Relationships

The Biggest Reason Why Relationships Fail

The demise of relationships is obvious yet ironically lurks below the surface.

Posted Dec 24, 2020

Have you ever gone to a high school reunion? Or did you ever become reacquainted with a long-lost friend? If so, you probably can confirm that most of us have personalities that pretty much stay the same.

While we can usually accept that people, in general, are who they are, when it comes to our intimate partner's less than desirable traits, we tend to want to change them. Yet trying to change someone is detrimental to a loving relationship. 

The following scenario sheds light on the partners wanting to push for change: “I’ve been frustrated and miserable for years,” complains Seth. “I keep asking Linda to give me space, but things don’t appear to be changing. It feels like all the life is getting sucked out of me.” Linda reflects, “Seth likes to have his softball team friends over to our house every weekend. He's clueless about my needs and I feel so alone.”

When Time for Change Meets Time for Reality

I have news for you: Your partner is likely not going to change! Loving someone (even pleading with them) just isn’t enough to change a person’s basic personality. If, for example, your partner is emotionally reserved and you are more outgoing and need outwardly expressive of affection to feel secure, you’ll feel consistently dissatisfied. 

That famous song, You've Lost That Loving Feeling, includes the lines: 

"And now you're starting to criticize little things I do. It makes me just feel like crying. Cause baby, something beautiful's dyin."

This criticism of those "little things" usually follows on the heels of partners' frustrations that neither one will significantly change. This is what really breaks down and erodes those loving feelings in your relationship. 

The Fix: Stop Trying to Fix Your Partner 

If you want your partner to change, start by accepting them for who they are. Renowned psychologist John Gottman says, “People can change only if they feel that they are basically liked and accepted the way they are. When people feel criticized, disliked, and unappreciated they are unable to change. Instead, they feel under siege and dig in to protect themselves.”

Many people stay in dysfunctional relationships with the unconscious desire to change their partner. So stop being a change pusher. Instead of trying to change your partner, focus on improving your own life. Focusing on fixing your partner can prevent you from focusing on the issues at hand. 

As I explain in my book on relationships, Why Can't You Read My Mind?, it is crucial to avoid toxic labeling and name-calling; don’t attack your partner personally. Remember that anger is usually a symptom of underlying frustrations, hurt, and fear. Avoid defensiveness and criticism or, even worse, showing contempt for your partner (rolling your eyes, ridicule, name-calling, sarcasm, etc.)

Changing Your Perspective Can Improve Your Relationship

When you change your view of things, your situation will change. This doesn’t mean you should acquiesce and tolerate abuse or disrespect. It means that your thoughts, feelings, and consequent communication impact how you feel about your partner and their behaviors. In general, you will be satisfied or disappointed with your romantic relationship depending on how well your views of what is happening match your expectations.

Focusing on Change Can Cause Forgetting to Forgive

Trying to change your partner interferes with your ability to forgive them. Forgiveness isn’t the same as forgetting or ignoring the hurt done to you. But forgiveness does give the gift of allowing you to move on.

Give your partner the benefit of the doubt where possible. Accept that people do the best they can and try to be more understanding, at least within reason. If your relationship is basically healthy, develop a growth mindset of acceptance and forgiveness about daily disappointments. After all, none of us is perfect. 

Take responsibility for your part in the conflicts and you will spread goodwill. Bottom line: Don’t let your partner's limitations leave you overly focused on the small irritants. For a relationship to be balanced, partners must be able to depend on one another and feel that they are needed and appreciated. Trying to change your partner can prevent you from connecting, staying connected, and achieving true intimacy.

For more about Dr. Jeff, click here.

References

Bernstein, J. (2020). The Anxiety, Depression, & Anger Toolbox for Teens, Eau Claire, WI: PESI Publishing.

Bernstein, J. (2015). 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child (2nd Ed.) Perseus Books, New York, NY.

Bernstein J. (2009) Liking the Child You Love, Perseus Books, New York, NY. 

Bernstein, J. (2019). The Stress Survival Guide for Teens. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Bernstein, J. (2017). Letting go of Anger—Card deck for teens. Eau Claire, WI: PESI Publishing.

Bernstein, J. (2003) Why Can't You Read My Mind?  Perseus Books, New York, NY.