships that are ‘right’ for them don’t have conflict and that you shouldn’t have to ‘work’ at it. You may also have unrealistic expectations and believe that soulmates and ‘right’ people are people who say, do, think, and act as you expect 24/7, 365 days of the year. Of course, when they don’t, you can feel it legitimises reasons to opt out or to create drama.
We think that ‘love’ is enough. Ever tried to love someone into loving you? Ever tried to love someone out of their sex/drugs/drink/alcohol addiction? Tend to believe that if you love someone that it should fix the relationship. Love is not enough. If loving someone were enough to make a relationship work, most people wouldn’t have the problems they do. Love doesn’t cancel out the problems and if you don’t understand the type of behaviours that need to accompany love, you’ll be throwing your energy in all the wrong places.
We’re expect others to give us what we should be doing for ourselves. This ranges from looking for people to complete us, being co-dependent, feeling that you have no value on your own, expecting someone to make you feel things that you find impossible to feel for yourself, hating/disliking yourself and wondering why you keep having negative experiences, to making partners the centre of your universe, ditching friends, family, and letting work slide. You can end up making being with someone a vocation. You have no personal security.
Understanding why relationships fail is not to make you miserable; it’s to open your eyes. Relationships need two committed parties with both of their feet in and more often than not, it takes two to tango. One person cannot do all the work, but by the same token, you need to recognise if you have something with reasonable foundations to work with.
By understanding why relationships don’t work, you can understand why relationships do work.
As I’ve said before, relationship insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results. You change even one of these things and they impact on everything else like a house of cards, gradually bringing things into a sharper focus so that you can start living the life you say you want to live, attracting and being around the types of people you say you want to be with, and ultimately feeling better about yourself along the way.