When Relationships Don’t Work

There are numerous people for whom being in a relationship just isn’t right.

There are numerous people for whom being in a relationship just doesn’t work. They have gone to therapy, changed partners, read books, and attended workshops in Bali — yet they cannot maintain a long-term relationship. And that’s OK — not everyone is destined to become part of a couple.

The problem is that the continuous breakups of the serial monogamist hurt more and more each time, until finally you are either too afraid to try again or too annoyed to bother. If you’ve been down this road for a couple of decades now, you may want to rethink your lifestyle choices. Do you really want to be in a long-term relationship, and are you willing to make the compromises that may be necessary to be in one?

I want to be married, to be husband to a wife. That is the kind of relationship I want, but not everyone does. Relationships can take many different forms, and when what you want doesn’t mesh with what the other person wants, the relationship hits a roadblock, and you take different off-ramps. This may be the best choice at the time, but not in the long term if you want to get out of the serial monogamy loop. So let’s take a deeper look at what’s really going on here.

If you’ve been trying — and failing — at having a long-term relationship, you need to ask yourself, “Am I picking the wrong people, or am I just not cut out to be in a partnership?” A partnership is exactly what a relationship needs to be if it’s going to work. And sometimes even the best of partnerships need to be restructured every now and then.

For example, when those big choices in life come, and you each want something different, you have to think beyond the immediate circumstances. If one of you gets a great job offer in another state, and the other is deeply rooted in your current community, that is an issue which needs to be discussed calmly, and even in a therapeutic setting with a third party if possible.

This is where a mediator can be very helpful. An objective human can hear what each of you is feeling and feed it back to you in a way that will help you make sense of your feelings about the situation. But that’s only if you want to save the relationship; many people do not want to put in the work.

I have had too many people tell me that they don’t really want to be alone, but they can’t trust at the relationship level again. They have been burned too many times, and most of us can at least understand that “once bitten, twice shy” attitude. When relationship after relationship fails — and you are out of high school — then maybe that kind of relationship is just not meant for you.

For some people, it’s like having a car that’s a lemon. You know it’s going to break again, so why not just dump it? And so you do. And at the start of the ending, it probably feels fine, even empowering, making you think it was the right thing to do. But feelings aren’t facts, and if you start to look for another relationship within six months (even casually online), then you have lied to yourself about what you really want, and you are enslaving yourself to search for a holy grail of your own design. You’re never going to find a partner that way.

If you are not a relationship person, then see it, own it, and build a life that works for you — not an isolated one, but a way of living that gives you enough companionship and support to get yourself through this crazy world. For some, this is really the best way to live, and there is not one thing wrong with it.

By Barton Goldsmith Ph.D. for psychologytoday