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Why do intimate relationships continue to fail?
After three years, my most recent intimate relationship has fallen apart.
This is not the first time this has happened to me. Two other previous long-term relationships also broke down after four and two years.
I have gone to counselling about this before and I have worked really hard at trying to make this most recent relationship work. I cannot help but think it is me. But each time there have been issues that have been obvious early in the relationship that we have not been able to resolve.
I am not getting any younger and I do not want to spend years in a future relationship only to have it end like this again. What can I do to avoid this in the future?
I am sorry to hear that these relationships have not worked out for you. It is very difficult when relationships end and it is common to ask the questions you are asking.
Relationship failures are never exclusively the fault of either individual and I do not believe that it is productive to be seeking to find fault regardless. Not all relationships work and often they do not work for all sorts of reasons.
Blame does not generally help us understand what those reasons are or how to avoid them.
Knowing yourself and taking ownership of your own needs, thoughts, feelings, experience and perspective is important. When you are ready to begin pursuing a future relationship, it is essential that you know what characteristics are important to you in an intimate relationship.
You then need to continuously evaluate the future relationship and the extent to which it these characteristics are present. Pay attention to what things are important to you in your life and make sure that you are not giving up these things to try to make the relationship work.
Seems obvious enough.
Yet, one common pattern that I see in relationships that are struggling is that both individuals have not paid enough attention to things that are important to them or they have compromised them in ways that leave them feeling angry, hurt, and/or resentful.
When we talk about this they often say that they felt they had to compromise these things in order to make the relationship work.
However, it is often these specific issues that come back time and time again and, when left unaddressed or unresolved, they often lead to the end of the relationship.
From your comments above, I wonder if this was happening for you as well.
It may seem counter-intuitive, and it goes against a lot of the messages we receive from our popular culture, but I sometimes suggest that people stop working so hard to make relationships work — particularly when we are starting new relationships.
Sometimes the best thing we can do is fail as fast as we can until we find a relationship that we cannot fail at. When we find that relationship, it is generally a keeper.
This does not mean that we should not work at our relationships and that they do not need attention or effort in order to be successful. It is just that sometimes there are things in some relationships that do not work and spending years trying to make them work does not change that.
In starting new relationships it is better to find out early that they are not going to work, to recognize that and to accept that. Too often we do not address the things that are significant problems for us because we are afraid of our partner's reactions, we feel that we are being selfish or unreasonable or for some other reason.
However, when we do not address these issues openly and honestly with both ourselves and our partners they do come out in other ways.
So, do not ignore those issues in the relationship.
Know what is important for you and make sure that these things are a part of any relationship that you pursue. And try to fail as fast as you can until you find a relationship that you cannot fail at.
Look for those things that do not work for you and make sure that they get addressed as soon as possible.
If you cannot work them out, then be very honest and clear with yourself. They will still be there in two, three or five years and if they do not work for you now they likely will not then either.
Is that something that you can be OK with?
There is a relationship out there that will work for you.
The trick is weeding through the ones that do not and the ones that only 'sort of ' work until your left with one that does without spending too many years searching.
If you wish to ask a question of the counsellors, for a response in future columns, e-mail them at email@example.com. Consult a Counsellor is provided by registered clinical counsellors Nancy Bock, Diane Davies Leslie Wells, Andrew Lochhead and Sara Lynn Kang at pacific therapy & consulting inc. It appears every second Friday in the Record.