You know the expression. “It’s not you, it’s me.” Pop culture pap, don’t you think? But when searching for reasons to leave a relationship, or at least what to say, the reality is “It’s not me, it’s you” is often how we truly feel.
Sure, as exit strategies go, we look to diminish the likelihood of conflict. We also try to soften the blow, and taking responsibility for the relationship’s demise has become standard operating procedure. But the justifications for ending romances, long-term relationships and marriages is usually more complicated.
And sometimes, “it’s not me, it’s you” is right on the money.
Why Relationships Fizzle
Even the best relationships can be eroded by events that life throws at us — medical issues and layoff come to mind. These aren’t the only issues that put a strain on daily life, and they won’t necessarily drive a permanent wedge between people who love each other.
But test us?
You bet. And in the handling of these challenges, we may perceive aspects of character in our partners that we then struggle to accept. Or, the challenges are so great, they eventually break the couple’s bond.
As for other reasons that relationships end, not as the result of an unpredictable life event, are many. Here are a few off the top of my head:
- One partner meets someone new
- Infidelity, emotional affairs
- Money problems
- Values Mismatch
- Poor communication
- sexual incompatibility
Bored? Lovers by Musical Chairs
Some years back, a divorced friend of mine led quite the merry love life. At the time, I couldn’t decide if I was envious or disturbed. She was a stunning woman and seemed to run through lovers at a rate of two per year. Now, you say, that’s not so many — except she typically fell in love, moved them into her home, got a ring on her finger… but the engagement never ended in marriage.
I’ve always wondered who ended each relationship, if the complexity of her family situation was a factor (juggling a job and a couple of kids), or if she simply grew bored.
And yes, I’m making an assumption that she was the one to terminate these whirlwind affairs. She was a man magnet — not only beautiful, but smart, funny, and I suspect, a tad aloof.
Men looked at her adoringly, pursued energetically, and appeared to be happy in her company. At least, until something in the “real world” hit her, him, or both of them.
I’ve certainly known men who’ve spent years with a revolving door of women in and out of their lives. Again, I’ve wondered if it’s boredom, the stereotypical inability to commit, or not feeling as if they had found a longer term partner.
Does Familiarity Really Breed Discontent?
I’m not convinced that familiarity breeds discontent; for some of us it’s comforting, warming, reassuring.
On the other hand, when we take each other for granted, when our routines are entirely predictable, when our stories are told by rote, when the sex is equally predictable, when romance has all but disappeared… discontent can inch its way into what is otherwise a loving and solid relationship.
Try to spice it up? Try to talk? Or is it so difficult to communicate without hurting each other, that you sit on your feelings until you’re ready to implode?
I suppose that next steps depend on the nature of the relationship. Married with kids? I say: Work on it! One year in and tuning out? I say: Start looking! Several years of an established relationship and generally positive shared history? Once again, I believe it’s worth trying to turn things around.
However long you’ve been together, when friendship, respect, trust, common values as well as love are part of the package, again I would say to work on it. Those qualities aren’t easy to find.
Why Couples REALLY Break Up
Curious to know if my list of breakup reasons hits the mark, I consulted this article on the top 10 reasons couples break up. My first thought was that someone meets a new potential partner, and my next thought was infidelity.
It turns out that the top five reasons are as follows:
- Poor communications
- Social isolation
- Conflicting Goals
Infidelity, in case you’re wondering, is number 10 in the list according to the cited resource. And do note the importance of money matters!
Social Isolation: Too Much Togetherness?
Social isolation? I wonder about that one. We all have limited time these days, so how does this play out?
The article explains:
… love relationships require space and outside socialization to develop healthily. Relationship problems may emerge if being together has caused one or both partners to distance themselves from family and friends.
How I interpret that?
We need to be ourselves, and not be so dependent on each other as to cut people or passions out of our lives entirely. Yet I see this as a gray area that isn’t readily solved. Contemporary life is complex, families are spread across the country, responsibilities in blended families can be particularly challenging, and surely we must feed and nurture the relationship itself.
Where does this leave “me” time?
Too often, at the bottom of the list. Yet without “me” time, how do we bring a full self to the relationship?
Discomfort, Anger, Tears
The way he goes to the bathroom with the door open. The way she flosses her teeth. The way he chews and doesn’t realize when there’s food dribbled into his beard. The way she leaves her clothes wherever she happens to take them off.
Are these deal breakers? Really?
Maybe not in principle, and maybe not initially.
But what happens when other elements of the relationship are breaking down? Don’t these irritations loom large and drive you crazy? Doesn’t it seem as if you can’t stand another minute?
All of the examples above are habits that could easily be addressed. But what about that poor communication? What about not wanting to “criticize” the other person? If you can’t talk about the small things — or worse, you do, and they’re ignored — what about the more significant issues?
Confrontation is difficult, and more difficult for some than others. No one likes the finger pointed at them, blame or disapproval hurled their way, or lashing out with digs that sting at the worst possible time. The way we handle conflict matters.
Most of us do think before we speak, and try not to hurt the ones we love. And, we may fear what conflict may unleash.
Discomfort. Anger. Tears.
Some of us feel attacked, and so we withdraw emotionally. If your partner maintains a certain distance as it is, you may worry even more about pushing him or her away.
Psychology Today discusses leaving a relationship in a larger context, and in an intelligent way. Referring to friendships as well as romantic relationships, Karyn Hall, PhD suggests we consider the joy we share as well as conflict or pain. Does the joy win out? Has it entirely seeped away?
Challenges exist in any relationship. There may be emotional moments when you are sure you want to end the connection and never see the person again only to have those feelings pass quickly.
Dr. Hall makes suggestions for determining whether or not it’s time to leave a relationship, and they include:
Consider whether overall the relationship enhances your life or is destructive or restrictive… Significant people in your life should encourage you and support you in living the life you want to live…
Also noting that stress may cause behaviors that erode the quality of the relationship, this, to me, is when we must clearly look at whether we’re dealing with “it’s not you, it’s me” or the other way around. For instance, we may not feel emotionally, physically, or financially equipped to take on the other person’s challenges though we recognize their causes — for example, job or medical stress. Or, we note that the other person is unable to support us in the goals we have set out for ourselves, and that conflict of goals is slowly splitting us apart.
That depends. On your marital status, your parenting status, your financial status, your emotional state. No doubt there are other considerations like knowing what you really want in your relationship and more importantly, in your life; knowing what and whom you’re willing to sacrifice to get it; understanding the options, should you later change your mind.
Other factors that are more explicit: Would the other person change? Could he? Would those changes make a difference or is it too late? Can you change? Would that make a difference? Is it too late? Are there enough positives to give it a go instead of walking away?
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