Inability to communicate with one another. Talking sounds simple enough. However, this is where quality is more important than quantity. Talking isn't difficult, we talk to our partners everyday (I hope). It's the depth and richness of what we communicate that strengthens a relationship. In failed relationships, the majority of the communication that exists falls into two categories: superficial or lacking. Superficial communication is mostly noise; conversations that are unrelated to your relationship or your partner. Even worse is when communication is lacking. In these situations, you can feel the distance growing between you and your partner, the relationship slipping away slowly but steadily. The more the communication deteriorates, the harder it becomes to talk about meaningful issues.
Problems trusting the other and the relationship. Trust is always a part of any discussion about relationships. You trust your partner to be open, honest, and respectful with you. You trust your partner to invest in the relationship as much as you do, to be committed to growing together. Trust is undermined when the same problem repeats itself. Deception and lying is a common trust issue. A person lies, the lie is discovered, a promise is made to not lie again, and then another lie follows. Over time, trust is lost and the relationship is in serious trouble. If you can't trust your partner, reevaluate your relationship.
Related to trusting the other is trusting the relationship. Trusting the relationship means believing that your relationship is strong enough to open a dialogue about uncomfortable and even painful topics. It's believing that your relationship can endure a conversation that may lead to conflict, an argument, or even a breakup. Some relationships fail because both people are worried if they bring up a difficult conversation, then the relationship won't survive. The irony is by not bringing up potentially difficult conversations, the relationship can not thrive. If you find yourself wanting to express something to your partner but you can't, it might be worthwhile to examine how you feel about the other person and the relationship. Conflict is a part of any relationship, but it doesn't have to be the beginning of the end.
Disconnect with the emotional world of your partner. In one word, this refers to empathy. Unfortunately, it's a lack in empathy. Empathy is a necessity of any relationship. Empathy does not mean radical forgiveness, acceptance, or submission. It does not mean that you allow your partner to do whatever he/she wants and you accept any and all behavior unconditionally. Empathy refers to understanding how your partner feels at any given moment. Many relationships end because of the inability to understand the perspective of the other person. In many instances, one person feels so strongly that it blinds his/her ability to even consider the other person's feelings. Sometimes an attempt is made to empathize with the other, but the feeling seems so foreign or wrong that it is hard to process the experience from an opposing point of view. Trying to empathize and understand the other person's experience is sometimes seen as a weakness. When empathy is perceived as a weakness, the relationship will fail.
In couples therapy, most sessions involve a discussion of communication, trust and empathy. What is your communicative style? What does trust mean to you, your partner, and your relationship? What role does empathy play in your life and relationship? Many sessions often reflect back on previous relationships, and even childhood, to gain insight into what communication, trust, and empathy looked like throughout your development. In session, a therapist is able to see the live relationship between the two individuals; how each empathizes (or doesn't) with the other, how trust (and distrust) affects the ability to listen, communicate, and connect with each other. I often ask one partner how the other partner is feeling in different moments, which allows for a conversation about how they are on the same or different emotional wavelength. If your relationship is in trouble, seek couples therapy before there is irreparable damage.
There are many reasons why relationships fail, but difficulties in communication, trust, and empathy are always involved. I must say that sometimes relationships are just not meant to be. It's no one's fault, some relationships simply aren't a good match (like oil and water, or my wife and smartphones).
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Salmaan Toor is a licensed clinical psychologist practicing in Knoxville, TN. If you are interested in being notified of future posts, you can “like” The Family Center of Knoxville on facebook here or can follow me on Twitter here. Thanks for your support!