By Suzanne E. Harrill
Most people marry with the optimism that their marriage will last until “death do us part.” The reality is that 40% - 73% of marriages end in divorce. Current statistics show that first marriages end in divorce around 41-50% of the time, second marriages approximately 60% of the time, and third marriages have the highest rate altogether, at around 70%. What can you do to beat the odds in your relationship? Begin by learning some of the reasons why relationships do not last so you can move into a relationship with awareness. The more you know about yourself, the better your odds of learning to live well with another.
There are many reasons why relationships do not last from unreal expectations to immaturity. Lack of basic skills hurts many, such as being unable to communicate without blame and putting up defenses in order to problem-solve and resolve conflict. There are those that have faulty beliefs, such as a successful relationship means you get your needs met for love, esteem, and security. Low self-esteem plagues many, if not all of us, which gets in the way of loving the other unconditionally. Another is untreated addiction, either a physical or emotional addiction. You cannot have an adult-to-adult relationship until recovery is part of the mix.
One important reason I have seen some relationships fail in my counseling practice over the years is suffering from the illusion that romantic love is true love. Physical attraction gets relationships going, yet it is not a good predictor of long-term success.
It’s fun to watch others and to experience romantic love. New lovers think they are soul mates and “different” from others, believing they will not have problems like the rest of us because their relationship is special. The endorphins circulating in the blood stream feed the couple with happiness and optimism. This is not a time for reason. In fact nature started sexual attraction for a very special reason, to ensure the perpetuation of our species. Many relationships start with romantic love in our culture, but much more is needed to support a mature love relationship, even if you are soul mates.
What is more important for long-term success is that a person understands that infatuation is not the true deal, that each person has faults and unresolved issues from childhood and past relationships that will eventually surface. We can show off our assets when we have short doses of time with each other in a new relationship. The longer we are around another it gets more and more difficult to hide the down side of our personalities, traits, and issues needing understanding and resolution, even if the majority of them are positive. So when the shoe drops, other things are important to ensure success of the relationship, such as good communication skills, empathy, tolerance, forgiveness, and healing our own issues. Most people need help in all these areas. Luckily these are skills that can be learned.
As mentioned earlier, many people have unreal beliefs and expectations about a relationship that set them up for failure. Examples are, believing you have a good relationship if there is no conflict, or your relationship will make you happy, or solve your problems. Both are false. When you hide your conflicts from each other it eventually comes out, in anger, depression, or passive hostile behavior (“I didn’t mean what I said, it was a joke.”) No one can make you happy for long. There can be happy shared times, but no one could possibly be responsible for anyone else’s happiness but their own. Try making someone happy that is unhappy for a while and you’ll experience burnout with that amount of dependency on you.
Self-esteem issues affect many relationships negatively too. Either end of the continuum is a problem, the partner with no voice who is a victim, as well as the one who appears to be okay who many times dominates and victimizes. People tend to match up with similar degrees of self-esteem even if on opposite sides of the continuum. Couples whose self-esteem is on the lower end come from a position of “I’m not okay and you’re not okay.” This is not good for a fulfilling, successful relationship. With low self-esteem it is common to hold the partner responsible for your happiness and to make you feel okay. People can only love to the degree they love themselves. A needed strategy here is to work on yourself and improve your love and acceptance of self first and then pass it on to the partner. It is tricky at times, because if you do for another what they need to be doing for themselves you actually rob them of building their self-esteem.
A major red flag for any relationship is when addiction is present. Most think of drug and alcohol as the culprit for a bad situation, which is true. Equally as bad is codependency where one has emotional addictions and is more interested in helping and solving the partner’s problems rather than looking at their own issues and taking care of self. This enables the partner to stay sick, as well as the giver/problem-solver/victim/avoider of their own problems. By working your own issues you each learn to take responsibility for your own life and to set appropriate boundaries over giving and support. This in turn helps the drug addict or alcoholic. Recovery with emotional support and education is necessary to move from a crippling situation to an adult-to-adult relationship.
There are many reasons why relationships fail. The notion of romantic love being mature love is false. The problem with infatuation is it is not a good predictor of long-term success. Unreal expectations and beliefs about relationships hinder good relationships, as do lack of skills, self-esteem issues, and addictions both physical and emotional. The way out is to know and love yourself and become a self-aware individual. The partner that is more aware has more power to steer the relationship in a healthy, positive direction. Begin with yourself if you want to beat the odds and create a great relationship.