Love & Sex Magazine

The REAL Reason Relationships Break Up

By Nathan Feiles, Lmsw @therapynathan

UnknownA while back, I wrote an article about why relationships break up.  Though that article still stands, there are certainly things that could be added to it. 

Why do relationships actually break up?

In another previous article, I discussed what causes attraction. In short, we as people tend to cut-off parts of ourselves that are unsafe or threatening in some way. For example, if we figured out when growing up that we would be scolded for being open and free-spirited in certain ways, it’s possible we may become more reserved and close-off.

What tends to happen with attraction is that we subconsciously find people both who remind us of “home” (family environment), emotionally, while also bringing in those previously cut-off parts of ourselves that we unconsciously crave. So if the closed-off person finds someone who is free-spirited, that’s often an attractor because the person has learned that it’s too risky to experience free-spirited feelings inside, and is now able to live out the free-spirited feelings externally, through another person.

At first, this is a major attractor. Psychologically speaking, our minds and emotions believe, “okay, this is the person that’s going to help me get this part of myself back.” (There are other elements in attraction, but this is a simple explanation).

Unfortunately for relationships, these attractors are often the case only early on in relationships. Eventually, the closed-off individual sees the free-spirited individual as too flighty, disorganized, messy, or not serious enough about commitment, etc. And in contrast, the free-spirited partner starts to worry that the more closed-off partner is too rigid, has too many rules, or will box him/her in.

Generally, people are born with the capacity to experience a wide range of emotions. But as life moves forward and we begin to weed out emotional states that are more threatening to us in some way, it becomes more and more difficult to adjust to, and to re-open parts of ourselves that have been cut off for many years.

The Fear of Change

In relationships, the issue becomes how to safely merge. How much compromise (change) of ourselves do we have to make for this relationship to work; and how threatening will it be to truly allow the influence of our partners to influence, and be a part of, our world?

The more people I work with in my practice, the more the idea is supported that relationships tend to break up from fears of change and/or fears of being changed.

People often believe that they’re very open to relationships. But in reality, this often only goes to a certain point. When people start to feel that the influence of their partner is asking for too much change in order to be merged as a unit, they begin to resist their partner’s influence. The more this happens, the more this pushes the relationship away.

The free-spirited partner may have to decide if they can handle their partner’s more conservative tendencies, and the more closed-off partner may have to decide how much gray area is tolerable.

Basically, both parters will have to open themselves to internal and external shifts, which can trigger a variety of emotions for each. The problem is, when the internal emotional reactions become too much to bear, due to the need for more change than is comfortable, this puts the relationship in jeopardy. The more difficult it is to accept influence from your partner, the less likely the relationship will work. 

This is a common issue in relationships. People in this position tend to fear that they are going to either fully lose themselves to their partner’s world, or they are going to have to face the fear and unknown space of reopening parts of themselves that they’ve only ever experienced as a threat (which is why these cut off parts were originally cut off).

Therapy, whether individual and/or couples, is a good way to learn how you function in relationships — what kind of tendencies and patterns tend to repeat and influence how you live, and understand the kinds of relationships where you can better co-exist.

Just as importantly, good therapy with a skilled therapist will also help you learn how to manage areas of relationships that don’t fully fit your personal makeup. This means that even if things don’t seem to match up at all times with your partner, the relationship doesn’t always need to end. If there’s room for compromise and adjustment in both partners, then there’s room for a relationship.

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