Ending Relationships: Why Partners Separate
Counseling for Marriages © Martyn Carruthers 2008
For every successful love experience,
there may be ten destructive experiences that
result in a cynicism that makes it difficult to love again.
From: “The Dialectic of Sex” by Shulamith Firestone
Were you trained to be a partner? Or did you learn how to express love by watching your parents, television and movies, or from the lyrics of love music? After a honeymoon, your happiness together will reflect your relationship skills. However nice your romance, your communication skills will make or break your relationship.
Relationships would be so much easier
if we didn’t have to communicate.
Common male belief
Relationships would be so much easier
if we could talk about everything.
Common female belief
Many people with limited relationship skills only seek evidence to confirm their hopes – and ignore everything else. They often refer to infatuation as true love … and later, after the fireworks, accuse their partners of lying and deception.
How to Damage or Destroy a Partnership
How do most people end intimate relationships? The most common ways seem to be criticism, contempt and emotional withdrawal. Whether or not you want to leave, or whether or not your partner wants to leave you, some behaviors can accelerate frustration, depression, alienation and separation:
- Never, ever, apologize
- Believe that you cannot be wrong
- Blame your partner for your own emotions
- Make major purchases without discussions
- Ignore or invalidate whatever your partner says
- Be passive-aggressive – or just plain aggressive
- Be a bully – demand compliance and make threats
- Forbid or control behaviors that your partner enjoys
- Recruit your family and friends to punish your partner
- Punish or control your partner by withholding intimacy
- Put your own interests before important responsibilities
- Flirt with interesting people while your partner is watching
- Withdraw or “freeze out” your partner with your tone of voice
- Tell people that your partner has serious emotional problems
- Nag, nag, nag – repeatedly remind your partner of what you want
- Criticize your partner (again) for events that took place years ago
- Punish your partner for enjoying hobbies or sports that you dislike
- Resent and punish your partner for spending time with other people
- Use public criticism for those special moments of intimacy destruction.
- Fantasize the worst possible reasons for your partner’s behavior – and accuse your partner of having those reasons.
My wife would exaggerate problems and blame me for her
exaggerations. Not, “You did that once” but “You always do that!”
He would tell me how I felt, why I felt that way and why
I was wrong, without ever asking me about my feelings.
She would read my private mail, and then criticize
me for not saying more nice things about her.
How would you react if your partner shouts at you for not cooking eggs “right”? If you are already dissatisfied with your partner, or with yourself, petty complaints can trigger aggression, depression, withdrawal and separation. How long will you suffer before you want your once-beloved partner – or yourself – to leave?
When does it start?
From whom did you learn your partnership skills? Besides parents and television, an uncomfortable answer may be love music! Consider those codependent lyrics which you probably listened to again and again. (What were your favorite love songs when you were a teenager? Consider those lyrics now).
You probably ignored the first irritations in your partnership, perhaps hoping that the problems would go away without having to resolve them. Shaving stubble in the bathroom sink. Lipstick on washed cups. A wet towel on the floor … again.
But small issues build up. The more little things you carry in your backpack – the heavier it gets. Sooner or later you feel that you must do something. Or anything. Perhaps you feel that you will go crazy or get sick if you stay together!
Separating is rarely simple. Perhaps you have children. Maybe you own property or manage a business together. Perhaps your partner is passive-aggressive or threatens suicide. You may feel torn between conflicting responsibilities.
We prefer to help couples manage their issues while there is still hope.
Yet many people ask for help as a last recourse. See Partnership Breakdown.
Separation & Emotions
Do you wait until you are in crisis before you seek counseling? Perhaps you talk to friends or parents hoping for free marriage counseling. But your friends and family may agree with your prejudices without considering your partner’s perspectives.
Only about 1 in 4 of the separating couples we meet both want to separate. For many people, the end of an intimate partnership is as traumatic as a death in the family – or as liberating as a reprieve from a life sentence in prison.
So many people tell us that they want to save their marriage, when all that is left is a burnt-out shell of a relationship. Yet even then, it need not be too late. We have helped many couples in deep crisis recreate happy lives together.
“Our love slowly evaporated until
all that was left was anger and despair.”
When partners finally separate, they may feel lost, haunted by broken dreams and guilt. They may ask their friends, “What did I do wrong?” or “What else could I have done?” … but their friends may be unable or unwilling to tell them what they need to know.
Understanding your partner’s problems is important, yet believing that you know why your partner is abusive may motivate you to let their abuse continue. Similarly, you may understand why you fear ending a relationship, but such understanding rarely reduces the fear and may increase your clinging to incompatible people.
Emotional separation often precedes physical separation by months or years; and dissolving emotional bonds usually takes longer than dissolving legal bonds. We can help you replace your emotional bonds so that you make better decisions … calmly.
After a divorce, partners may feel like they have infectious diseases. Married friends may avoid the partner that they consider to be most guilty and sympathize with the one that they consider to be most victim. However, both partners often believe that the other is the most guilty and that they are the real victims. Both may be shocked, angry and defensive when their once-beloved partners accuse them of betrayal and abuse.
Do you grieve a relationship with denial, anger, bargaining and depression? Have you described an ex-partner as abusive, evil or a psychopath? Has an ex-partner tried to damage you and your reputation – even years later?
We can help you stay resourceful under stress, manage your emotions and prepare for better relationships. We can help you:
- make better relationship decisions
- say “Goodbye” when you decide it’s over
- anticipate and defuse emotional explosions
- manage your emotions to remain peaceful and calm
- prepare for the reactions of your family, friends and colleagues