Dec 132017 10 Responses

The Unseen Reason Relationships End

The end of a relationship is hard. Feelings are hurt. Insecurities are manifested. The past is rehashed and the future is unknown. Whether it’s through death, divorce, or break-up, when romantic relationships end, men and women are left with many questions.

But there is an often unseen cause to many of those endings. While death can’t be controlled, divorce and break-ups can be. On a regular basis, someone will contact me after a relationship has ended. I’ll ask a simple question, “How long have you dated” or “How many years have you been married” and the person will give a predictable answer. What seems like a random number to them is actually a predictable sign to me.

Understand this principle–relationships can only stay in one place for a season. To live, they must evolve. When a relationship fails to progress, one or both parties will end the connection. They may not consciously understand why they are doing it. Many different explanations and reasons may be given, but the foundational problem is that the relationship tried to overstay its welcome in a season, and it could not be sustained.

Stages of a Relationship

Think of each stage being a bunker. Inside the bunker is enough resources for a specific amount of time. While they sustain you for as long as they last, eventually the resources will run out. You will be forced to move on and find another bunker.

So it is with relationships. We can only live in a specific season for a limited amount of time. Eventually, the relationship will either have to grow or it will end.

Most couples are okay with someone dating other people during the first few dates, but after about the fifth or sixth date, the relationship will either get exclusive or end.

Relationships often end after six months. Around that time the newness of the person begins to wane and any frustrations in the relationship are expressed.

Between a year and a half and three years, couples either move toward marriage or break-up. Dating someone is fun for a year, but after that more commitment is often desired. It can be exciting to be engaged for a while, but eventually, the fiancee tag isn’t so interesting.

For the first year and a half of marriage, many couples have great fun, but the second year is sometimes harder than the first.

The two most difficult seasons in marriage occur around the time couples have kids and then when those kids are in high school. (See: Two Times to Never Divorce)

The happiest season for a majority of marriages is not the honeymoon, it’s senior adulthood. While life can be difficult with physical challenges, couples who progress throughout life often develop deep levels of trust and understanding which greatly increases feelings of marital satisfaction.

Relationships consist of major seasons and even those major seasons can often be divided into subsections which are predictable and influential. When a couple fails to progress together from one stage to the next, the relationship suffers.

Some Make It, Some Don’t

Not every relationship should last. Whenever a dating couple comes to the end of a season, they should consider: “Do I want to go to the next stage with this person?” In many instances, the answer will be no. Just like a 7th grader shouldn’t expect his girlfriend to one day be his wife, a man and woman dating for four months shouldn’t automatically assume they are going to get married. Some relationships are meant to die. You can look at the experience with good feelings, consider it to be a fun time, use it to grow as a person, but move on without any regret.

What is difficult is when one person wants to move forward and the other does not. In those moments, you have to recognize the other person is free to make whatever decision they desire. Unless you are married, they are not morally obligated to continue a relationship with you. There is no such thing as “the one,” so if they desire to move on, they aren’t missing out or making a major mistake. They are free to make their own choices. You have to respect that right.

But married couples are morally obligated to stay committed. They must learn to navigate each season and to strengthen their marriage so that they can move to the next stage.

How to Last

If a couple desires to have a meaningful relationship across the seasons of life, they must focus on two elements:

1. They must continually grow apart. Separately, each individual should continue to mature and develop as a person. Many relationships end because one person stops growing. They often complain to me, “My husband/wife changed.” I respond, “But why didn’t you?” When an individual stops growing–emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually–they put their relationship in danger. If you love your spouse, you should continue to engage life in such a way that you are maturing. If you don’t, you run the risk of losing your partner because you didn’t stay up with them.

2. They must continually grow together. A healthy relationship is like a tree, each year adds another ring. Each ring symbolizes certain skills and understandings. Just like a child needs to crawl before they learn to walk, so a couple must learn some basic skills before they can learn more complex interactions. If a couple stops growing together, the challenges of life will likely become too much for the relationship to bear. You must learn and grow today in order to have the strength and skill necessary to navigate tomorrow. There is a reason we don’t give birth to teenagers. We need 15 years to learn about parenting in order to interact with the unique creature that is a teenage human being. Likewise, we need time to learn many skills in order to have a meaningful relationship. When a couple stops growing together, they begin to drift apart. (See: Skill Stacking–Learn Today What You Need Tomorrow)

Couples must grow separately and together in order to transition from season to season.

Reconsider Why You Broke Up

Nearly every week I speak with an individual who is heartbroken and confused over a break-up. While the details differ, the basic issues are often the same. In many situations, the problem is that the relationship had run its course in that season and one, or both, of the individuals, chose not to progress into a new season.

Look back at relationships:

Why did your first elementary school relationship not last longer than a week? Because grade-school crushes aren’t supposed to be forever.

Why do most people not marry their prom date? Because a lot of life change happens between a good time to get married (22+) and being an 18-year-old high school senior.

Do you have a friend who’s been dating someone for three years and they aren’t engaged? Chances are they are about to get married or break-up. A relationship can’t remain healthy while failing to progress forward with commitment.

Just like life, relationships have stages. Sadly, we often don’t see the influences that seasons play in our relationships and this causes much heartache with little explanation. Recognize the stage you are in and begin to grow toward what is to come.

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