Why Do People Fall Out of Love?
All relationships face hurdles that stretch their resources.
There is almost nothing more tragic for intimate partners than to watch their once-hopeful relationship fall apart.
I have faced many of these saddened and disillusioned partners as they endlessly ask themselves and others, “How and why did our relationship fall apart? Why didn’t we see it, and why couldn’t we stop it from happening?”
Many times, the stressors that caused the ending did not even come from within the relationship. Some of those partnerships might actually have blossomed, yet fell prey to outside factors that neither partner could control. Sometimes there are unexpected pressures that may have overwhelmed the couple’s capacity to rebound. I’ve witnessed the power of relentlessly unwelcoming families or prior relationship partners who are intent on destroying the relationship.
So often, even once-beautiful relationships that have everything going for them fall apart when there are unpredictable illnesses, financial crises, past traumas, or other losses that can stretch the once-confident lovers beyond their capacity to rebound.
Then, there are the issues that happen within the relationship, itself. Each couple has to deal with their own unique blending of histories and personalities. One or both partners too often bring unresolved issues into the relationship, some of which don’t emerge until the relationship matures. Or, unequal appetites create pressures for performance and guilt for inadequacies. Disappointments and disillusionment can mount when desires are higher than resources can provide.
Sometimes, old, unfinished relationships come back to haunt and take precedence over the current one. A couple who could once speak openly and authentically to each other suddenly cannot speak their truth or listen openly anymore because of a threat neither anticipated. Negative issues that were once only a small fraction of the relationship slowly overwhelm what positive experiences once counteracted them. Betrayals happen. Promises don’t pan out. And dreams change.
“Falling in love is sudden, easy, and fun. It’s like a child going down a playground slide. Falling out of love is slow, difficult, and painful. It’s like watching a child die of cancer. – Ben Davis, Sr.”
Most often, there is a period of growing disharmony that precedes a breakup that the partners may not want to recognize. Conflicts happen more often, last longer, and hurt more. One partner may push while the other runs. Repeated arguments become ritualistic and eat away at the core the lovers could once rely upon.
By the time the actual separation occurs, both are often ragged and begin to blame each other for their waning capacity to rebound. They are too wounded and too disillusioned to remember what they ever treasured in one another.
When I’ve spent time with these understandably discouraged patients, I steer them away from regret, guilt, or blame. It is far more important that they understand that even seemingly true love can fail its most committed partners. They must not allow themselves to fall prey to cynicism or giving up their belief that they did their best.
Most people have the capability to end a relationship without losing love or respect for the other partner. But, sadly, most people have not been taught the skills to be able to do that, or even know that they could. Their role models have never shown them that it is possible for partners to love each other beyond a breakup and that separation always leads to disconnection.
When couples who have once loved each other deeply can leave their relationship feeling grateful that they’ve been able to live in it, they can maintain their love for one another forever. Even after years apart, they talk to others about those past relationships with pride, determined to remain grateful for what blessings they did create together, despite the outcome.
“When two people part it is the one who is not in love who makes the tender speeches.” – Marcel Proust
I have long advocated that those who are able to do that are the people we should hold as the models of what true love is like. I have met them in my practice, and consider them the unsung heroes of what love should be like for all of us. They are people who seem to herald the essence of unselfishly loving another and the real sacrifice it may ask of us; to want their partners to be fulfilled and successful in life, even if it means they have to separate for them to achieve those goals.