13 surprising spiritual reasons relationships fail

Relationships are continuous works in progress. They require buy-in, commitment, effort, and empathy from both parties. As my old spiritual teacher used to say, “Marriage is 60-40 give and take…both ways,” meaning that for a relationship to shine, both people had to try and give more than they took.

But, let’s be honest, even the best of us … even if we are giving it our all … we end up in relationships that fail.

And that failure hurts. It makes us question our own values, if we “went wrong” in the relationship. We agonize over how to avoid being hurt again.

It turns out, most failed relationships can trace their failure to one or more of these surprising reasons that are at the foundation or the spirit of the relationship.

Let’s take a look at 15 spiritual reasons why relationships fail.

What are spiritual reasons?

Sometimes, relationships fail for external reasons that have nothing to do with compatibility. Distance, for example. Perhaps you met the woman of your dreams while you were studying abroad, but the relationship fizzled once you had to return home.

That’s not a spiritual reason. That’s a logistics reason.

When we say spiritual, we mean involving the spirits of each person in a relationship. After all, a relationship is a construction – a partnership – between two people: mind, body, and spirit. So, if there is a misalignment around conflict resolution, empathy, or life stages, these would be Spiritual Reasons for a relationship to fail.

1) “I” never became “we”

Great relationships are partnerships. A partnership is a twosome that is united. As your relationship deepens, you will often find that when someone asks you anything – even innocuous questions like, “what are you doing for the holidays,” you instinctively will respond with “we.” “We are going to my parents.” “We’re meeting up in Boston for Thanksgiving.” “We’re going on vacation!”

This is a healthy and good thing! This means that you and your partner are viewing your relationship as a union. You two are an item!

However, sometimes this doesn’t happen. Sometimes, subconsciously, that union doesn’t click. Instead, it’s “I’m doing, she’s doing, he wants, I want.” There’s no union. There are only two people that are orbiting around each other.

In the beginning of a relationship, that’s natural and normal. However, if after months or even years, the “we” doesn’t come naturally, it may mean that both parties aren’t viewing this as a partnership.

2) You shoot down “bids” for connection

A “bid,” coined by Dr. John Gottman is the “fundamental building block of connection in a relationship.” It is a bid for connection between partners.

What does a bid look like?

It could be something quite simple – simple as saying, “hey check out this funny meme I saw.” Or it could be romantic – popping open a bottle of wine, and putting on your fiancée’s favorite record.

When presented with a bid, the partner has three options:

  • Turn toward the bid
  • Turn away from the bid
  • Turn against the bid

When your partner asks you to check out the funny meme, turning toward the bid would be looking at the meme, acknowledging it, and laughing – even if the meme isn’t that great.

Turning away from it would be saying, “not right now, I’m busy.”

Turning against the bid would be where you would attack the other person, “not another stupid meme!”

Healthy relationships are ones where bids are accepted frequently. Bids for affection are embraced.

If you look back on your relationship, and realized you were always shooting down your partner’s bids, or your partner was always shooting down your bids, that may be a reason that your relationship suffered.

3) You’re going through different phases of your lives

Relationships are all about timing. You and your partner could be a great intellectual match, have incredible chemistry, and share all the same values, but still break up because you’re ready to settle down and have children, and she’s looking to start law school.

Your spirits have different wants. Your spirits are developing at different speeds.

One spirit is ready to commit to stability and parenthood, while another spirit is still focused on self-development. That is ok! You must respect each other’s differences, and accept that these differences may be too far to bridge.

4) Cheating

Cheating can take many different forms (physical, emotional), but it is, at its root, a betrayal. It is a betrayal of an agreement that the two of you have made – an agreement to be intimate with each other only.

No matter the reason for cheating (and affairs are messy and complicated, I understand), the reality is that one partner has betrayed the other. This is a wound that, for many partners, is not healable.

It is possible for a relationship to survive infidelity, but it requires the adulterer to commit to complete honesty and earn back the trust of their partner. The offended partner too must work to not hold the affair over their partner as a weapon – something to be used whenever an argument occurs.

Oh, well at least I never slept with my secretary!

This is spiteful, and will never lead to longterm happiness.

If you have been cheated on, or if you have had an affair, and you are considering making the relationship work, you must ask yourself if you are willing to put in the work to truly forgive and be faithful.

And if you are considering having an affair, don’t.

5) Selfishness

Remember when we said that relationships are 60-40 give and take, both ways? Well, sometimes a partner wants it to be 0-100 give and take. They just want to take take take without compromising.

A partner who exhibits selfishness in the extreme sees the relationship as an extension of themselves, not as themselves

becoming part of a greater whole. The selfless person becomes seen as an asset, somebody who improves the selfish person’s life.

Take a look at your previous relationship. Were you one who asked too much of your partner without giving in return? Or, was it your partner who took advantage of you?

6) Lack of empathy

Empathy is the ability to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.” It allows you to feel the joy another person feels, the pain another person experiences, and helps you shoulder the burden another person bears.

Empathy lets us see the other person’s point of view, and (more importantly) let’s us see the validity in their point of view. A person can not be selfish and still lack empathy. This lack of empathy can then lead to dismissiveness and callousness, which can poison the relationship itself.

7) Different Libido

Some people may be great emotional and intellectual matches, but have mismatched sex drives. Sexuality is an important part of intimate relationships – of intimacy and spirituality.

If one partner has a high sex drive, and the other person is not interested in sex, then the relationship becomes unbalanced as one person is not having their needs met, and the other is put in the awkward position of weighing whether they should or should not have sex to keep their partner happy.

It’s a difficult problem that often will lead to a break up down the line.

8) Addiction

Addiction is an illness, not a moral failure.

People become addicted due to a chemical dependency that develops in response to a stimulus – be it alcohol, gambling, opioids. Like any illness, the outcome can be devastating. This devastation can be the demise of the relationship – a surprising spiritual reason that relationships can fail.

The addiction causes a “third party” to enter the relationship, so to speak. Instead of your relationship being a spiritual partnership of 2, the third party (the addictive element e.g. alcohol) forces its way past. Your partner becomes beholden to the addiction, and will put the addiction before you.

Treatment is possible, but it is difficult and time-consuming. And, critically, both parties have to be on board. If your boyfriend is willing to get himself clean, but you come from a family of addicts, and being with an addict is an absolute red line, then you have the right to protect yourself and leave the relationship.

9) You’ve grown apart

Sometimes, our spirits converge in a relationship for a brief time – like curves that intersect. Eventually, however, our spirits drift apart.

Why this happens is somewhat of a mystery. If you want to take a very spiritual look at this, it could be because our lives are destined for different purposes.

Or, this could be because we didn’t make an effort to grow together. This sometimes happens when couples become quite busy (work, raising children), and their private lives end up taking different directions. At some point, the couple realizes that they have become strangers to each other.

This is much easier to prevent than it is to fix. You should make an effort to have activities and hobbies that you do only as a couple, so that you always have a strong foundation for your relationship.

10) You never opened up

Early in relationships, the feelings of warmth and joy can be overwhelming. Romantic and erotic desire can dominate your entire courtship. However, these feelings of infatuation and nearly-obsessive desire cannot last forever in this dominant state. As the relationship evolves, this infatuation typically gives way to intimacy.

During the “honeymoon phase,” or phase when the relationship is new, bright, and joyful; it is helpful to “open up” and share emotional intimacy, so that as you transition out of the honeymoon phase, you have a solid emotional and romantic base for your relationship.

However, some of us (for whatever reason) have a hard time opening up and being emotionally intimate.

This makes it difficult to move the relationship forward. Instead, the honeymoon phase ends, and then the relationship with it.

11) You didn’t trust each other

Trust is a bedrock of relationships. To have a successful relationship, you have to trust that your partner will be there for you, will help create a safe and stable environment, and won’t betray you.

Sometimes, in relationships, a person is not able to fully trust a partner. This can be because the person experienced a betrayal in the current relationship or even from a previous relationship.

Even through no fault of your own, your partner (or ex partner) may still have trust issues stemming from a previous betrayal, and getting past this lack of trust is critical to the success of the relationship. If the trust is never built, then the relationship will never be successful.

12) You don’t share the same values

People can appear compatible at first, but as the relationship deepens, fundamental differences can arise that can doom a relationship. Maybe you’re a deeply religious person and your girlfriend happens to be an atheist.

When you first started dating, that didn’t seem to be a big deal. But, as the months went on, this fundamental difference of values became greater.

Or, you may have wanted kids, while your partner believes that it is immoral to bring kids into the world while climate change is ravaging us (I know people who believe this!).

These fundamental differences of values mark incompatibilities of our spirits; some differences are simply too great to paper over, and the relationship won’t be successful.

13) Different expectations

When entering a relationship, it’s critical to be on the same page. You, for example, may be looking for a serious relationship that may lead to marriage. Your boyfriend, on the other hand, may be looking for a relationship that lasts until he graduates college. That’s a strong difference of expectations about the trajectory of the relationship.

Now, sometimes, people have ideas of where their relationship will go, but they are flexible about what happens. They aren’t tied down to one path. In this case, it’s beneficial to have candid and frequent discussions about your relationship, your goals, and expectations.

If, however, you find that there is an inflexible difference of expectations, then the relationship may be about to run its course.

Nathan Dennis

Nathan Dennis

Nathan Dennis is a Manhattan based playwright and poet of Floridian extraction. A graduate of NYU Tisch Department of Dramatic Writing, he served as a Rita and Burton Goldberg Fellow, and was awarded Outstanding Writing for the Stage in Spring of 2015. His most recent play, Lord of Florida, was workshopped by PrismHouse Theatre Company in the Fall of 2017.

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