Relationships break up for many obvious reasons — physical, emotional or psychological violence. Alcohol or drugs. Distance. Infidelity. Money stress. Death. Or even simply growing apart — one partner grows, the other doesn't.
Under all this though, there's one core reason most relationships die.
It's the same reason buildings rot away and collapse: Lack of regular care.
Now, I'm not saying you should lacquer your partner every summer (unless that's their thing of course), it's a little more subtle than that.
See, the reason relationships die is because of a gradual piling up of resentments.
Resentments about what?
Let's step back a little first and I'll explain.
People come into our lives (ie, we have relationships with them) to help us grow.
How do they do that? Well, usually by pissing us off.
Because we attract people that reflect us; both our strengths and our weaknesses.
So, they're gonna rub up against those weaknesses, irritating us — just like a grain of sand in an oyster — and potentially with exactly the same outcome.
When our frailties are exposed like this, letting it go can be easier said than done.
Additionally, the closer someone is emotionally the more they're able to influence us — for better or worse. This is why our family (particularly our parents) get under our skin so often.
On top of all this, the basic experience of building a relationship with someone requires compromise and growth by both parties.
So every time we have one of these natural little upsets we're given a choice: hang on or let it go?
- If you're still bothered by something that happened a month ago, you're collecting resentment.
- If you're fearful they're going to behave as they have in the past, you're collecting resentment.
- If there's things you wish they wouldn't do any more, you're collecting resentment.
- If there's things you wish they would do but don't, you're collecting resentment.
What typically happens is that we happily burble along sharing our lives. All the while these resentments are slowly building up, until eventually it's all too much and everything explodes.
Depending on the temperaments involved, this may happen sooner or later.
This is all a bit miserable, so what's the solution?
As I mentioned above: regular care.
In terms of relationships rather than houses, we're talking daily if not minute-by-minute care. A little bit often vs lots when desperation strikes.
Couples often head off to marriage counselling in an attempt to repair twenty years of cumulative damage; this isn't practical.
Much simpler and easier is simply to commit to dumping everything that comes up, immediately.
How do you do this?
As with everything, you simply make a choice.
What is more important — being loving to this person, or hanging on to this resentment?
So often we self-justify feeling crappy "I'm allowed to be upset or angry, they hurt me!" — but really, why do this?
Isn't it better to feel good?
And, after all, we love this person. Surely being unconditionally loving is better than only loving them if they behave exactly how we want. For a start, that's trying to control them. Secondly, we never feel better than when we're being completely loving, regardless of their behaviour.
If we let go of the resentment as soon as it happens, we shift quickly back into feeling loving and feeling great again.
The more we let go of, the better we feel. Not only that, but the easier it is to love that person. The deeper our love together grows.
Essentially, we have a choice:
- We can hang on to our resentments until things inevitably explode
- We can choose to let go of everything as soon as it comes up
Or, put another way:
- We can feel crappier and crappier until we can't stand to be around them
- We can feel better and better until our love together is burning hotter than the sun
Seems a little silly to even have to choose, but you know, free will. Yadda yadda yadda.
In general though, the simplest way is to keep all of your attention on loving the hell out of them. Don't leave any free to focus on whatever-it-is. Constantly pull your attention back to pouring love out of your heart and into theirs. Let everything else go. Whatever they're doing, whatever they're saying, you're going to be 100% loving, all your energy unreservedly embracing them.
Here's the funny thing with all this.
When you're truly in that space, letting go as soon as anything comes up?
Whatever it is that is happening doesn't have a chance to hurt you. Not even slightly.
I've been in situations, with someone I cared about enormously, where they were saying the most vile, violent things to me (they had their own shit going on at the time) — and because I was so focused on loving them, what they said didn't even connect. There was absolutely zero pain or damage from it, even later.
Not a great thing to have happen maybe, but a damn good learning experience. Particularly in terms of reminding me — our behaviour is always our choice.
She chose to be hateful. I chose to be loving. As a result, I came out of it feeling like a million bucks. How is that even possible? I don't know, but it sure as hell works.
Of course, the usual caveats apply. Being loving doesn't mean you have to be stupid. Eg, if I'd loved and respected myself more, I wouldn't have put myself in the above situation in the first place.
If only one party is loving, then the other person will continue to pile up resentments (with the inevitable conclusion). Obviously, the optimal solution is if both of you make this choice. If only you do then at least you'll feel great, even if they choose to feel crappy.
Loving the hell out of each other doesn't mean you necessarily have to be together forever. However, when you're in that loving place, you can make the optimal choice for both of you. If it's the right choice, you can end things in a loving way, without an ugly death.
All the junk that normally buffets you around is absent, freeing you to do what's best for both of you.
Being loving means making loving decisions. For you. For them.
It also beats the hell out of some bullshit resentment from months or years ago making those decisions for us — killing our relationships without us having any say whatsoever.