Why Relationships Don't Work
Updated: Nov 14, 2021
First published 1/01/1993
If there is one thing in our lives we all desire most, it is to enjoy and experience the love of a naturally working relationship.
With so much information, books and other material already published on this topic, can there be more or anything else to write about without simply re-hashing the same-ole, same-ole already out there.
What I address here are different relationship fundamentals not found in other works.
For example, it is an accepted belief that you need to work on your relationship to make it work — intimate or other. Why should it be like that? Why should you need to work at making it work? If you have to work on your relationship, isn’t this saying you are in a “non-working relationship”—period! If it was working, you would not need to work at making it work.
What I refer to as a relationship working naturally is one in which you do not have to work at keeping it together. It works because you and your partner enjoy and share a natural oneness, togetherness, commonness; you respect and appreciate being each other’s lives; each adds value to the life of the other. Logical, common sense, isn’t it? Such relationships, however, seem difficult to find.
Why is that?
A natural oneness does not mean there will be no differences of beliefs, opinions and views — after all, each of us is a unique human being. A naturally working relationship, however, enables each one to openly and respectfully discuss and agree outcomes that will serve the best interest of both partners without either needing to compromise.
Some people claim they find it fun to have a confrontation, a fight now and again to release built up stress, frustrations, anxiety and other emotional pressures — be about their partner, family, work or whatever else. Especially, they add, if it all ends in having post-fight sex. Really! What part of this is really being enjoyed? The fight or the sex? If such fights were to end without having post-fight sex, what would the choice be? Still to engage in arguments, or for sex without arguments? The key point to this is not about an argument ending having post-fight sex or not, it is about looking at the reason for the arguments.
The fundamental driving force that leads to arguments and fights is one’s need to prove their sense of rightness versus the other person, or party. The need and feeling of being right makes a person feel in control and empowered. In the above scenario, sex can be a means, a tool, used by a partner to feel in control. Even when a partner may seem to relent, give way and behave submissively, allowing the other to feel they have “won the argument”, underlying their behaviour can be a feeling of being in control; having power over the other. There are many ways how one can exercise control in a relationship. If both partners were to stand their ground unwaveringly to prove their respective points of rightness, the chances of arguments ending in an amicable and enjoyable sexual experience would probably closer to zero — unless a partner used sex as a power tool for other ulterior motives.
People, partners, that have nothing to prove about themselves, are unlikely to become embroiled in argumentative confrontations for the sake of proving their rightness. Their engagements would be more non-confrontational discussions aimed at resolving or achieving objectives mutually beneficial to all concerned. To achieve this, partners (parties in any relationship) must have the willingness to be wrong about their points of rightness, their beliefs, points of view, opinions, and expectations. This willingness to be wrong does not mean or equate to compromising oneself. It is about appreciating and acknowledging the other party’s views openly and constructively without feeling wronged, being a failure, needing to defend or prove one’s rightness for the sake of needing to be accepted or for fear of being rejected.
A commonly accepted belief about relationships is that compromise is an essential requirement for a successful relationship. We consider compromise to show a willingness to be wrong, an act of caring and unselfishness, the art of giving and taking. But actually, compromise shows the total opposite of all these supposed virtues. It is instead the root source of our relationship problems - as I show in Compromise – The Payoffs and Reality.
Our need to satisfy certain emotional needs and fears like, need for acceptance, fear of rejection, a sense of obligation and so on, are what lead us to compromise. These needs, however, are more often than not overlooked when circumstances meet our expectations and we feel loved and happy. Like in the initial period of a relationship when we experience love, excitement, anticipation, enjoyment, share common interests, do things together, enjoy a great sex life (well, maybe not everyone), feel connected, etc. It is a period when we cannot even consider or contemplate that things might one day go wrong or that we might separate.
Though we do not consider during this period that things could go wrong, for many, the “honeymoon” ends all too soon. The special evenings, loving gestures, moments of intimacy, dinner together, remembering a birthday or anniversary, the “I love you” telephone calls all start “fading” away. We no longer feel special; we feel taken for granted; being referred to as so-and-so’s wife/husband/partner is no longer an enjoyable reference; we may feel we have lost our sense of individuality. At such point some people stop and ask themselves, “what has happened; what has gone wrong; where did I go wrong; what should or could have I done differently?” The situation may lead to anger, frustration, anxiety, and depression. Emotions and feelings that lead to blaming our partner for no longer caring and loving us — a point when we may consider leaving the relationship. But this immediately makes us consider the possible consequences of separation or divorce — a difficult situation for many people. Many people end up compromising following through with what they want, either from a sense of obligation or out of fear of the possible consequences. So they stay and try to work things out, to make the best of their situation – or just unhappily stick it out.
For many, the relationship develops into a “battlefield” of emotional arguments and confrontations – a “war zone”. Two people co-existing under the same roof with nothing to share, little in common, void of intimacy, and perhaps each being pleasant or accommodating of the other to minimise confrontation.
Some statistics show that approximately thirty to fifty percent of first marriages end in divorce within the first three to four years. Some suggest that if a marriage lasts longer than about six months, the partners can consider themselves lucky. This shows that we are not doing a great job of making relationships work.
What is the root source of this problem?
Many claim that our relationships cannot work perfectly because, as humans, we are imperfect. Really! Isn’t that an encouraging and motivating thought with which to enter a relationship. Setting ourselves up for failure before even starting. But what if our relationship problems have nothing at all to do with us being imperfect? What if the root cause is something more fundamental within? A fundamental “force” that prevents us from enjoying fulfilling relationship because we live with an incomplete relationship with ourselves — which affects all our other relationships?
From the moment we are born, the environment we are born into gets to work on teaching us how we need to conform to its norms, standards and values for us to be acceptable—our family, culture, society. The methods adopted to make us conform are many and come in different forms — childhood punishment; peer rejection; bullying; social discrimination and more. From this, we experience and learn that not conforming results in non-acceptance and no love. Experiences that trigger and reinforce our feelings and belief of being not good enough – something we spend our life striving to overcome and eliminate.
As we have an inherent natural need to feel connected, to experience love and acceptance, to belong and (in the most part) to procreate, we feel a natural desire and need to get into relationships—the nature by which we come into this world.
The feelings and beliefs we experience of being “not good enough”, make us feel NOT OK about who/how we are. So we look for “things” outside ourselves for fulfilment, to make us feel good and happy. These things can range from making money for a better lifestyle, succeeding in whatever we undertake, achieving our goals in life, getting into a relationship to experience and feel loved, cared, accepted, enjoy sex, etc. Along the way, however, we find that all these “things” still do not fully satisfy what we seek from our relationship.
What, therefore, is the root source of our relationships not working?
Are you up to doing some fun work? The results might surprise you.
Doing the following two exercises may show you why. These exercises should not take you longer than a few minutes. There are no tricks to this. Also, the quicker you answer the questions, the more real you are likely to be about them. As the saying goes, “shoot from the hip.” Avoid pondering over any ulterior “deep meaning” about this. Keep it straightforward. The more you think about it, the likelier you are to miss the point of the exercise.
I recommend you do this exercise if you are in a relationship, or not—it may help you avoid getting into a problem relationship. Write your answers on separate pieces of paper—or use your computer if you prefer.
Work through the two questions in the sequence given—complete question 1 fully before moving to question 2. Aim to use single or maybe two worded answers like: love, happiness, companionship, trust, good sex, and so on. Keep in mind that what you are being asked to list here refers to your emotional needs for a relationship. It does not relate to material possessions like money, a wonderful home, career opportunity, or anything of that nature. Got it? List as many points as you can think of.
List the most important and fundamental things YOU want to get (receive) from a relationship; what do you expect from it; what must it give you.
(List your points)
List the most important and fundamental things YOU want to give in a relationship; what you want your partner to experience, receive from you.
(List your points)
When you have completed both questions, compare your answers to my lists here.
What do you see? Any similarities? Have you perhaps written some of the same things? Are there any elements in either of my lists that you do not have on yours and that you can relate to? If so, add them to your list if you wish.
Now compare your answers in list 1 with your list 2. What do you notice? Do they contain many of the same or similar elements? Are some perhaps even exactly the same—like, for example, elements such as love, happiness, joy, caring, trust and others?
What does this show and mean?
Question 1. This lists what YOU want to experience and receive from your partner, from your relationship—your reason for getting into a relationship.
Question 2. This lists what YOU want to give, to contribute to your partner and the relationship.
Go back to question 1 and consider this: “Why do YOU want to receive and experience all these things from your partner, from being in a relationship?” Simply because you feel that being an intimate relationship and having a partner will make you experience and feel loved, needed, accepted, fulfilled, secure, trusted, and so on.
Look at question 2: These are the elements YOU want to give and contribute to your partner and the relationship. Are they similar, if not the same, to your list 1? (should be) Now ask yourself, “how do you give (your list 2) to a partner what you are expecting to get from them (your list 1)?” Logically and clearly, it is not possible. You cannot give what you feel and believe you do not have — the reason for you making list 1.
By getting into a relationship from a point of non-OK’ness about yourself (list 1), you depend on your partner and the relationship to make you feel loved, happy and content. That translates into you getting into the relationship to take — fulfilling your emotional needs. As your partner is likely to be in the relationship for the same fundamental reasons, you end up with a relationship in which both partners are there to take from the other. If both parties are in the relationship to take, it means neither is in the position of giving; neither partner has “resources” for the other to draw from. This results in the relationship becoming an environment with NO giving; the relationship per se is empty.
The only other resource one can then turn to for satisfying and fulfilling their emotional expectations and needs is their partner. That is when the relationship games and tactics play out, like:
be nice and loving toward them to get what you want
fuel their ego even when it is the last thing you want to do
give yourself to them for sex whilst you carry on having an affair on the side
play the poor victim to get them to do things for you
threaten to leave them unless they give you what you want; use this tactic also as a lever to gauge whether they love, care or need you
make them feel guilty about things they do not do for you—like not remembering your birthday or anniversary
make them dependent on you for everything—be in control
give them no freedom to do what they want without your consent
blame them for your unhappiness
make them subservient to you; dominate and control them
don’t acknowledge them for anything they achieve on their own
put them down about everything they do
tell them they are worthless
belittle them in public
As each partner plays out this game of power struggle, control and manipulation, the relationship turns into a war zone with no winners; only damage and casualties.
The fundamental driving force for all our negative feelings, belief and destructive behaviour, is our MOULD. For a relationship to work in a natural, unconditional way, partners and parties must give 100% of themselves unconditionally without expectations of paybacks or returns.