Why do relationships end? So often relationships and marriages are entered with so much hope and anticipation just to end in a break-up or divorce. Many books have been written about this topic and the list of reasons are endless. In this article I will discuss the most common reasons I have come across in my 19 years of practice as a psychologist.
Most people enter a new relationship with at least a measure of idealization of the other person. This means that when we are in love we often (at least initially) have a rose colored view of the other person. We don’t really know the person very well yet and we don’t quite acknowledge their shortcomings and if we do we ignore them. After a while reality sets in and then we have to deal with the real person, with real shortcomings. We might then discover that the other person is really very selfish or emotionally reactive (easy angered or hurt) etc. Or we might just realize that the person is not as perfect as we hoped. Some people go from relationship to relationship ending the relationship as soon as reality sets in, unrealistically hoping to find the perfect person.
We tend to attract partners with the same level of emotional struggles as we have. The healthier you are emotionally the more likely it is that you will enter relationships with others with less emotional struggles. An example would be if an insecure person enters a relationship with a critical, rejecting person. Clearly this is a recipe for hurt and heartache and both these people enter the relationship with serious baggage. Therefor it is good to work on yourself and think about yourself as this increases the possibility of entering healthy relationships.
The more immature (childlike) parts of ourselves can be very selfish and even a bit grandiose (think that we are very special, and definitively more special than our partners!). This can lead to unrealistic expectations for perfection in others, perfect love, undivided attention etc. Many people find it difficult to see the other person as a real person with their own hurts, needs, ability to love and struggles. We might just see an object that is not perfect enough or does not meet our needs perfectly enough. We could struggle to feel real empathy and care for the other person.
A relationship is about giving and receiving. If the balance is skewed with one person mostly giving and the other mostly receiving this could indicate that one person is giving to overcompensate for not having received enough when he/she grew up and the other person could selfishly just long to be nurtured and taken care of in an immature way.
Third parties (children, friends etc.) often cause problems in relationships. Sharing your loved one with others can be particularly difficult. This becomes a major issue particularly in relationships where one of the partners have children from a previous relationship. As children we want all the attention all the time and if this has not been resolved we might have unrealistic expectations as adults. Third parties in the form of affairs often cause breakups. There are many reasons why affairs are entered and I will discuss this more fully in a separate article.
The experiences we had as children often unconsciously influence our current relationships. If you were for instance rejected or felt unloved as a child you may tend to anticipate rejection in your adult relationships. Such a person can be overly reactive and experience even small disappointments as rejecting and indications that the other person does not love you. In some situations a person who fears loss and rejection and be self-defeating and push the relationship towards a breakup so that the feared event can be over and done with.
A dynamic called projection plays a major role in relationship. This basically means that you read things into situations. If you had a mother who was overprotective and controlling you can project this onto your partner and read this into situations. If your partner then asks you to come home at a reasonable hour you could feel controlled.
If we find it hard to acknowledge our own shortcomings and fallibility we can be overly critical of the other person. We might see all the “badness” in the other person and devalue that person in our mind.
The defense mechanisms we unconsciously built up to project ourselves as children can become very difficult in adult relationships. For instance, if you defended yourself against getting hurt by not trusting others and trying to deal with emotions on your own this can make your partner feel very excluded and unable to get close to you.
These are just some of the very complicated reasons why relationships end.
I hope this article helps you to start thinking about the causes for break-ups in your relationships.