Q: It seems like all my friends are getting divorced or separated. I’m about to get married and I really want my marriage to work. I’m wondering why so many couples struggle with relationship problems or end up divorced?
A: We are social creatures and need each other (for some that may feel like a gift, for others, sadly, a curse). We all emerged from a place of total dependency on others. Who we are (our psychological and emotional self) emerged out of our early relationships. Because of this, we have a strong desire to be in an intimate relationship–to find a life-partner to share ourselves with.
An intimate, committedd relationship is the playground where we feel most alive – through meaningful, authentic connections with your partner, you find your deepest sense of self. It sounds like you’re well aware that for many, this isn’t the case. Despite our psychological and emotional need to be in relationships, a high number of marriages/relationships are failing and our inherent need for connection with another is bringing more pain than fulfillment. Let’s briefly look at why this might be the case.
5 Reasons Why Relationships Fail
1. The Fall From Grace: Paradise Lost
All intimate relationships involve a fall from grace. The intensity of feelings and spontaneous passion couples first experience seldom last. For many, this sets the stage for ongoing disappointment due to expectations that the magic that embued the beginning of one’s relationship would last indefinitely. Couples need to be aware of this reality in order to offset erroneous beliefs that what occurs early on in one’s relationship is supposed to be the norm forever.
2. I Thought I Knew You!
The desire to be married or in a committed relationship can lead couples to ignore significant personality differences that can be problematic down the road. If you ever find yourself asking, “I thought I knew her” or “where is the man I married,” it may be that the evidence of these differences was either well-concealed early on or your “passion goggles” failed to recognize these differences. While differences are a natural part of love, when they involve conflicts over your and your partner’s core values, marriage problems or relationship trouble may result.
3. What’s In It For Me?
Certain cultures reinforce the development of individualism and competitiveness over mutuality and self-sacrifice. Unfortunately this leads to a “what’s in it for me” attitude that is deeply ingrained in people’s psyches and this can have a profound impact on how you relate to your spouse/partner. In my work, I’m seeing more and more couples place unrealistic demands on their relationship, expecting all their needs to be met and seeing the natural frustrations of couplehood as a sign that they’re with the wrong person.
4. Know Thy Self
Most of us do not conduct a detailed inventory of what we want and expect from our partner. And isn’t it fair to say that we do not conduct an honest inventory of our own shortcomings that can negatively impact our marriag/relationship. In other words, relationships take work and a willingness for self-examination. Part of this work involves preparation for the demands and challenges of a long-term committment. I frequently ask couples, “Did you examine your own and your partner’s expectations and goals about the relationship?” Sure, many ask if their partner wanted children, but seldom does the discussion go beyond that. Too many couples jump into a committed relationship without preparing for what’s to come.
5. Doing What You Know (Even When It’s Unhealthy)
Many of us grew up experiencing and witnessing unhealthy relationships, relationships that have little or no place in today’s society. Patriarchal families, where lopsided power differences were the norm, clash with the developing trends of contemporary society. Equality, mutuality and compromise continue to become the new norm for marriages/relationships. Unfortunately, you may have internalized the old, unhealthy relationship scripts, even if you’re not fully conscious of them. And the worst part is that these old family scripts often exert their strongest influence as your marriage/relationship matures and your partner appropriately requests greater intimacy from you.
While the above list isn’t exhausvie, it’s a starting place to help increase our mindfulness about what can contribute to relationship problems. The goal is for you and your partner to have as much information as possible about what makes a marriage/relationship work well and what leads to entrenched marital and relationship problems.
Here’s to a stronger relationship!
Dr. Rich Nicastro