Before talking about what destroys a relationship, perhaps we should talk about what a relationship is and what makes to a good one. I think it’s safe to say that as we grow into childhood we all want love, acceptance and nurturance. As we grow into adulthood, acknowledgement, approval, respect and to be listened to are added to the mix. Of course we know that many of us grow up missing some of those qualities in the way we’re raised whether our parents neglected to use or teach them to us or whether they never experienced them or knew enough themselves to realize that they, let alone we, needed to use and learn them too. So it’s safe to say that most of us grow up with “gaps” in what we can use to respond well within a relationship. These gaps are probably what are responsible for us have difficulty in “relating.” I think it’s also safe to say that at least 99% of us want at least one “meaningful” relationship if not many.
So, what is a relationship? It’s just that; someone we can relate to. As the risk of being dry, Etymonline.com quotes the word “relate” as coming from the Latin relatus in the 14th century meaning to “bring back” or “hear back” and Middle French in the 16th century relater meaning to “refer or report.” This makes sense in light of the fact that we get the best understanding of how we appear to the world from the people that are the closest to us. The more intimate or revealing we are with them, and I’m including sex, the more depth and fidelity we can assume about their “report” to us and others of what they sense and know about us…provided our relationship with them is an honest and thriving one. Additionally, the more intimate and revealing they are to us about themselves, the more we contribute to how they identify themselves. You can easily see that if one person is more revealing about themselves than another, this can cause problems in trust issues. I’ll explain more later.
So essentially, a relationship is another person whom we use as a reflection to establish our identity in the world. That being said, what qualities and dimensions make that goal workable between partners?
What does a good relationship include? One of the main ingredients that determines how close we become in a relationship is vulnerability. The more comfortable and trusting we feel with the other person, the more forthcoming and open we’ll be with them about our more private matters. The more intimate we are with that person, the more personal characteristics, qualities and experiences we know about each other. Obviously, this includes sex, however how unfortunately, this is what many younger people think is intimacy. This is understandable in light of the fact that the gradual dissolving of generational family living arrangements where most children, necessarily living in close proximity to other members in the household, would have learned some of the most private secrets and circumstances surrounding each family member if only because of living in such closely forced proximity. Feeling different levels of vulnerability with each other will dictate different levels of trust and comfort we allow with each other. So, suffice it to say, relationships involving older with younger partners would have very different levels of intimacy to reconcile if the relationship were to become and remain healthy.
Another dimension that is necessary for a thriving relationship is to be supportive of each other. That also requires both partners to listen to and become aware of the each other’s wants, needs and desires. With that support would also come a need for there to be common interests and common goals for the relationship to work toward together. This support and common involvement gives understanding and insight as to how each of them works, processes and plans their future if only because they’re familiar with each other’s field of endeavor. This helps each partner to know where and how to apply their support.
A third dimension is one involving respect. The implications of respect might not quite be what you expect. Yes, it means acknowledging the other person’s point of view and efforts but what’s more important is that it requires not only acknowledgement of their chosen path but supporting their efforts on that path even if it disagrees with the values or awareness of the person offering the support. When we raise children we often call this tough love because it requires us to allow our children to do things when we know that their end result will not be to their benefit or liking. We then would only interfere if it actually threatened their safety.
A fourth dimension which often signifies a thriving relationship is when we both feel that we can be ourselves in the relationship without fear of unfair criticism, inhibition or diminishing by our partners. Underlying this dimension is a not so obvious freedom from control issues.
The last dimension I’ll cite is honesty. I’ve left this for last because its absence collapses the effectiveness of every other quality and dimension I’ve mentioned previously. I don’t think I can overemphasize the importance of this quality.
I have not mentioned love because for as many people there are in the world are as many definitions there are of the concept. Each of us must define for ourselves what love means to us depending on our maturity, experience and attitude in dealing with other people. So let’s move on to specific qualities that presage the eventual death of a relationship.
5 Things That Will Destroy a Relationship:
1. Broken trust. For most people this is probably the number one factor contributing to the collapse of a relationship. What we expect from or assume about the other person constitutes how we validate why we trust them. Ensuing experience with them only serves to confirm or deny that trust. If we expect them to be monogamous and they’re not, we feel betrayed. If we expect them to share their time, money and support with us and they don’t, we feel taken advantage of. If we believe that they are listening to us and we find that they haven’t, we feel insulted and disrespected. I think you get the idea. If what we expect of them doesn’t materialize, we lose our trust in them.
2. Unspoken expectations or assumptions. This factor works very closely with broken trust. This is probably one of the hardest things for us to see occurring in our relationships. Remember included or omitted qualities taught us by our parents? Whatever we are brought up with, or without, we naturally assume that our significant other will have in their characteristic makeup. So to illustrate a point, if we were raised in a family where monogamy was expected and practiced and our significant other wasn’t, their casual transgressions will not seem as important to them as they would to us and trust and intimacy issues will plummet through the floor. We won’t be able to understand how they can treat it so lightly and they won’t understand why we take it so seriously. The key is that if it was never discussed before, it would be a powder keg just waiting for a spark. So, our best policy for any relationship is to discuss what it is that we expect from each other so there are no surprises. We could also include cultural and religious differences as contributing to unseen expectations.
3. One sided blame for shared events. Being accountable for our own behavior in a relationship is something that we learn in our early childhood. If blame was our parental method of choice for keeping us hopping and performing for them, we will tend to do the same thing in our own intimate relationships, especially, when the majority of us seek to repeat the rapport we had with our opposite sexed parent when growing up if only to feel familiar and comfortable in the new relationship. But what if our significant other was raised being taught to be accountable for their own actions and their parents also honestly and fairly admitted their culpability in challenging shared circumstances? What would that do to the willingness of our significant other to divulge their involvement in circumstances if they were to only expect blame and derision from us when they did? Would they continue to be forthcoming in becoming vulnerable to us? I think not. They would begin to shut down. Accountability is a major factor in the death of many immature relationships. If we can’t be honest about our involvement in difficult situations, especially if they’re shared, how can a relationship develop any openness in each other’s space? Most people who are solely blamed for all relationship difficulties usually refrain from ever again talking about circumstances that draw blame. Another death null for the relationship through decreasing vulnerability, intimacy and trust.
4. Selfishness. There are two reasons why selfishness can be expressed in a relationship. The first one and least toxic is when one of the partners was simply never trained by their parents or teachers to put themselves in the shoes of another person. Be aware that compassion is learned not innate. As the child grows into an adult this will also show itself more subtlety as insensitivity and lack of consideration. It’s not that the person is intentionally selfish but that they had just never been made acquainted with how anyone else might feel when others experienced them. This type is usually fairly easy to “fix” provided the person who wasn’t trained is open toward learning in order to make the relationship better. The second is more toxic and hurtful to the relationship. This is where the person did learn the sensitivities another might feel but decided to ignore or abuse these qualities. This would also include being unsupportive unless the support could be used for personal advantage. The reasons that would have made the person use them this way range anywhere from experiencing a trauma to simply receiving abuse themselves thereby contributing to a severely low self-image making them think that they don’t deserve and won’t receive compassion or consideration. Then, since they didn’t receive it themselves and feel they don’t deserve it, they would assume that that permitted them to abuse the qualities in others “evening the score.” To “fix” this would probably require extensive therapy of some sort. This type of circumstance would certainly produce a lopsided relationship in terms of mutual rapport. Often times the “user” is not discovered until the relationship has progressed well into the future due to the fact that most compassionate people are more likely to give others the benefit of the doubt.
5. Evasiveness. When someone is non-committal or won’t be accountable in shared circumstances, our faith in their ability to be trusted with our secrets and vulnerability suffers. If they were raised in an environment where whenever they admitted or agreed to having done something or were coerced into an unwanted commitment and were criticized or diminished when they did, they would tend to adapt a persona of “non-involvement” and simply opt out of any emotional involvement. This is probably not a relationship killer but it would certainly make dependability between partners strained if not impossible. This would be a simple “fix” over a long period of time if the committed partner was willing to work with them long enough to “prove” that they could be trusted more than their parents or siblings not to attack or diminish the “damaged” partner. If the committed partner did not have the patience or enough caring for the “damaged” partner, this would lead them to terminate the relationship.
Based on the fact that many of these perspectives are still held by a great many people, we can see how it certainly takes work and effort to build and then maintain a thriving and successful relationship. The sins of the father and mother certainly appear as the sins of the sons and daughters and provide a plethora of opportunities for therapeutic disciplines to correct our basic and historical “omissions” and abuses encountered in our childhoods. As much as we think that “All we need is love,” there are definitely other factors that must be considered and dealt with if we are to have the safe, comfortable and secure relationships we all have fantasized about. We can only hope that our desire and emotional capabilities have enough inertia and passion to overcome many of the pitfalls described here. In light of these issues, a good relationship is a prize worth being thankful for.
Receive the Self-Trust Newsletter by Email