“We need to talk.”
The most dreaded four words in a relationship.
They go hand in hand with…
- I just need time to think about things.
- I need some space
- We should take a break
All of these phrases have the same subtext: the relationship is failing.
A break-up is one of the hardest things you will endure.
You open yourself to another person in the hopes that you will be accepted and understood. When that falls apart we take it very personally.
I won’t promise that you can avoid break-ups. (In fact, breaking up can be very healthy, but more on that in a bit.)
What you can avoid is the self-loathing associated with a failed relationship. A breakup can even lead to a stronger, healthier you.
But first, we need to understand why relationships fail.
Why Relationships Fail: The 3 Main Reasons
Our needs in a relationship often come down to this: we want to be accepted and understood.
It’s no surprise that most relationships end because those two things aren’t being met.
1. Lack of Autonomy
“I can’t do anything without him checking on me,” Susan said, venting to her sister.
“He even wants me to use a friend finder app to know where I am.”
Feeling trapped is one of the leading reasons that relationships fail.
The kind of stifling paranoia we see in Susan’s situation is a symptom of deeper issues.
There’s a lack of trust, and ultimately that stems from a lack of understanding.
Susan’s partner is only thinking of his feelings.
2. Lack of Similarities
“Where’s Rose? I thought she was coming with us tonight.”
John had heard this question from friends before.
“Uh, she has work early in the morning,” John responds, covering for her again.
Whether it’s a disinterest in each other’s hobbies and friends, or disagreements with something deeper, like faith, a lack of similarities takes down many couples.
This doesn’t mean that you and your partner need to have all of your interests line up perfectly.
Our differences can often be what keeps things fresh in a relationship.
The danger is in feeling unaccepted for the things we like.
When there is no compromise in our interests, we are often left feeling unaccepted.
3. Lack of Support
“He never listens to me,” Carol said. “Always wants me to just get over it.”
No matter how good your relationship is, there will always be something to work on, and problems to fix.
When we bring our opinions and issues to our partner, we want to be understood.
When we are shot down time and time again, we feel a lack of support.
A healthy couple knows that they are a team.
Just because one has an issue doesn’t mean they should have to tackle it alone.
Over time, if we don’t feel supported, we leave.
3 Signs of a Failing Relationship
Should you stay, or should you go?
Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the problems you’re experiencing are normal bumps in the road, or signs to something more serious.
Here are some red flags to look for in your relationship:
Sign #1: You don’t celebrate each other
Look “celebrate” up in the dictionary and you will see words like praise, bless, applaud, admire, and commemorate.
The Latin origin, celebrare, means “to honor.”
There are few things that make someone feel more accepted than being celebrated.
We need to learn to “see and say” in our relationships.
See the things our partner does and say our compliments.
It helps them feel accepted and it helps us appreciate the things we take for granted by giving them new recognition.
A failing relationship has left compliments behind long ago.
Sign #2: You don’t try new things together anymore
Experiencing something new and getting outside your comfort zone as a couple can keep things exciting.
One of the benefits of deep, meaningful long-term relationships is a true understanding of each other.
But there’s a flip side: what if you think you know everything there is to know about your partner?
That could lead to a stagnant relationship for both of you. Look to freshen things up.
It could be as simple as trying a restaurant you have never been to before. Maybe it’s saying yes to spending time with friends when you usually stay at home. Or it could be taking on new hobbies.
Whatever the case may be, doing something new can build new memories together.
Failing relationships have little enthusiasm for giving something new a try.
Sign #3: You no longer communicate
Communication is the lifeblood of any relationship.
Communicating doesn’t just mean talking with each other.
It’s about understanding what you both mean underneath the surface.
Hearing that your spouse is tired after a long day at work might be as simple as that.
Or it could mean they had a rough time with co-workers or their boss.
You could just listen and accept the surface level scenario, or you can ask follow up questions to see if it goes deeper.
Either way, it helps them feel seen.
If you find that you and your partner are on totally different wavelengths, there is almost certainly a communication problem.
This can oftentimes devolve into the feeling of not knowing each other at all.
Then the relationship breaks.
What to Do If Your Relationship Is Failing
Become active about finding what parts of your relationships need to grow.
Regular check-ins with each other might mean more little discussions now, but can avoid big blow-ups down the road.
Think about your relationship as a car.
If you regularly get the oil changed, belts checked, and tires rotated, you get far more out of your car.
If you let those things start to slide, you may save a little here and there on maintenance bills, but a big break down is almost inevitable.
Keep asking each other how you both feel.
Make sure that you make time to pay attention to each other every day.
Even if it’s just a minute out of your busy schedule.
If you keep communicating, trying new things, and celebrating each other, you will be able to see if this relationship is healthy.
But we are all unique. Finding someone to share your true self with is no easy task.
Check out this post by Jill Savage on marriage coaching and how to take the best next steps if you feel your relationship is failing.
What to Do After a Failed Relationship
We are going to look at both sides of the coin. You might be the heartbreaker or the brokenhearted, both can put you in a difficult position.
So let’s see how you can be a healthier version of you no matter which you happen to be.
It’s extraordinarily rare for a break up to be truly mutual.
That means every relationship that ends has someone who initiates that end.
There’s graceful ways to do this, and ways that bring more hurt.
Here’s some good practices if you realize it’s time for you to end your relationship:
- Talk to someone you trust
Breaking up is hard to do.
There’s plenty to consider and sometimes we make better choices with input from loved ones.
Find someone you trust and go over how you feel.
The more clarity you have before you say “We need to talk,” the better.
- Don’t put it off
We get comfortable. Going into the unknown can be scary. Even if our relationship is with the wrong person, we grow accustomed to it.
We also hate being the bearer of bad news. We want to find an easy way out or shift blame. So we tend to wait.
This only makes things worse. Your partner might get more attached to you in the meantime, making the break up far more painful.
Being direct is hard but it’s for the best for both of you.
- Make a clean break
Let’s be friends.
There’s another terrible thing to hear. And it sets up you and your ex for more hurt.
Sure, every relationship is different and some do end in friendship. But, that’s rare.
If you don’t want to be friends after the break-up, don’t say it just to be nice.
Also, saying how great the other person is as you walk out the door can send mixed messages.
Make your intent clear, without being overly harsh. You don’t want a romantic relationship with them anymore. The sooner they understand that, the sooner both of you can move on.
- Grieve the loss
Just because you initiated the break-up, doesn’t mean that there’s no heartache for you too.
You’ve shared your life with someone, and even relationships that need to end, can impact your emotions.
Allow yourself to grieve and process what has happened.
You hoped, at least at one time, for something more. It’s ok to shed some tears about what could have been.
Having to hear that your partner no longer wants to be with you is one of the hardest things you could face.
But this doesn’t mean you can’t move on, or better yet, become even healthier than before.
Here’s how you can grow from having your heart broken:
- Accept the reality that the relationship is over
“I have to win her back.”
It’s tempting to think that this will only be a temporary break and you can do one more thing to make your ex reconsider.
The reality is harsh, but healthy for you to understand: the relationship is over.
Your former partner no longer wants to be romantically tied to you.
This allows you to start the grieving process.
- Let yourself cry
Don’t try to hold it all in and put on a brave face. That helps no one, especially not you.
It’s ok to take some time for yourself. It’s ok (and even healthy) to let the tears start pouring.
- Steer clear of revenge
Break-ups often bring anger. It’s ok to be angry at what has happened to you. It’s natural.
But don’t let that anger turn into revenge.
There’s all kinds of ramifications that can come back to haunt you in the long-term.
But ultimately you are just hurting yourself more than them.
Spreading lies about them or causing them pain won’t fix your broken relationship or your heart.
Let it go.
- Stop blaming yourself
It’s easy to think that if you changed one little thing about yourself you can fix your old relationship.
We think: I must be the problem, there must be something wrong with me, I am unlovable.
Those are more lies.
You may have some growing to do, but relationships are very two-sided entities.
You are worthy of love and this one person does not represent how every relationship will be.
Find what pieces of yourself you want to work on, and celebrate yourself too.
- Beware the rebound
When our partners leave us we can quickly try to fill that void with the first person that seems even mildly interested in us.
We are desperate to find someone that will make us feel better about ourselves.
But we must be whole first before entering a new relationship.
We risk getting into a dangerous cycle of allowing someone else to complete us. We become relationship chameleons, morphing into anything the other person wants us to be.
We can be taken advantage of or become overly clingy.
When they leave, we are hurt all over again.
Moving Past a Failed Relationship to a Healthier You
These pieces of advice are not to say that failed relationships are easy.
For both parties involved, there is grief.
Accepting the loss is a process that takes time.
As Robert Frost would put it, the end of a relationship is saying goodbye to a season of love.
Like real seasons, there’s nothing we can do to go back. The more we try to hold the last season hostage, the less we can appreciate our new season.
When we fully move to a place of acceptance, there’s no more games, or coersions, or bargaining.
In the end we can become healthier for it.