Why Relationships Fail—and How To Make Them Stronger






 Most people enter a relationship with high hopes and very positive views of their partners; yet a lot of marriages end in divorce. People expect their own marriages to succeed, despite the fact that most marriages fail. Why is it, then, that so many romantic relationships and marriages fail? As you can probably guess, the answer is complex and involves many different factors.


One factor is the failure to understand the reality of a relationship. That is, no spouse (including oneself) is perfect. No matter how ideal the other person may have seemed through the mist of romantic images, it eventually becomes obvious that they have negative qualities as well as positive ones. Over time, negative personality characteristics in one’s partner (e.g., selfishness, a bad temper) may become less and less tolerable. Minor personality and behavioral flaws that once seemed acceptable can come to be perceived as annoying and unlikable after a while. If you are initially drawn to someone because that person is very different from yourself, or perhaps even unique, chances are good that the disappointment will eventually set in. Some problems experienced by couples are universal, and probably unavoidable, because being in any kind of close relationship involves some degree of compromise. When you live alone, you can do as you wish, which is one important reason why many people choose to remain single, or why people who have been in a relationship that ends sometimes choose not to enter another one. When two people are together, however, they must somehow decide what to eat for dinner, who prepares it, and when and how to serve the meal. Similar decisions must be made about whether to watch TV and which programs to watch, whether to wash the dishes after dinner or let them wait for the next day, whether to have sex right now or some other time—the list of decisions—and compromises—is endless. Because both partners have needs and preferences, there is an inevitable conflict between the desire for independence and the need for closeness. 

As a consequence, 98.8 percent of married couples report that they have disagreements, and most indicate that serious conflicts arise once a month or more often. Because disagreements and conflicts are essentially inevitable, what becomes crucial is how those conflicts are handled.



An important factor in building strong and satisfying relationships is very basic: knowledge of what behaviors build relationships and what behaviors do not. For instance, while some people recognize that noticing a partner’s moods and asking about these feelings helps to build relationships, others do not. Closely related to knowledge of relationship-building behaviors is the motivation to attain a supportive partner. Again, people differ greatly on this dimension, and those who value partner supportiveness highly tend to be the ones who choose such people and have successful relationships. Attachment style seems to play an important role in the extent to which individuals learn to recognize relationship-enhancing behaviors. Those high in attachment anxiety (they worry about losing their partners or being rejected) are slower to learn which actions help to build relationships and which tend to undermine them. 

First, individuals must increase their understanding of what actions on their part and by their partner help to strengthen such relationships, and then they must actually perform them. Fortunately, such knowledge can be learned and the overall conclusion is that happy relationships are within most people’s grasp—if they are willing to expend the effort needed to attain them.

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