By David Joel Miller.
How long do relationships last?
We counselors and especially those of us that are Marriage and Family Therapists, see lots of relationship that are troubled and at risk of ending. Some marriage counselors take the approach that they are “divorce busters” and seek to keep a couple staying together at any cost. There are counselors that will align with one or the other person in a relationship and encourage them to put themselves first and the relationship second.
Personally I try to stay neutral and help the two individuals find the solution that is best for both of them.
What are some of the factors that keep people together in their primary relationship and what forces them apart? Much of this material comes from a researcher and presenter on couples issues named John Gottman.
1. What was their intention when they got together?
Couples get together for all the wrong reasons and stay together for bad reasons also. Many couples find that they like dating, sometimes all they were looking for was fun, a good time or some casual sex. Once sex becomes part of the relationship it alters things, people who would have moved on and let that one go, they know they are not compatible, may stay together after they start having sex.
Being in a primary sexual relationship precludes finding someone else, at least someone for more than casual sex. No one likes falling in love with someone who is sleeping with another partner.
2. Everything changes with the pregnancy.
Pregnancy happens whether we plan on it or not. Sometimes birth control fails, sometimes we forget to use it or over time it becomes less critical.
It is one relationship when it is all fun, dating and having sex, but it is a whole other thing once the prospect of a child comes into things. Someone who was good with a causal relationship before suddenly wants a commitment. After all you are having a child together.
Whether the pregnancy is terminated or the decision is made to have the child everything is different after the pregnancy. Some couples decide to get married because of the pregnancy some do not. Either way you and the relationship is changed forever.
It does not appear from my experience that the marriage license is the key factor here. The important thing is does the couple decide that they want to be together as life partners or are they only doing this because they are trapped by a pregnancy.
3. The first year after the birth of the first child can be traumatic.
Couples that are not married have a high risk of breaking up during that first year after the birth of the first child.
Couples that do get married still find the relationship changes, often in ways they did not expect and want. It takes a lot of work to create and maintain a relationship after a child enters the picture, especially if a long-term relationship was not what you wanted in the first place.
4. How long did the couple know each other before they made the commitment?
Couples that have known each other, dated and had common experiences, for two to five years before getting in to a long-term relationship are more likely to have a successful relationship.
Couples who date only briefly sometimes workout, but they are at extra risk. In the early stages of a relationship we all want to be liked and put our best foot forward. You can’t keep that appearance up forever and after a few years the real you and the real them leak out. Couples who move through the dating stage and establish a long-term relationship to rapidly often find they are in a relationship they wish they had not entered.
If you have been dating for over five years and are still not feeling ready to make a commitment to a long-term relationship, then there is something in your gut telling you this is not the right thing.
Sometimes our reluctance is about the other person and sometimes it is about us. We find that two emotionally unhealthy people do not make for a good relationship. If you have issues, you need to work on yourself before you get into a relationship.
That does not mean that if you suffer from a mental or emotion illness that you should not be in a relationship. What it does suggest is that you need to work on yourself and your recovery before entering that relationship. No one else can fix you. Recovery is an inside job.
5. Has there been a history of angry fights, abuse or domestic violence?
Couples whose relationship is characterized by lots of fighting, little if any repair efforts and abuse and violence often end during the first five years. This bulge in failed relationships at five years is also influenced by substance abuse and other addictions.
6. Many marriages or long-term relationships fail at the 20 to 25 year point.
These relationships stay together because of the children, the influence of family or economic reasons. Then one day, often around the time that the oldest child is about to graduate from high school, the couple looks at each other and can’t remember why they liked each other in the first place.
These relationships do not fail because of anger or hatred, they just fizzle out. Suddenly one or both parties wake up and realize the feeling of love was lost a long time ago.
They have failed to maintain the relationship and now they have nothing in common.
7. Relationships that triangulate in a third-party or substance.
Added to these relationship issues is the ever-present possibility of affairs, emotional or sexual. Those relationships end because someone or something else pries one of the parties away from their primary relationship. One of the worst affairs is the drug-threesome cause by someone falling in love with a drug of choice and leaving their partner to follow that addiction.
There you have some of the more common reasons that relationships fail and people separate, break up or divorce.
Breaking up is almost always painful, even when you know you want out. The trick is to learn to be happy as an individual and then that happiness has a chance of spilling over into the relationship.
Here is wishing you a happy life, with or without that romantic relationship.
David Joel Miller, LMFT, LPCC
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books
- Running out of gas, when you self-improvement program stalls. (counselorssoapbox.com)