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 a relationship appeared to have so much promise. We sometimes internalise this ‘failure’ and then miss the point of our relationships. From there, we then repeat the same patterns in new relationships and wonder what the hell’s going on.
Yesterday, I talked about how relationships serve to teach us more about ourselves and that we will keep getting the same lesson(s) until we learn what we need to. I also believe that, potentially. there are a number of people who could be ‘right’ for you. Hence, you shouldn’t write yourself or your life off 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. This is where 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…), lack of shared values, and being uncommitted (or being committed for the wrong reasons). You’re fundamentally incompatible—you don’t share core values and you can’t meet your emotional needs.
Sometimes we’ve missed the windows of opportunity for the relationship issue(s) to be addressed and resolved.
When you’re with a potentially ‘right person’, there will be windows of opportunity in the relationship where, if you both acknowledge what’s happening to contribute to the issues, you can overcome them and move forward. At these windows of opportunity, the changes will be appreciated and you’re both likely to transcend whatever caused you to falter.
If you miss the windows of opportunity, fatigue sets in and one or both of you will stop believing that the other is capable of action and change.
You (or they) lose faith, and the issues stick, which means the problems get worse. In many 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 the whys of this because you may be caught up in denial and illusions, you’re effectively flogging a dead horse. In fact, your relationship is flatlining on the table and you keep trying to pump life into it. You hear faint reassuring beeps, and then it flatlines again. And lather, rinse, repeat until you recognise what being with the wrong person in the wrong relationship is doing to you.
The consistent issue that many Baggage Reclaim readers find themselves dealing with is recognising that their version of love is counterproductive, not only to the relationship but also to their sense of self.
Many humans having confusing, destabilising, and unhealthy ideas about love and relationships.
- We have misguided ideas about unconditional love. To many, unconditional love means loving without boundaries and loving people regardless of what they do to us in the hope that they reciprocate. This is a bit like loving with IOUs. 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. We don’t marry the reality with the illusion. We start out with one vision based on what we think we’re getting at the beginning, and even though we might get contradictory information that says we need to reassess our decision to love and commit, we continue anyway.
- We trust blindly. Much like loving blindly, there’s sometimes a naivety about our levels of trust. It’s not about that we need to be distrusting; it’s about having a basis for trust. Or it’s readjusting how much we trust someone when we get signals that they aren’t trustworthy. Until then, we’re trusting in them because we’d rather not trust ourselves. We also have a responsibility to assess the risks and act accordingly.
- We don’t communicate effectively. This often 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 each other. It’s the equivalent of two people speaking different languages but not acknowledging it and assuming they’re on the same page. One person’s speaking French and the other’s speaking Chinese. Each person wants the other to not only speak their language but take on their communication style. Not.gonna.happen.
- We don’t understand intimacy. Some people belive that the sexual side reflects the overall intimacy in the relationship. Others can’t seem to cope with intimacy and push it away. Some believe that intimacy is codependency.
- We think that people who love us will figure out what we need/want. This like setting people impossible tests and expecting them to play Mystic Meg and read our minds. Of course, when they don’t figure out what we want, we get pissed off and lament their shortcomings. This stems from fundamental beliefs that ‘right’ relationships mean that the other person ‘knows’ what we need and want, including when and how. Sure, we barely know this stuff for ourselves. ‘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 might not have expressed that you are in pain in the first place.
Genuine intimacy and compatibility require us to show up. We mustn’t expect ourselves or our romantic partners to be mind readers.
We can lack empathy. So many of us have been involved with people who lack empathy. They have an inability to think about anything from any other perspective than theirs. They cannot get in our shoes, and they don’t want to. It’s all about them, and even when they say it’s about us, it’s about them. They operate on their terms. If someone cannot empathise, they cannot love, care for, trust, 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, we look for compatibility in our interests but don’t seek compatibility in our values. We end up loving for the wrong reasons and also fail to see the bigger picture.
We project and dine off illusions. This means that we’re not having real relationships because we’re too focused on what’s in our heads. We miss out on getting to know the real person. This sets people up for impossible tests that they’ll fail. We’ll also be taken advantage of by the wrong types of people who exploit our tendency to work off of 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 the ‘right’ relationship won’t have conflict and that you shouldn’t have to ‘work’ at a relationship. Perhaps it’s you that has unrealistic expectations and believes that soulmates and ‘right’ people are those who say, do, think, and act as you would expect 24/7, 365 days of the year. Of course, when they don’t, it can appear to legitimise reasons to opt out or create drama.
We think 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 relationships work, most people wouldn’t have the problems they do. Love doesn’t cancel out problems, and if you don’t understand the type of behaviours that need to accompany love, you’ll throw your energy in all the wrong places. Also, often when we think love is enough, what we see as ‘love’ isn’t really all that loving when we consider the lack of self-love that results.
We expect others to give what we should be doing for ourselves. This ranges from looking for people to complete us, being codependent, feeling that we have no value on our own, expecting someone to make us feel things we find impossible to feel for ourselves, hating/disliking ourselves and wondering why we keep having negative experiences, to making partners the centre of our universe, and ditching friends and family and letting work slide. You can wind up making being someone’s romantic partner into a vocation. As a result, you then lack 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.
You can’t row a boat with one oar. One person cannot do all the work. And by the same token, you need to recognise if you have something with reasonable foundations to work with.
By understanding why some relationships don’t work, you can understand why other (read: healthy, loving, mutually fulfilling) relationships do.
As I’ve said before, relationship insanity is repeatedly doing the same thing 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. 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.