How Do Romantic Relationships Start to Deteriorate?

Photo by JD Mason

This happens mainly through partners being taken for granted, a growing disrespect for what they value, and ultimately neglect. These trends tend to manifest themselves in three ways: the attraction between the couple starts to fade, expectations become unfulfilled and disappointing, causing increasing resentment, and mutual activities gradually ceasing between the couple.

ATTRACTION is not just about physical looks. It also is governed by intellectual and communicative elements and, particularly, emotional alignment. When these are out of sync, that’s a relationship heading for the rocks. There is nothing fulfilling about a relationship devoid of attraction. In fact, a growing feeling of not being attractive to a partner is the biggest cause of low self esteem, and feelings of unworthiness, within relationships.

Some of the saddest relationships are those of couples who have been together a while and most of the chemistry has gone. They are living quiet lives of desperation with one another, perhaps can’t even bear to communicate with each other, yet having to live in the same house and keep up the pretence because they fear change, fear the consequences, and fear starting over.

EXPECTATIONS: Although the underlying causes for each break-up are unknown, the most common issues triggering the most conflict are the unrealistic expectations of partners.

Expectations are transmitted directly by what we hear, and indirectly by what we see. A new relationship in the same space, especially where two people are trying o create a new life together, brings expectations to life and will develop problems when those expectations are unreasonable. Our desire for security and perfection breeds the most unrealistic expectations which we then wait upon, in vain, to be fulfilled by our partners. Of course, they won’t, and the first stirrings of dissatisfaction begin, gradually leading to many conflicts.

It is a good habit to stop for a moment when you’re disappointed, ask yourself what you expected and compare it to what you actually received. The difference in fulfilment and expectation will reveal the gap in perception between you and your date/partner, as well as the room for resentment. Noting the degree of discrepancy, that may be unconsciously affecting your relationship, will help you to adjust future expectations instead of continuing to hope for futile change.

MUTUAL ACTIVITIES: Two important signs of a relationship deteriorating on the physical level tend to herald the growing distance between the couple, signalling the total loss of attraction and alignment.

Image by Steve Buissinne

A. Cultivating Outside Friendships. This includes telling family or friends about your problems but not addressing them with your partner. Talking to others at times of conflict is not a productive way to handle problems, and it can result in additional problems emerging. For instance, your partner may feel betrayed that you have revealed sensitive information to others that has caused him/her to be embarrassed or uncomfortable around them. Also, if you paint a negative picture of your partner or your relationship, others may get a distorted view, which may change their attitudes and behaviour toward you both. Worse still, others are likely to remember your conflicts long after you and your partner have gone past them, which can only damage friendships.

B. Drifting Apart. At some point in time partners stop doing the things they used to do together and slowly move apart, through boredom or falling out of love, which is a natural consequence of individual evolution. They begin to seek different friends, develop new interests and grow in different directions, depending on their feeling of fulfilment. However, though new directions are inevitable, drifting apart is not. Couples can grow together by taking an interest in, and encouraging, each other; making sure they keep up with one another and maintain the attraction. The best way for that is by doing as many things together, while allowing some space for individual pursuits.

Separation can creep upon a couple unawares, especially when they become ‘too busy’ with work and other commitments to spend quality time together and to just care about each other’s activities. If you cannot remember, right this minute, the last time you shared an activity together, one which you both enjoyed, there is danger looming ahead.

A relationship is not just about two individuals sharing space together. It is about physical and emotional attachment. Once these these main attachments are no longer there, communication goes, too, along with affection and, ultimately, sex.

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