Some relationship breakups are due to obvious issues like cheating, abuse, etc. However, there actually are many causes of relationships that are more common. A quick survey of the web will quickly reveal that there are many such lists. Some cite factors, such as age, education, etc., but those are hardly causes in the larger view of things, although they can influence a person’s choices at the time and possibly even indicate the level of maturity when one marries.
Studying reasons that people divorce, the ultimate of all break-ups, can reveal reasons for break-ups in general, and this is especially true because one reason stands out in the research. According to a Utah State University publication “Utah Divorce Orientation”, Lesson 3, lack of commitment was cited by the participants themselves as the reason for divorce in 73% of the cases.
In fact, when researchers looked at the differences between low-conflict couples and high-conflict couples, there was not a significant difference between the groups, and roughly half of the divorced couples studied were low-conflict. The main differentiator between happy couples who do not divorce and low-conflict divorced couples was the degree of commitment. A low-conflict unhappy marriage with a high degree of commitment means the spouse is less likely to seek another relationship.
Granted, outside influences can help keep an unhappy couple together: Kids, expectations of parents, etc. However, these are not good long-term factors. Kids grow up. Parents pass away. However, a personal commitment of both people will overcome problems in the long run.
Other reasons sometimes cited for break-ups are, some of which are listed in different words by Cosmopolitan in “Top 10 Reasons Couples Break Up”: Abuse (including drug/alcohol abuse), infidelity, unrealistic expectations, falling out of love/lack of intimacy, lack of trust, constant arguing, lack of romance, issues in-laws/friends and financial conflicts.
However, looking over these, it should become clear that most popular lists of what can go wrong with relationships can be distilled down. While drug abuse is a serious issue, relationship can and have survived this. While infidelity, perhaps the ultimate in betrayal, is a serious issue, relationships can and have survived this.
“Lack of commitment” may be a good description for many of these, but is even that good description of the root of the problem? Certainly, a strong commitment means the relationship has priority over other things. “Love covers a multitude of sins” is a very true saying. However, this implies something deeper even than commitment. It implies a true selfless love, rather than the glamorized love that Hollywood movies and romance novels portray.
Unfortunately, it goes against the grain of popular opinion. Even love itself gets redefined in selfish terms to meet personal goals rather than each person elevating the other in mutual and intimate trust. However, our disposable self-centered society promotes the idea that a person finds someone who will fill all their needs, and then once they stop meeting those needs, they are tossed into the garbage bin.
For example, a lack of trust almost always comes from a betrayal of that trust. It may be one huge violation of trust, or it may be the death of trust by a thousand paper cuts. It is normally caused by one party who is unwilling or unable to value the feelings of the other over other things. A promise to be somewhere at a certain time is broken because of a preference to be with friends. A promise to not spend money is broken because something catches the eye. A biting remark at the wrong time creates a distrust of one party to openly talk to the other, and thus the relationship suffers because communication breaks down. The promises and biting remarks don’t come from love and respect, but they stem from a perceived need to fill something in their own beings.
The other problems can, to one degree or another, point to the same thing. When a person does not put the relationship above his or her needs to a certain extent, the result is not helping someone else be fulfilled but a selfish desire to have their needs filled perfectly by one other person. Since we are all human beings, and all human beings fall short of perfection, this is a recipe for disappointment.
This is not to say that people should stay in unhealthy relationships. Instead, what it should show that it takes two to make a relationship work, but it only takes one to destroy it. If being right, doing drugs, being in control (which usually leads to one abusing the other to get their way), being with someone else, spending money or doing things your way, partying or anything else becomes more important than the respect and feelings of the other person or the relationship itself, then it can and often does become an emotional and physical cauldron that needs to be escaped. When one person refuses to seek help and break patterns of destructive and self-destructive behavior, then it sometimes takes a separation of some type to bring the person out of denial.
Some people marry out of religious beliefs or background, so it is significant that the Bible says divorce was instituted because of “the hardness of your hearts” (Mt 19:8 HCSB). Rather, Jesus pointed out that unselfish commitment was what was intended. It only takes one selfish stubborn person to break up a marriage. It takes two committed people acting out of love rather than selfishness to keep the marriage fully alive.
This actually should not be such a big surprise to people, in spite of the popular notion of a relationship being about what one gets out of it rather than what one puts into it. When people date, they want to talk to one another, spend time with one another, get to know one another and help one another. That desire to uplift the other rather than tear down the other must be maintained if the relationship is to survive for very long. If one or both of the individuals in the relationship selfishly stops up their heart(s), the relationship is doomed unless something changes.
Some people view this as “romance”, but dating should be and usually is about so much more. It is about wanting to know more about the person. It is about giving up time, money and other resources in order to spend time with the other person. At some point, it becomes being about forming an unselfish commitment to the other.
This is why sometimes people feel betrayed by the other. There was an explicit or implicit understanding that both would be committed to one another. Selfishness is, at minimum, a wearing down of the trust in that commitment. Depending upon the act, it may wear it down a little or a lot, but it always wears it down.
On the converse, unselfish acts that build the other up can repair these breaches and strengthen the relationship. Sufficient unselfish love can reinforce the relationship to the point that it helps to bond two people together so they are “like one” or in “a union” with one another, and breaking those bonds becomes nearly impossible.
It may seem counterintuitive, but seeking to get what a person wants out of the relationship actually has the opposite effect, while putting more into the relationship gives back more than what is put in. The choice is with the two people in the relationship. They can either selfishly strive and get from one another, which tears them both down, or they can unselfishly give to one another, which will build them both up.