Our paths do not always go the same way. Sometimes you and your partner reach a point in the relationship where your paths diverge. The process of separation is a natural part of life and change. We grow, mature and are often no longer the same person who decided to enter into a relationship with another person. However, life is rarely black and white, especially when it comes to relationship issues. We often wonder if the break-up was a good decision – maybe the other person would have changed after all, as they promised? Maybe our problems were not so serious after all and we could have survived them? Will I regret my decision to break up? How should I proceed when such doubts arise and what should I focus on?
Is a break-up a last resort?
Sometimes breaking off a relationship with a partner is the best decision for us for various reasons – financial, mental, health. However, if you are not sure if a break-up is the ideal decision for you, perhaps you still have feelings for your partner and want to be with him or her, but you don’t know how to overcome the difficulties and problems that arise, a temporary separation or couples therapy may be the solution.
Temporary separation, or giving yourself a ‘break’ from the relationship, can allow you to reflect on the current relationship, calm your emotions and decide calmly whether you still want to be with the person. Sometimes separation allows us to see how much we care about our partner and that we still want to work on our relationship. Sometimes, however, it is the other way around; gaining perspective and looking at our relationship from a distance allows us to see that the relationship is not good for us, our partner is not living up to their responsibilities and the best decision is to separate.
If we are not convinced about the decision to separate, couples therapy may be the right solution. The psychotherapy specialist(s), as an impartial support, can help you understand where the problems in the relationship lie, how to communicate your needs to your partner and will allow you to see the other person’s perspective. Often such meetings allow us to see that we have more in common than we think, our goals and concerns overlap, but for various reasons we did not realise this. There are also situations where, thanks to therapy and the discovery of a different perspective, we are able to see our differences clearly and ultimately decide to end the relationship.
Different reasons for a break-up
Separation is sometimes a joint decision between partners, both parties feeling that the current quality of the relationship is no longer what it used to be, we have different needs, we are different people. The decision to break up can also come suddenly, unexpectedly and leave us feeling lost. There can be many reasons for breaking up a relationship, from the smallest issues that have overlapped over the years to sudden life events that shake up the previous trajectory of the relationship.
There is no single, consensus study giving the most common reasons for break-ups, as it depends on many factors, but among experts and professionals there are specific reasons for break-ups that come up most often:
– infidelity of one or both partners
– differences in upbringing, home of origin, world view of the partners
– maintenance of unrealistic standards towards the partner or frequent comparison of the partner to others
– economic problems
– unsatisfactory sex life
– unclear or missing communication in the relationship
– a sudden traumatic event in life (death of a loved one, loss of a job)
– lack of trust in the partner, strong jealousy
– different life goals
– burn-out of affection or boredom with the partner
All of the above reasons are equally valid and for some they will not be decisive in the relationship, while for others they may be crucial in the relationship. It is important to focus on what is most important to you in the relationship and work on this with your partner.
Relationship breakdown – whose fault is it?
If you decide to end a relationship, you will go through many different stages and emotions – there may be anger, sadness, resentment towards your former partner. Many feelings may mix together, we may be internally conflicted and feel the urge to get back together with the person, or the need to suddenly confront them and ‘win’ everything they are at fault for in our relationship. Relationships, however, are never black and white. Just as many factors contribute to the longevity of a relationship as to its breakdown. Blaming one side or blaming ourselves completely will not benefit us or our former partner.
The decision to end a relationship – and what next?
Sometimes our lives and those of our ex-partner are heavily interdependent – whether emotionally, economically or legally. Living together, credit, children, pets, work. In some cases it is enough to say goodbye to each other and that is the end of contact with the ex-partner. More often than not, however, we have shared obligations that need to be taken care of, because the decision to separate does not only affect us, but also those around us. It is important to remember yourself and your comfort in such a situation. Regardless of who made the decision to break up, such a change affects many areas of our lives, which can seem difficult and overwhelming at times. However, once we get through the initial post-break-up organising stage and are able to take a breather from our ex-partner, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel – then we can focus on ourselves, think about what we need for this moment and how we want to achieve it, who we want to be. Finding stability after a major life change takes time and reflection, but by taking advantage of the support options available, we can emerge from a break-up stronger than ever.
What is worth knowing about relationship crises?
A relationship between two people involves a lot of responsibility and numerous difficulties that need to be resolved and overcome. In every marriage, at some point there are difficult moments that have to be overcome in quality. Why do crises occur in a long-established marriage?
Crisis in a relationship as a developmental element
Each of us changes as a result of acquiring more life experiences and personal development. Our values, views, character and personality change. Something else becomes important to us. In long-term relationships, it is difficult to make partners stay the same all the time and not develop. So that they don’t change their views, values and goals. For both parties grow up and grow old in a marriage, which involves change. Change is inherent in everyone’s life. However, with change comes crises. They are the ones that polish the relationship in response to emerging changes and the development of the partners. A crisis is the beginning of something new. It is an opportunity to talk frankly about our current needs, emotions and expectations. What do we want in a relationship and what do we no longer need? Authentic and open conversations allow us to get to know our partner’s needs anew, to renew and refresh our perspective. They are the first link leading to change. For both partners to be happy, the relationship should change together with them.
Mental state and relationship quality
The health and mental life of partners significantly affect the quality of the relationship (O’Farrell, Hooley, Fals-Stewart, & Cutter, 1998; Whisman, 2001). Depression, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, and sexological problems can modify the relationship between partners and contribute to relationship crisis. However, it is worth considering here whether individual mental disorders are a cause or a consequence of relationship crisis. Frequent conflicts, lack of understanding and support from the partner, personality disorders, alcohol problem in the family, violence, infidelity and other relationship problems can significantly increase the risk of dysthymia, depression or anxiety. If we add to this a lack of ability to control one’s emotions, an inability to cope with mental disorders, impaired communication, miscommunication and misunderstandings piling up, a crisis can be inevitable.
Sex as a regulator of relationship tension
Sex gives us a sense of closeness, both physically and psychologically. It builds intimacy, passion, openness to each other and acceptance. It also gives us satisfaction and a sense of fulfilment. By taking care of the sexual sphere, we take care of our relationship. About positive emotions, about feeling loved, about desire. Sexual disruption or lack of sex life illustrates problems in a relationship. The greater the crisis in the relationship, the less frequent the sex is. Over time, it may even cease to exist, becoming a bargaining chip or a form of punishment directed towards the partner. It is not uncommon in a conflict to take away a partner’s access to sexuality, to refuse sex or even to mock their needs. It is sometimes the case that partners, ostensibly negotiating the possibility of intercourse, are in fact negotiating the terms of their relationship. The image of sexuality in a relationship is often the image of the whole relationship. It is also very important to talk honestly and openly about one’s sexuality and about individual needs and expectations in this area. Do these conversations occur, do the partners perceive that there is a problem, is there a willingness and desire to work on both sides. It is worth bearing in mind here that sexuality can be both a cause of crisis and an effect of problems in a marriage.
Together or apart?
Crises serve our development. However, they do not always develop the relationship we are in. Sometimes partners do not get on together and the relationship comes to an end. If one person decides to break up, it is difficult to work on rebuilding the relationship. Ending a relationship is very difficult and emotionally taxing, and going through the break-up process helps you to look at the situation a little more objectively. It is impossible to escape the unpleasant emotions that accompany a break-up. Indeed, running away will make the whole break-up process more difficult. You often need time to think about your own mistakes and those of the other party. To think about what we can do to put right the wrongs done to our partner. How to behave in order not to repeat the same mistakes again. It is important not to get back together too soon. For it is possible to fall into the trap of satisfying one’s need for attachment, which, in the face of a break-up, intensifies considerably and distorts our picture of the past. Because in order to get back together, you need to build the relationship anew, not reheat the old one. For this, we need a careful look at the crisis, its causes, the accompanying emotions and a huge amount of motivation to work on ourselves and the relationship. Yes, we need to work on both ourselves and the relationship. Accept with humility that we make mistakes, like every human being, that we were not perfect. To learn to forgive both ourselves and the partner who has wronged us. A lot of talking, honest and open, will be needed to make this work. We may feel lost, sad at the time. When we haven’t spoken to each other in years it will now be difficult for us to sit down and start a frank conversation. There may be fear, anxiety, through which we start putting it off indefinitely. Sometimes therapy can be the best solution, so that we can distance ourselves, look at the problem coldly and communicate openly together in a safe place. It can be very beneficial to talk to someone who can look at the situation objectively, and who can also help us to become more objective and to see many of the mechanisms that we have been duplicating in our relationship. Even if we know the solution to our conflict, therapy can help us to communicate openly and effectively. It will enable us to sort out many things so that we can create a new relationship or come to the conclusion that there is nothing left to rebuild and it is best to break up. In both cases, however, we are dealing with change, which is necessary and inevitable. It is a natural process in which we must somehow find ourselves.