Many of us have been in relationships that, in retrospect, seem to have been doomed from the start. We may have asked ourselves—as I have—how we could have missed the clues that the relationship was on the road to nowhere. To understand why relationships fail, one can start with the nature of love and how that nature can tell us, before we even get deeply involved, that a relationship isn’t going to make it.
Love has three components: intimacy, passion, and commitment. Intimacy involves communication, caring, respect, trust, liking, closeness. Passion involves feelings of longing and extreme need. Commitment involves wanting to be with someone forever, regardless of what happens. Being in love is about passion—the feeling that you absolutely need to be with someone and can’t live without them. Loving someone unconditionally is about commitment—deciding you are in a relationship for keeps, come what may. Either kind of loving can fail, but in general, passion is very susceptible to ups and downs and even to disappearing altogether. Commitment tends to stay unless something happens (e.g., an affair) to change it. The healthiest kind of love, generally, is consummate or complete love, which combines intimacy, passion, and commitment.
Relationships can be doomed and fail for many reasons. Let’s look at three big reasons:
1. A mismatch between what the two partners want.
If, for example, one partner really cares greatly about intimacy—communication, caring, trust, compassion—and the other cares mostly about passion—being turned on, excited, and ready for sex at a moment’s notice—the relationship is likely to fail, no matter how good the partners’ intentions are. You need to match your partner in terms of intimacy, passion, and commitment. If you want different things, it just does not work. If you have a mismatch in needs, don’t expect things just to fix themselves. You need someone who wants from a relationship pretty much the same kinds of things you want.
2. There just isn’t enough of intimacy, passion, and/or commitment.
You may be a match, but there just isn’t enough love (intimacy, passion, commitment) there to keep things going. The relationship was probably on life support from the start. Sometimes, love grows from just the smallest seed. In match-maker relationships, that is the only option: The couple may not even have known each other prior to the match. But for most of us, if we do know someone over a period of time, we need to make sure that the ingredients are there—that there is enough love--for the relationship to flourish.
3. You want what you just can’t have.
For example, you may expect such high levels of passion that neither your partner nor someone else can provide you. You have seen too many Hollywood movies, and want a kind of relationship that is limited to the movies. Or you want a level of commitment that would stifle almost any partner, for example, expecting the partner to be at your beck and call at any moment.
So, those are three ways relationships can fail—mismatch in intimacy, passion, and commitment; insufficient levels of intimacy, passion, and commitment; and unrealistic expectations that no one outside a movie ever could meet.
What are the implications for you?
- Ask yourself whether you match your partner in intimacy, passion, and commitment needs. If not, do not think that mere faith that things will “work out” will somehow create the match that is not now there.
- If you have only a modest level of love, wait before committing yourself permanently! Don’t just put faith in the love growing. You need enough love to make it work.
- Unless you are an actor or actress in Hollywood playing a role, don’t expect a Hollywood relationship. Be realistic in your expectations and realize that none of us, given all the daily challenges and hassles we face, can live up the Hollywood dream of a relationship that has no challenging moments.