Written by: Leslie Davis, PsyD, LMFT and Lynn Valverde, LMFT
The most common reasons given for the failure of relationships are sex, money and time issues. It usually is a combination of these and other factors that result in divorce or calling it quits. Although the divorce rate has decreased slightly over the last few years, this can largely be attributed to more people choosing to live together rather than getting married. And of those who live together there is a higher “turnover rate” than that of married couples. So if you are looking for a lasting relationship, marriage is still the gold standard. Listed below are the top ten reasons why relationships fail. By becoming aware of the warning signs and making the necessary changes you will have a better chance of making it to “happily ever after.”
1. Lost that Loving Feeling - When we first meet someone that we are attracted to we are under the influence of a powerful cocktail of sex hormones. First you are hit with a blast of testosterone and estrogen which create that initial “he/she’s hot”. Next we are slammed with increased levels of the neurotransmitters adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin. And if that’s not enough prepare for surges of the attachment hormones oxytocin and vasopressin. So what does all of this have to do with why relationships fail? Well, basically for anywhere from 12 to 24 months you are hijacked by your hormones and lost in that “loving feeling.” Once the hormone levels return to normal, (which unfortunately they always do) couples start to see all of the little imperfections in their partner. Partners can begin to feel more like roommates or even adversaries than lovers. That special someone that made us “so happy” now seems to be the target of our indifference or frustrations. We start holding each other responsible for our needs, wants and desires. We tend to stop putting in the energy and effort to please each other and become more and more aware of our unmet needs from childhood which usually leads to blaming, nagging, distancing and seeking other sources of gratification. This is where awareness, insight, communication and dedication to your relationship come into play. There are ways to increase your “love hormones” and get that “Loving Feeling” back.
2. Poor Communication – 55% of all communication is through body language. So those crossed arms, turned away body, avoiding eye contact, tense muscles, pursed lips, raised eyebrows, etc speak volumes. Learn to be aware of the messages you are sending and receiving from your partner. The tone, speed and volume of your voice account for 35% of communication. That extra pause you take before answering or the slightly raised or lowered voice, as well as “that tone” all speak volumes to your partner. Only 10% of communication is based on the words you are actually speaking to your partner. The first step is to become aware of how you are communicating on all three levels and learn some simple techniques to mirror, validate, and empathize with your partner. When couples stop talking and become distant or start attacking and blaming without ever resolving issues the relationship begins to break down. We all want to feel heard, know that we make sense and that we are understood.
3. Financial Problems – Money matters, but often not in the ways couples think it may. There is a bit of truth in the old saying “He with the Gold Rules”, so rule gently. Money can create control, power struggles, and resentment in relationships. Often however it is not so much about the dollars spent as it is about understanding each other’s attachment and feelings around money. And yes, we all have strong, even primal feelings about money. So, if you are a Saver and your partner is a Spender it may feel like your partner’s spending is an assault on you. Instead of realizing that you and your partner may have a very different relationships with money, individuals often feel like their partner doesn’t care about their feelings – their need for security, or their need to enjoy life via that new car, dress, or sumptuous fine dining experience. Couples are in trouble when they start omitting purchases, hiding them from one another or squirreling away money behind their partners back. Over time it gets easier and easier to justify these little deeds/deceptions which will ultimately break the trust in your relationship. It is important that couples discuss and learn about each other’s spending style and then create a budget that embraces the styles of both partners. We recommend that couples create a main joint account that they both attribute money into for all the basics as well as mutual activities together. We also suggest each partner have their own individual account to honor their need to save or spend.
4. Lack of Time – Quality Time that is. In this day and age of high tech communication more and more couples find themselves working longer hours, working from or while at home, and during the evening and on weekends. Couples often complain about their partner spending too much time answering emails, texting and chatting with others while supposedly spending ‘quality time’ together. Whether it’s being addicted to work, technology or the introduction of children to the marriage, the time that was once spent with our partner now takes a back seat. Initially, our partner was our number one priority and we spent a great deal of time with them and thinking about them. As the saying goes “Show me where you spend your time and money and I will tell you what’s important to you.” Without quality time together couples grow further and further apart. Make time for you relationship. Plan mutually enjoyable activities at the top of your “to do list” and do them regularly.
5. Sexual Issues – Sex. Not having it, not having enough of it, having it with someone else or even something else, i.e. the internet, causes major problems in relationships. The bottom line is that a marriage without sex represents deeper unresolved issues in the relationship. If you are having sexual issues in your relationship you are not alone: over 50% of couples report having sexual problems and approximately 15% of couples report having sexless relationships. Most relationships with sexual issues eventually end in divorce. Therefore, unless you want to be fighting over who gets the fine china, it is important to stop avoiding this elephant in the room and discuss it with your partner or seek help if this feels too uncomfortable.
6. Marrying too Young – Women that marry before the age of 25 are twice as likely to get divorced than women who marry after the age of 25. In general, couples that are older have a better idea of who they are and what they want in life. They also have better communication skills and tend to be more established in their careers. If you are under 25 and you have met that special someone not all is doomed. It is important that as you mature as a couple you address life issues and goals as they come up and make adjustments to your relationship as a couple.
7. Loss of Respect and Admiration – When couples stop admiring each other and begin treating each other with disrespect the relationship slowly erodes. Spiteful words, name-calling and attacking one’s character have long lasting if not irreversible consequences on the relationship. Like a wall that is built one brick at a time each unfair argument and cutting word builds a barrier of distrust, resentment and anger in the relationship. If couples stop showing respect and admiration for each other what do they have left? We all want to be respected and admired and when we aren’t, we shut down and pull away. After years of verbal abuse most couples call it quits. It is important that couples learn how to fight fair expressing their feelings without attacking and blaming their partner. It is important that you ask for what you need in the relationship and listen to what your partner needs as well. We often take our partners admirable traits for granted. Couples need to continue to admire each other and voice their admiration every day.
8. Opposites Attract and Butt Heads – Yes, many of us are initially attracted to people that are different from ourselves. If we are a bit shy, we love their exuberant outgoing personality, however, this love and admiration for the differences, can turn into an annoying misunderstanding of their personality. We may find ourselves saying things like, “Why can’t they calm down and quit talking to anyone who will listen.” If we are outgoing and free-spirited, we may initially love their responsible and stable attitude, but later feel controlled and defensive. Unfortunately, this initial attraction later sets the stage for many of our issues with our partner. Different values, different ideas of how to live our lives quickly leads to anger, defensiveness and a slow fracturing of the love affair. When you find yourself attracted to and ultimately falling in love with an opposite, realize that this is what has drawn you to this person. It is important to look a little deeper. Why are you shy and what does it mean if you are the life of the party? Or if you are footloose and fancy free, what does it mean to have boundaries and structure? It is also important to look at these differences and realize they add spice and or balance to your life and appreciate them.
9. Poor Boundaries with Extended Family – be it in-laws, siblings, step-children, ex-husbands or your own children, they all come into play when it comes to creating stress on your relationship. Being able to take time for yourselves as a couple, minus the other members of your family is crucial to sustaining a loving relationship. Supporting each other as a couple and as a united front, rather than letting the in-laws or the children overrun your partner is an important part in keeping the respect alive. As much as children are “bundles of joy” many studies show that couples without children are happier. Now that’s not to say children are not a “blessed gift.” It is to say that they add stress to the relationship. Setting boundaries for your relationship, such as standing up for your partner and agreeing on the modes of discipline used for your children or step-children will keep your relationship strong and resilient. The best relationships resemble a pyramid with the “happy bride and groom” at the top.
10. Substance and Alcohol Abuse- These can destroy relationships one drink, one pill or one puff at a time. A dependence on any substance will be a distraction from true intimacy and romance. Unfortunately, the abuser is more in love with the substance than their partner. If the abuse continues, and the sober partner stays, feelings of resentment and anger become toxic, and possibly irreversible to the relationship. Standing by your partner while they are engaging in substance abuse, is setting the precedence for how other dynamics will be played out in the partnership. When one person is high you are living in two different realities never truly connecting. Asking your partner to seek help for their dependence, setting limits and establishing time frames for recovery will create the respect for yourself and your relationship.
For more information on the author's Leslie Davis, PsyD, LMFT and Lynn Valverde, LMFT visit Losangelestherapygroup.com