There are many reasons why relationships fail. Some people will tell you their relationship failed due to infidelity, addiction, lack of attention, abusive behaviors, or severe money problems. And while these are all legitimate reasons for a relationship to fail, I propose that these reasons are just symptoms of the real reason why relationships fail. From my perspective, failed relationships have one thing in common. Relationships fail due to a difference in the desire and ability to create true intimacy. I believe that this is at the foundation of most, if not all, breakups.
We all have our own amount of desire, tolerance, ability, and commitment towards creating intimacy with our significant others. Some of you have a high level of desire and ability to create and sustain intimacy and some of you have a low level. And for many of you, this level of desire and ability will fluctuate throughout your lifetime. As you mature, you may find that your interest and capacity for intimacy grows. For others, the need to protect and retreat may override a desire for connection.
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Most relationships stay intact, despite how functional or dysfunctional they may look to others, because the two individuals that reside within that relationship have the same comfort level and desire for the amount of intimacy, or lack thereof, that exists in their relationship. That is why some people will stay with an alcoholic for years, other people will tolerate infidelity, and still others will accept rather superficial and emotionally empty relationships. They do so not because they are masochists–they do so because the degree of intimacy that exists within that relationship is congruent to their own need and desire for intimacy.
Couples get into trouble when one person wants and is capable of creating deeper levels of intimacy than their significant other. Whether the argument is about money, sex, or the kids, at its core, is the question “to be intimate or not to be intimate”. The person that craves intimacy will address and attempt to work through the conflict in a certain way. This person will seek understanding, self-reflect, self-disclose with authenticity, and seek to find a solution that moves the relationship forward. The person that repels from intimacy will address conflict in quite a different way. This person will defend, attack, ignore, deny, or act out passive-aggressively in order to avoid understanding, self-reflections, self-disclosure, authenticity, and seeking to find a solution that moves the relationship forward. This person would rather escape and avoid; this person would rather be right; this person would rather keep the peace as opposed to dealing with discomfort.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not pointing any fingers. We all do things to avoid intimacy from time to time. We are human. Our fight or flight reactions will win over our call to grow and heal during moments of stress. But for those that yearn true connection and intimacy, being with someone who consistently avoids intimacy will wreak havoc on the relationship. Overtime, this person will need to leave the relationship or run the risk of becoming depressed or diseased.
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