Why Relationships Break
Let’s start by understanding what a relationship is. A relationship is the dynamic between two people.
It is a dynamic flowing of energy.
When one person changes, the relationship automatically changes. It is this that makes them so fragile.
So what drives a relationship are the people in it. The basic building blocks of a relationship are the individuals in it.
The point of a relationship is to enhance both people’s lives.
So to make a relationship work is actually simple. You just have to engineer the dynamic so that both parties have more to gain from being in the relationship than from not.
The problem is that a lot of relationships are one-sided. Principle number 7 of The 8 Foundational Relationship Principles says that people give the minimum you will accept.
Our culture is a patriarchy. This means that men have almost always been the ones setting the rules and sense of morality. Therefore, traditional relationships are weighted in favour of men.
This is one of the reasons why more women end relationships than men.
Why Relationships Really Break Up
When we start from the big picture understanding, it is the basic awareness that if a relationship doesn’t work for one person, they will leave. Or they’ll be drained and energetically they’ll drain the relationship.
Sometimes people are so in love with someone that they desperately try to make the relationship work. The reality is though, that you can’t ‘make’ a relationship work.
Our goal in dating is never to make a relationship work.
It is to be patient, authentic and natural and let the relationship unfold organically.
We don’t attach to an outcome.
We watch and see what people do rather than what they say.
We see people in different contexts, moods and environments. Then we assess whether they are right for us and us for them.
One of the biggest pitfalls people fall into in relationships is they want to hook a particular person. And so they go to all extents to try to make them like them, make them committed. Or they so desperately want to be in a relationship that they jump in with both feet way too soon.
A relationship is only going to work out if it has all the elements in place. So yes you can get someone to go along with you for a while, but it’s a maybe. I see so many people who get strung along, let down time after time because they’re hanging on with a maybe.
I want to talk about why relationships break.
Strictly speaking relationships don’t break.
People break when they run out of resources, like a car breaks when it runs out of gas.
When we are happy independently of the relationship, we have a source outside of the relationship. And so even if we aren’t being nourished by the relationship we are being supplied independently. When our happiness comes from the relationship and the relationship isn’t going so well our energy tank gets depleted.
That changes the dynamic and so the positive flow of energy that we talk of as love changes into something else. It can’t just disappear. That’s a basic principle of physics. The first law of thermodynamics. Energy cannot be created or destroyed.
This is why some relationships are so volatile because love that flows with such passion, cannot just go when the love dies. It has to change. So it becomes hate or bitterness or anger or emotional pain.
What we call working on a relationship is really about managing the flow of energy.
So where does the energy flow from?
It flows from the two individuals in the relationship. They are the source of the energy.
What this means is that the quality of the relationship is limited by how happy the individuals are in it.
If someone is depressed, that is essentially low energy. People are driven by the need to feel good. So that person feels depleted and needs energy from wherever they can find it. So they’re going to siphon it off from the relationship.
If someone is on top of the world they’re going to be flowing lots of positive energy and so the other person is going to feel this powerful surge and so they’ll be uplifted and flow back more energy.
This is what happens in the first flush of romance. You see each other at your best, when you’re dating without domestic chores and obligations.
You have no distractions, just time to enjoy each other. You have this buzz of excitement and anticipation.
This creates the high of blissful love.
So what happens when it goes wrong?
The Anatomy of a relationship breakdown
What happens over time is that the relationship moves from a couple of dates a week, that are the high point to sharing domestic duties.
The first flush wanes and friction sets into the relationship.
When people have chinks in their armour. So maybe they feel anxious and insecure. That leaks energy away from the relationship.
Or maybe they feel resentful because they feel neglected. All of this drains energy away. And so the person feels unloved or disrespected and they stop flowing so much energy into the relationship.
Maybe they even take from the energy pool. This then begins to drain energy from their partner who also begins to feel less positive about the relationship.
So then they bicker and grow apart. The relationship gradually dies, but they don’t know why.
Searching for an explanation they say they grew apart or were incompatible, but really they just lost the energy they once had.
So now let’s look at why relationships – or more specifically people – break.
This is the relationship wall. A successful relationship is based on three things.
Contracting – setting clear expectations, boundaries so the relationship is structurally sound. This is about resolving problems between you. Dealing with conflict and differences.
Climate – the nature of your interactions. It’s summed up by John Gottman’s statement, that couples that last have the attitude that “Baby when you hurt, the world stops”.
Connection – it’s easy to be connected when you’re dating and you see each other for the best hour or two of their week. Later you have to work at maintaining that connection. At finding the interest, passion and desire for each other.
But these three elements make up 20% of the success of a relationship.
They are the icing on the cake if you like. But the icing is nothing without the cake.
40% of the success is your personal foundation and 40% is your choice of partner.
A relationship breaks when it stops making you or your partner happy.
Relationships always hit rough patches. Jed Diamond talks about the dip in the 5 stages of relationships. What determines whether you get through that dip or not is both of your emotional reserves.
Relationships are hard. They do take work and effort. But actually the work of the relationship is 20% of the factors that make a successful relationship. If you have the other 80%, then the relationship is easy. If you don’t then these three things aren’t going to be effective.
40% of a successful relationship is about you and what you bring to it. The other 40% is your partner.
So there are three keys to your success in building a relationship that lasts.
- Knowing how to create the relationship structure and climate
- Choosing the right partner
- Being the right partner
Be The Partner you want
I love to help people have better relationships and live happier lives. And because I felt a guilt that some people might not be able to afford to work with me, I used to run groups and work with people for free.
Over time though, I’ve become much more selective with who I work with.
It’s all because whenever I’ve worked for free with someone what’s happened is they’ve never been as committed.
They skip sessions without warning. They let any and every other urgent issue get in the way of doing the work.
And almost always they never live up to their promises.
I remember working with one woman and she was really upset that she kept jumping in to new relationships and in a few months she’d end up ghosted.
So I was trying to reframe the way she looked at relationships and be more selective and measured before she jumped into a relationship.
In the process of this, guess what happened?
She ghosted me!
Just disappeared and ignored the text when we were supposed to talk and the email I sent asking if all was ok.
Four months later I got a reply from her.
She’d met someone she thought was going to be the love of her life because it all seemed different. And well with Mr Perfect she didn’t need to talk anymore.
But then when he dumped her, she suddenly wanted to work on her.
I have seen this over and over again. I’ve run pilot groups and taken people in for an honest review, but almost everyone thanks you and disappears promising to post their review.
Over time I watched and noticed that the problems they described in their relationships were a reflection of the behaviour they showed in my interactions with them.
How someone does one thing is how they will do everything.
If someone is rude, disrespectful or disloyal to one person, they will sooner or later be like that to you.
So you want to watch what people do and how they keep their word and how they treat others.
But as important, is that you have to do the same. When you lack integrity or respect in your relationship, you will erode the foundations of it.
I’ve never read The Four Agreements, but enough people have recommended it to me that I looked at what they were.
They seem a perfect place to begin being the partner you want to have.