Lying, cheating, stealing, manipulation, bullying, abuse, isolation, rejection, divorce …
Relationships are undeniably tough, and for most of us they present the most hard earned lessons in life. But why are relationships so hard to deal with? How come most of us struggle to ever find someone we feel truly loved and accepted by? And why are we always struggling to live harmoniously with our significant others?
WHY are relationships so hard and even impossible for many of us to keep and maintain?
Before I go into detail I want to include a little “prelude” to this article. The following stats will really give you an idea of the state of intimate relationships in the 21st century:
- According to 2014 statistics the divorce rate in America is 53%. In Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic and Hungary, the divorce rate is over 60%.
- One in three U.S. adolescents is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner according to a report published in 2006, and violent behavior in relationships starts around the ripe old ages of 12-18.
- On average, three women are murdered by their husbands or partners every day in America. According to 2009 data, 34.6% of women murdered in total were slain by their partners.
- Additionally, on a global scale between 10-50% of women have been abused by an intimate partner in their lifetime. (Source.)
- 1 in 7 men experience relationship violence during their lifetimes. (Source.)
- Annually, there are about 16,800 homicides and $2.2 million (of medically treated) injuries due to intimate partner abuse. (Source.)
What does this data say about the state of our relationships? Don’t forget that this data doesn’t mention the fact that most domestic abuse isn’t reported, and violence in relationships isn’t just physical; it is also emotional and psychological as well.
Why Are Relationships So Hard, Frustrating and Painful?
I will be the first one to admit that I haven’t been the perfect romantic partner (who has?). I have lied, nagged, rejected, manipulated, and isolated myself many times in the past to my own detriment and to Sols. The only difference is that I have stepped up and admitted my wrongdoing. I have adopted an iron-willed determination to resolve this type of destructive behavior and have actively sought to learn from my mistakes for my own self-growth and also for the health of my relationship.
I’m not perfect – neither are you, and neither is your partner – which is why I recommend reading through the list below with an open mind. It’s easy to point the finger of blame at your partner for creating all the problems, but it is much harder to be honest with yourself and accept responsibility as well.
Here are the top 4 reasons why relationships seem so hard in my experience:
1. Because we impose our desires, expectations and beliefs onto our partners.
When we are constantly forcing our partner to be anything other than what they authentically are we create an immense amount of tension in our relationships. Essentially we are saying to them, “You are not good enough as you are and you better change or I won’t love you/treat you nicely.” Mostly we are unaware of our tendency to force our stories down our partner’s throats, and so we wind up in endless circuses of drama.
Examples of desires, expectations and beliefs include for instance “You should do this or else …” “You should behave like this because …” “You shouldn’t do that …” “You have to like/dislike this …”
What to do: Try to explore what ways you force your desires, expectations and beliefs onto your partner (or how they do it to you). You will be able to tell by the feeling of tension that arises in your body. This tension is a product of resistance, not acceptance.
2. Because of our inability to communicate openly and honestly (without repercussion).
Once upon a time I used to think that I was great at communicating. That was until I entered a serious long-term relationship. Since then I’ve discovered my tendency to believe that everyone can read my mind. I assume that Sol can understand me, and I assume that everyone else that I’m close with can miraculously read my thoughts. The reality is that they can’t.
The number #1 mistake most of us make in our relationships is our inability to communicate openly. Because of our fear and insecurity, most of us clamp up and interact in vague, ambiguous way to avoid clashes. And even if we DO courageously venture to tell the truth to our partners, we are often met with anger, emotional blackmail, and even plain hostility.
What to do: Can you communicate clearly and honestly about what you do and don’t like in your relationship? Do you struggle to be assertive, or does your partner? If so, this is a sign that there isn’t enough open communication. You need to jointly work together to create a “safe place” in which both parties strive to maintain open minds and compassionate hearts.
3. Because we project our childhood traumas onto our partners.
We don’t do this consciously of course, but projecting our childhood core traumas onto our partners is a big reason why our relationships can seem so hard. Our core wounds are formed in childhood, and often what we experienced in early life sets a tone for what we experience in later life. For instance, if I grew up with an emotionally cold and distant mother, it is likely that in later life I would seek a partner that fills that void, e.g. who is overly possessive, controlling and smothering with affection. Or else I might attract the same type of woman (cold and distant) who I unconsciously seek to “right wrongs” with and win the affection of in an attempt to soother my core wound of feeling “unlovable.”
What to do: Treating or relying on your partner as you would a parent is a big red flag – and feeling like a parent is an even bigger one. Does this ring true to your own relationship? Do you feel like a father or mother who constantly needs to scold, punish or nurture your partner? Do you feel like a child that is subservient to your partner’s position of “higher authority”? If so, you need to clearly identify and explore the core wound that is driving your behavior. It takes two to tango.
4. Because of our lack of authentic self-love.
Our love in relationships feels so conditional because the truth is that we don’t really know how to love unconditionally. Why? Because we haven’t learned how to love ourselves. One thing I have always remembered from my religious conditioning (and actually agree with) is what Jesus said about love: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” How can you love your neighbor if you don’t know how to first love yourself? How can you give to another what you don’t possess in the first place?
Self-love is a vital part of any relationship as it builds a foundation of authentic, healthy and pure love. Without self-love, our relationships are fueled by neediness, obsession, fear, jealousy and pain. Without self-love we will always be motivated by some furtive and even sinister unfulfilled need. But with self-love, we are no longer motivated by anything other than the desire to give because we already have everything we need – from ourselves.
What to do: A healthy (and EASIER) relationship depends on how much self-love you have. Self-love does not mean being narcissistic, nor does it mean prancing about with rose-tinted glasses on (see this article), but it refers to the development of a profound inner acceptance and understanding of yourself.
Time to Reflect
What keywords or concept have stood out to you in this article? Pay attention to how you feel. Defensive? Angry? Sad? Surprised? Weary? And what does this reveal?
Why are relationships so hard? In my experience it all boils down to how aware vs. unaware we are of our own authentic needs, desires, strengths, flaws and tendencies.
What about you?