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Why relationships fail – two large reasons

Posted Mar 01 2012 11:23pm

Photo from Wikimedia commons

Two major reasons are responsible for the majority of failed relationships. Most of the research in this area has been done by Marriage or Couples Counselors but the results of these insights are applicable to other relationships, particularly the relationship between boss and employee. The major reason for relationship failure turns out not to be the thing we most expect.

1. Conflicted relationships fail and they often end early. We expect couples who fight a lot to have a bad relationship and for the relationship to fail. That does happen – sometimes but not as often as you would think.

Relationships with lots of negativity, constant conflict are likely to end fairly soon. Gottman has done a lot of research in this area and he tells us that these relationships commonly end in the first seven years, with an average length just over five years. These relationships are easy to spot lots of obvious arguing and fights. Sometimes there is violence. The police in every town know where these couples live.

After a few years of non-stop conflict these couples part. Often they are still angry with each other and they may have to make the exchanges of the children at a supervised site.

Sadly what often happens is both parties get into new relationships and they discover that the second or eighth time is no better than the first. Gottman tells us based on his research that almost 70% of fights are about things for which there is no solution. She likes green tea and he wants black or it could be religion, politics or any other area of preference. Much less often a couple disagrees about something where they might be able to work out a solution that makes them both happy.

In other relationships, like jobs and friendships, people who have these kinds of conflicts quit jobs, get fired or don’t stay around long. Sometimes they have an employment history of lots of short term jobs. They may also have an arrest record for domestic violence or bar fights. They are also likely to have over close friendships followed by a complete rupture of that relationship.

Getting into hugely negative conflicts is not the same as being assertive though some people confuse getting there way and giving in with being assertive or being victimized.  

As dramatic as unrestrained conflict may be it is not the major reason that marriages fail. It is also not, in my experience, the reason productive employees leave companies or that long term friendships end. There is a bigger cause of failed relationships.

2. Relationships without love, friendship or caring take longer to fail but eventually these couples pull apart.

In these couples there is nothing positive between them. They have no fun together and often prefer to live the majority of their lives apart. Now I know that there was a time that couples like this stayed together till death do them part, but that was a long time ago.

Couples in these kinds of relationships describe themselves as feeling “dead.” There is nothing that the couple has in common and eventually the relationship ends. In the workplace these relationships are devoid of positive regard for the other party. The only thing the employee hears from the boss are the complaints and the errors. The only time the employee seeks out the boss is when they have a grievance. Neither may enjoy coming to work anymore. They forget to ever have anything positive to say about each other or about the goal their organization is pursuing.  

So often couples start out the relationship describing themselves as best friends, somewhere along the way they forget that the best of friendships require work and they require shared experiences. These couples are especially prone to the “empty nest syndrome” or the “we only stayed together for the sake of the kids.” Eventually the kids grow up and move out on their own and this couple is stuck with each other. Sometimes they are able to recreate a positive relationship but often there is no feelings left to build on.   

These are not the couples who are content with each other and who are comfortable whether alone or together. They are the couples who hate to be together. There is always tension in the air if they are both in the same room but the discomfort never erupts into overt hostilities. In these relationships neither partner makes an effort to consider the other and you will never see one comfort the other in times of pain. These are empty and uncaring couples.

So there you have it, two kinds of relationships that end on the rocks. The openly hostile violent relationships may end first but the hidden dislike eventually takes its toll. Just avoiding fights is not a solution to relationship failure. Creating more positive experiences together than negative ones is the safest route to keeping the relationship intact and healthy.  

Till next time,

David Miller, LMFT, NCC.

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