David Gould looks beyond love and lust to what makes a romantic relationship a lasting one.
For the first time in years, I was single on Valentine’s Day. I’ve had a lot of great relationships and most of them ended for no good reason. Looking at what went wrong with the last one, I realised I’m still making the same 8 mistakes that I made twenty years ago.
I’m going to skip over the well-known mistakes. If you haven’t read about them, start here. Otherwise, here are the lesser-known reasons relationships fall apart.
1. Letting love, hope or lust blind you.
“My name is David and I’m a love addict.” If you’re reading this, you have probably been in love. Hopefully, you still are. They say it’s better to have loved and lost — and I agree. I know this is a big statement but the degree to which I loved my ex was something truly magnificent. It really makes me wish I was an artist so that I could share it with you.
Everyone has a different definition of love and that’s important. With almost any definition, we need more love in our lives and in the world. When you’re in love, nothing can seem that bad. Imperfections in your relationship don’t matter — and that’s why we need love.
But love and lust are also drugs and will undoubtedly make you think your relationship is stronger than it actually is. This will blind you to upcoming or even current problems.
This is an extraordinary situation: we are compelled by love and lust to ignore problems in our relationships!
How do we solve the dilemma of wanting to love your partner whilst being able to identify and fix problems before they come up?
You have two options: find someone you can trust to do a ‘relationship checkup’ or go through this list, honestly. The alternative is almost certain heartbreak and misery.
2. Trying to make a go of it with the wrong person.
Nearly all relationships fail. Your relationship probably has only a 15% chance of succeeding. Maybe if you learn from my mistakes, that will go up to 50%. Maybe.
But your relationship is special, right? Been there. Heck, my relationship with my ex- was so special it ended… because I didn’t bother paying attention to these potential problems.
A lot of so-called experts talk about compatibility, for example needing similar degrees of intro/extroversion. But that’s only true if you want to hang out together all the time. Here are a few little-known critical qualities of relationships:
a) Level of independence.
Note that a partner’s neediness may be temporary. A desire for independence may be based on a desire to get away from you! In the long-term, if either of you are unhappy with the amount of time you spend together, it can be a big problem.
Also note that the more time you spend together, the more compatible you need to be.
b) Ticking each others’ boxes.
This is a catch-all. How sure are you that you know what their boxes are? If you’re lucky, they won’t have many boxes. Or maybe you just don’t know what they are. I’ll write more about this later.
There’s no getting away from the fact that I’m different. It’s not a choice — I’m neither like everyone else nor on a similar path. If either of you are unhappy with your partner’s eccentricities, it probably isn’t going to last.
3. Not knowing what each of you values in the relationship.
Here’s an interesting exercise: make a list of everything you value in the relationship. Now make a list of everything you know your partner values. Now, if you’re at all happy, the chances are their list will be a lot shorter. Or you could just ask them to make their list — if that’s a scary prospect, we’ll cover that mistake in #7.
4. Not caring enough about what the other person wants out of life and what scares them about your relationship.
What else would your partner want on their list? What do they want out of life?
Note that there’s a world of difference between what they should want and what they actually want. The former is almost irrelevant.
Asking what scares them in your relationship is a great question. If you’re scared of asking it, think about how them being scared of your relationship will affect it. And see mistake #7 again.
5. Underestimating how much your partner’s happiness level affects the relationship.
Even my psychologist friends probably don’t know someone who’s happy more than 80% of the time over the long-term. Being happy really is an obscure skill.
The worse your partner is at making themselves happy, the more reliant they are on you and the relationship to do it. That means, if anything goes wrong in their life and particularly if they take your emotional support for granted, they’re likely to start finding fault with you.
6. Being unaware of Hollywood and fairytale influence on your expectations.
Everyone knows Hollywood and fairytales are unrealistic. But we love our romances to be just like them, don’t we? Like adverts, Hollywood and fairytales have subconscious influences on us. Notice how fictional couples almost always work out with minimal effort at resolving relationship difficulties?
Where does your partner’s idea of romance and love come from? What about your own? This is particularly important for younger people whose fairytale fantasies haven’t been shattered by the real world yet.
7. Glossing over flaws and negative comments.
This is the one I was kicking myself over. I let at least half a dozen comments indicating some degree of my ex-‘s dissatisfaction pass without significant attention. Some I let pass because things were too heated between us, and I mistakenly thought I would come back to them in the near future. Mostly, I let them pass because I thought we were stronger than that. We were, for a while.
These things need to be written down in a place where you will come back to them in a day or two.
8. Planning on it lasting forever.
And here we come full circle. We’ve already established that there’s only a small chance you’ll be with your current partner for life, though you can dramatically increase those chances by not making the same mistakes I have.
Given that your relationship will almost certainly end, some contingency planning makes sense. This is tricky. You don’t want to be thinking about your relationship ending. Also, being seen as doing contingency planning will probably upset your partner and may feel like a betrayal for both of you. But you will probably deeply regret not doing it. I know I regret it every time. So what can we do?
When I suddenly find myself single, I crave female attention. Usually, my ego is too battered for seeing male friends. Having several dependable female friends is a must for me.
We frequently become dependent on our partners for a social life. When it dies and particularly if you suffer from loneliness or need for emotional support, you need friends. This means that when you’re in a relationship, you need ‘too many’ friends–who are your friends not your partner’s.
Generally, my work suffers during a breakup. Being able to take time off is quite important to me. This means having savings. For you, it might mean having unused holiday time.
None of these things are suspicious and only no rational person should have to feel they’re betraying anything.
What might you need in the event of a breakup?
But I knew all this already…
I did, I still neglected almost all of it and paid the price. Probably like most of you who are still in a relationship, I didn’t want to think about it ending. I wanted to be in love, to appreciate my partner and to feel wonderful. What’s the solution then?
Basically this: commit to reviewing these 8 potential mistakes at a regular interval.It’s easier if you’re in a relationship: make a note in your scheduler to answer the questions in a month’s time. If, like me, you no longer are, you could try and guess when you’re likely to be. I’ve made a reminder four months from now. If I’m still single, I’ll move the reminder another few months forwards.
Being in a relationship with the love of your life will be the best thing that ever happens to you. Losing that person will be the worst thing that ever happens to you. I wrote this article so that you don’t have to go through that. Schedule a revisit to this article now, so that you don’t make the mistakes I did.