So here is my question of the day/week/month – Tell me how seemingly once great relationships break up?
I think that every relationship that ends up falling apart started out with at least some positive qualities. I mean otherwise, it wouldn't have continued, right? So when I talk to people about their previous relationships, I often ask about what it was like in the beginning? What initially brought them together? And then, what happened, how did it start to wobble? I want to learn as much as I can – trying to minimize the possibility of making the same error. I want to crowd source my learning from mistakes. And other people's mistakes are worth learning from.
“It should have been a flag to me that she was controlling and secretive about money.”
“When it seemed as though she kept bringing up things I had done in the past, I should have realized that she was unable to forgive and forget.”
“He seemed to stop noticing things about me. I started to think I could come home blond and it would take him a day or so to notice – if he did at all.”
“I overheard her complaining to her mother about me and things I thought were private – just between us.”
“We stopped making plans to do things together.”
“She resented any time I spent with my friends or doing things I liked that didn't involve her.”
I am paying close attention to these crowd-sourced clues because I am at the beginning of a new relationship. There is an abundance of NRE (New Relationship Energy) and I'm feeling incredibly optimistic about him, us, the future, blah, blah, blah, I know it makes people who aren't having NRE roll their eyes (because they're so jealous!!). The connection we shared almost immediately is startling. Everything is easy. His approach to life's challenges and drama is to always look for the positive and I like being around that energy. A lot. A whole lot. I haven't smiled this much since I did some great acid in 1978. There is no conflict; there doesn't even seem to be a need for negotiation or compromise. I'm blissed out and serene and not just because I have been sexually satisfied. Right? Am I kidding myself? Please! Someone slap me! Harder! Again! Oh, wait, sorry. That’s a different subject.
Does everyone feel this way at the beginning before it the cracks in the foundation start to appear? You know, the ones we often ignore until they can no longer be patched.
Well Violet – what does your experience show? See that's where I am sadly lacking. My marriage has been a non-romance. It was 2 friends deciding to become life partners – there was love but no heat, no passion. The last relationship where there was heat and passion was when I was someone's mistress and that was different because there was the illicit element and I knew there was no real future or possibility for growth in the relationship. So I need to go all the way back to my very first love – in college. There was an amazing connection; there was passion; there were plans for the future; there wasn't much conflict; I was happy and serene then and it wasn't just because I was sexually satisfied. It fell apart after 3 years and I am not exactly sure why but I think infidelity (his) was involved. That was 25 years ago when I believed that monogamy was the only choice.
So here is my working list of things that derail relationships –
Money – not enough; too much debt; different ideas about what constitutes a “need” vs a “want;” what to spend vs what to save?
Sex – how often; with whom; how; where; who initiates; what happens when one partner is disinterested with frustrating frequency?
Religion – this is usually an issue when there are children to be raised or when there are fundamentalist or exclusive (vs. inclusive) practices
Politics – this can be problematic when there are extreme views involved or the couple’s views are very different on issues that are hot buttons for one or both of them
Family – ex-spouses and children from previous relationships can make things more complex; how “family” is viewed – how close; how are holidays spent; do visits need to be announced; how often do visits happen; what support is expected/needed (financial and otherwise); how much influence over decisions do parents and children have?
Friends/outside interests – how often; how long; are trips with friends acceptable; does an interest cause space and resource (money) constraints; is there jealousy over time spent “away” from the relationship?
Life goals – when to retire; where; is there a planned or desired “second act” and if not, then what do you do all day?
I think that when we're young, it doesn't occur to us that these things can be issues. We are in love and those rose-colored glasses make us believe that “love conquers all.” I am not so sure it does – mostly because how we love depends on so many variables and I think that despite our best intentions and strong desires, those variables can make a relationship difficult, if not impossible. It doesn't occur to us to talk ahead of time about how we would handle the care-taking of a parent. Or how to talk about a career change, or what to do if a promotion means moving to another state. When we're young and new at being part of a couple, we don't even know that we should think about those things. So now, older and hopefully wiser, I know what can really throw a seemingly solid relationship into disarray.
At least I think I do. What have I missed?
To look at why long term relationships that look “good” end, I think it is important to go beyond the stressors in your list and understand that what they have in common is stress. Even the strongest relationships can handle only so much stress. (A big one you left out, by the way, is health issues.) Partners whose relationships transcend stress have learned to communicate about the stress and work together to deal with it, sometimes with the help of a counselor.
Another concept that is just now bubbling into poly consciousness is attachment theory. Even if two people have similar interests, hot sex, etc, if their attachment styles are different, their relationship is unlikely to last long. A good book on this subject is:
Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help YouFind?and Keep?Love [Paperback]
Amir Levine (Author), Rachel Heller
This is such an apt post. Despite being in the younger generation, I do think about these things a lot: possibly because I read wonderful posts like this all the time. It’s really nice to read thoughts from more experienced people, because from where I’m standing it is ALL unknown unknowns… and fuck, is that scary.
Oh, and “I haven’t smiled this much since I did some great acid in 1978” made me laugh.
I agree with @Silenus about attachment theory being relevant here. My most consistent relationship “fight,” no matter which/what relationship, is about differences on the intimacy vs. autonomy scale. (I hadn’t formulated this pattern as a scale until I heard an interview on polyweekly… don’t remember which show, but it was in the past 4-5 months and you can probably search the archives). The basic idea is like the kinsey scale: that everyone needs both intimacy and autonomy in their lives, and that the higher you are on the scale, the more you value intimacy over autonomy.
My very first LTR was great because we were both in the 4-5 range on the scale; unfortunately, i was forced to move halfway across the country for a job and we couldn’t keep up that level of intimacy over the distance. My second LTR was with someone who was a 2-3 on the scale, and after about 2 years I started feeling neglected and she started to feel crowded. My third LTR was with someone with BPD, so that was it’s own shitshow in terms of intimacy fluxuations. Right now, I’m in a good, stable, LTR with someone who is more of a 4-5 on the scale. Although there are still some stumbling blocks about which partners meet those needs in what proportions. (if that makes sense)