The breakdown of relationships has historically been attributed to common observable, and even predictable, factors like money problems, physical and emotional abuse, extra-marital affairs, the effects of alcoholism, sexual incompatibility and a lack of communication and compromise between the parties, to name a few. Acres of pages have been devoted to their long-term effects, but I believe these aspects are more likely to be smokescreens or symptoms of other hidden forces which dictate emotional outcomes over time – the real hidden causes of failure in relationships. This being an invisible process, many couples are not even aware they are being influenced by these factors until the difficulties become overwhelming and the partnership is torn apart.
In my opinion, every relationship is subjected to 10 key controlling factors which always impinge on the individuals involved, often without their knowledge and definitely without their consent. No matter how hard a couple tries to make their relationship work, the acute differences they bring to the union ensure that at least one of these forces is likely to be working against them covertly every step of the way.
The ten crucial factors are:
1. The accepted norms and unwritten rules in society which govern relationships at that particular time. These will include not only what is legally allowed but the social protocol in vogue. For example, a few years back, marriage vows carried the words ‘to honour and obey’. Very few vows contain them now which shows the increasing independence of women.
2. The demographic, cultural and social background of the couple and the type of parenting they had. Background does affect a relationship. A marriage across cultural lines between two people who were reared differently in both discipline and expressive affection will have a greater likelihood of not lasting the course than one where the parties are broadly similar in these respects.
3. The confidence and self-esteem of the individuals involved. This is one of the biggest hidden force in a relationship because it affects the behaviour of the parties, their aspirations and their willingness to make decisions and take risks. There is nothing more frustrating than having a fearful partner paired with a confident one who just wants to fly but is being kept back by the insecurity and gloomy predictions of their spouse.
4. The perception of both partners. Everyone sees the world differently and the individual perception relating to behaviour in the relationship is often at odds with one another. Very few people see eye to eye on important marital issues.
5. The expectation of each party in the relationship. This is the biggest killer of relationships: frustrated expectations that are not fulfilled gradually turn into resentment and anger.
No Marriages at All?
6. The emotional evolution of the partners. We all change as we age so that we are never the same person five or 10 years down the line. It means that our aspirations and expectations will change too. Yet few people accept this natural transition and most are not even aware of it.
7. The form and type of attraction between the couple. If the attraction is purely based on physical factors it is unlikely to last as long as one that also has emotional and intellectual aspects involved.
8. The application of equity in the union: the desire to belong, to compete or to control. Where one person is perceived as less equal in the partnership it will affect the gradual state of the union. Most people will put up with elements of a marriage they do not like simply to feel wanted and to belong, but where there is clear inequity, it is likely to lead to resentment and loss of respect.
9. The sexual compatibility of the couple. This often makes or breaks the relationship, regardless of the importance partners put on it, their desire to ignore it or to play down any mismatch. Sooner or later, truth will out if it is not addressed. This hidden force is the biggest cause of extra-marital affairs.
10. The personal capacity to deal with common problems. Some people can take things in their stride without much fuss, whereas others find it difficult to cope with any crisis. That tends to impact negatively on the relationship, especially if it contains two insecure people.
All these hidden forces are lethal in one way or another because they tend to have a profound influence on other key elements such as the couple’s territory, commitment to each other, personal development and mutual affirmation. Most importantly, they affect the selection of a partner at the courtship stage. It’s the negative impact of these elements that ultimately causes the most damage, leaving the partnership vulnerable to misunderstanding and hurt. This leads to the three Big Ds: Disrespect, Disillusion and, finally, Dissolution.
According to the most recent census, the duration of marriages is getting shorter by a rate of six months per decade. For example, in 1970 partners averaged 10.5 years together but in 2002 this average was reduced to just below nine years. If we take this logically forward, by 2170 couples will be together barely one year before parting. Should this trend continue, along with the increase in the choice of single life, in about 200 years time no one will be getting married at all!
Does this sound incredible and far-fetched? Possibly, but not entirely improbable in our rapidly changing times.