Photo by Lucas Quintana on Unsplash
In short: because we have absolutely no idea what we’re doing.
We are not good at relationships
We’re just not.
Anybody who swears otherwise is probably even worse than average(and I’d be willing to bet these are the same people who “go above and beyond” and “give until it hurts” but, in their heart of hearts, yearn for things like “appreciation.” That, or they’re the sort of people who downplay relationships entirely, brushing them off their shoulder and barely caring because somewhere, deep down, they’re convinced it’s “just that easy!”, when in reality their haphazard effort is just a landmine waiting to explode.) And anyway what I’m saying is: neither of these scenarios are people being “good” at relationships. They’re just bad in different ways.
We’re not gonna talk about serious incompatibilities
If you’re looking for “reasons” like “sometimes people want different things in life” or “I wanted 2.5 kids and they wanted to do research in the Antarctic” — then I’m sorry to say, this is not the post for you. If two people have different life paths or basic values, then yes, duh, that’s probably not gonna work out. That’s obvious. I’m not here to waste anyone’s time with that shit.
What we’re talking about here are relationship failures that are much more ordinary, much more mundane — where the “failure” usually stretches out for a while, silently sucking the life from a partnership and bleeding it dry so slowly that it’s a strung-out carcass by the time anybody looks around with questions, like “what the hell happened to us?”
Why we aren’t any good with one another
A lot of reasons. And these aren’t all true for all people, but some of the most common ones include:
We go in with bad expectations
Because, as I said, we have no idea what we’re doing
We give too little
We care less about what we give and more about what we’re getting. We try to sneak by with giving “just enough,” thinking our partners won’t notice. And maybe they don’t, at least not consciously — at least not at first.
We give too much
We focus too much on how much more we’re doing, and try to fix the problem by veering wildly between “giving more” and “getting passive aggressive,” burying ourselves in our preoccupation with not getting “appreciation.”
We expect too little
And settle for situations in which needs aren’t articulated, let alone met.
We accept too little (or too much bullshit)
We expect too much
We focus too much on what are partner is or isn’t doing “for” us, making the entire relationship a petty checklist or balancing act of “tit for tat.” We think a partner’s job is to “satisfy all of our needs” to “make us happy” or “make everything alright” or “fix all our problems” or “be everything for us,” and we hold the entire universe, unattainable, over their heads.
We don’t know what’s reasonable to expect of a partner
…versus what we should, instead, be providing for ourselves. (And, life pro tip: everything should first come from ourselves. We should not go into this as a hole looking to be filled.)
We have no idea where “the sweet spot” is between giving and expecting too much
We “give,” but in the wrong ways
That is (most frequently): the ways in which we want “to give,” rather than the ways in which our partners want to receive. We hurl muffins at them when all they want, ffs, is a glass of water.
We “ask,” but in the wrong ways
We have no idea how to frame up what is that we want or need, because, more often than not…
We have no idea what we want or need
We move through life, in general, sort of stupefied by the whole thing, entirely blindsided by the options and, frankly, unsure of what we even want. But instead of addressing that…
We expect our partner to “make” us happy, or solve for that
Or mind read, or fill in the blanks, or be “everything.”
We think love means always feeling the same
And don’t realize that feelings change, and ebb and flow, over time.
We think love” means never being attracted to anyone else
This isn’t realistic. We’re only human.
We blame our partners
We blame them for the fact that we aren’t getting our needs met; for anything that goes wrong — for the fact that we’re unhappy in the relationship, our lives, or just this terrible restaurant you’re both at.
We blame — and feel sorry for — ourselves
We wallow and dwell and get passive aggressive instead if resolving the issues at hand, because deep down inside we like the way it hurts to hurt, and we’d rather indulge in our own sad, self-fulfilling fantasies than pull ourselves out of it by fixing the issue. We get hung up in our heads, or we lose ourselves altogether.
We dump emotions on our partners
…expecting them to do more work with them than we do just because we think it’s their job or we don’t know how.
We dump our insecurities on our partners
We blame them for the fact that we feel this way (impotent, fat, whatever) and we think it’s “their job” to solve it, when it’s not.
We obscure the real issue
We make it about “date night” or “chores” or “those pants I hate,” creating a whole damn dialogue about petty nonsense that doesn’t solve a problem just bc we don’t take the time to figure out for ourselves what the real issue is.
We bring up problems instead of solutions
And we drive the wedge deeper instead of bridging the gaps.
We don’t understand how compromise and negotiation works
We all hear this word and we all think we know what it means, but most of us translate “compromise” to mean “when I feel uncomfortable and I don’t like it!,” calling it “good” when it feels unpleasant rather than going the distance of actually giving. We go into conversations hellbent on what we want, instead of pausing to consider the other half of every negotiation: what they want. (And beyond that, knowing: what you’re both willing to give up to get it.)
We only listen to respond, and not understand
We forget to understand first before seeking to be understood.
We fight to “win” (or just don’t fight fair)
We fight to fight (or “air things out,” or “vent,” or even just hurt them), instead of going in with a sincere and primary desire to resolve the issue.
We forget that our side of a fight is only half of it
And after our issue has been resolved, there may still be damage control on the other side. We’re not the only person here.
We forget about the other person
And the fact that we care about them. Hopefully.
We forget to care — and then we forget HOW to
Months bump along with us barely caring, and by the time we’re hit with some hard reality check (most often, a big fight) and we’re ready to check back in, we can’t remember how the motions go.
We use relationships as a status symbol
Because we see partners as a series of checklists, a life-size paper doll to dress down and dress up and stick in a house.
We use relationships for security
A quiet safe haven from the treats and risks of the world Out There. We stay not because we love them, but because we’re terrified of being alone.
We stop communicating
One word sentences and logistics only, with the rest of it quietly tucked away.
…Or we only communicate poorly
Dumping bullshit on our partner like they’re some dive bar bartender (whom we pay) rather than someone we love.
We stop trusting
And usually, this is because of us. Even if it’s “because” of our partner, there’s still something — something — we can touch here. Even if it’s insecurity, or expectations, or whatever (see above.)
We stop trying and just go through the motions of loving
Sex loses its emotional intimacy and becomes some small, backroom tradeoff of either obligation or physical satisfaction (or, usually, both.) Special occasions are a calendar “check mark.” We ask “how was your day?” not because we care, but because it’s the Pavlovian, scripted line when you get home. We say hi and hug and even say “I love you” just because “that’s what we do.”
We think we’re better than our partners
Even if only deep deep down. And with this, we believe that infantilizing (or “adoring”) them is the same as “loving” them. (It’s not.)
We think our partners are better than us
And we put them — or maybe their entire gender— on a goddamn pedestal, positioning ourselves at their feet instead of by their side as equals.
We aren’t even good enough with *ourselves*
How could we possibly be “good” with each other? We treat ourselves poorly, we talk down to ourselves, we let ourselves get away with things that do us a disservice in the long run, we set ourselves up for hardship. But even before that, we’re just no good at being kind to ourselves, lacking even the self respect in our day to day lives, so how could we give it to others (or accept theirs?)
We define love as a “feeling”
…rather than a choice. Meaning: the minute we stop feeling as strongly, or the minute those feelings evolve or change (even mature) over time, we wrongly interpret this to mean we’re no longer “in love.”
We don’t realize relationships take work every day
Or maybe we do, but just don’t do it.
“Well this was a downer… what should we do?”
I know. But the upside is: the answer is actually pretty simple. (Not easy, but simple.) We just do the opposite of everything on this list.
In short? Develop reasonable expectations. And put in the work.