It’s just not working out. It’s not you, it’s me. We’re in different places. I just need to be on my own right now. Suffice to say, at some point, we’ve all said or heard one (or more) of these phrases. And while they each take a slightly different posture, they deliver the same message: We’re breaking up. No matter how amicable the circumstances, there’s no warm and fuzzy feeling that comes with going separate ways. Peace, maybe, but elation and joy, not so much (in our experience, anyway).
In fact, breakups often elicit a wave of observations about what caused the change in feelings. While questions often go unanswered—especially when you’re the only one asking them—some light can be shed on contributing factors. And while we’re all about embracing the single life and independence, we also know our very human need for closeness with another individual, so we decided to pick the brains of some relationship pros on how to keep a romantic bond strong for the long haul. Here, some tips on how to avoid a breakup.
So often we blame breakups on lack of connection, loss of interest or "being too different," but, according to Amy Chan, founder of Renew Breakup Bootcamp, the root of most falling-outs is unconscious relationships, or "two people connecting with their respective unhealed childhood wounds," she explains. "Once the lust phase of the relationship is over, reality sets in. That's when two people need to either grow and be mirrors for each other to heal their wounds or they continue repeating the same patterns. Without awareness, communication and a team effort to work on the relationship challenges, the relationship either becomes toxic or eventually falls apart."
This sounds like an overwhelming issue to overcome, right? Same. However, like any issue, healing often starts with admitting you have a problem. "The first step to combating an unconscious relationship is to have awareness of your own wounds and patterns," says Amy. "This is not a quick fix, it involves getting to the bottom of your triggers, your internal story lines, suppressed emotions and childhood traumas that are lodged deep in the subconscious."
The relationship pro recommends first coming to understand your attachment style, a pattern of relational behavior researchers claim we develop by age five that dictates how we bond with partners in our adult lives. According to Chan, the three primary styles are:
- Secure: People with a secure attachment style are not afraid of intimacy and are not codependent.
- Anxious: People with an anxious attachment style usually experienced inconsistent caregiving as a child. They fear rejection and abandonment, have a hard time feeling safe and often mistrust their partner.
- Avoidant: Those with an avoidant attachment style subconsciously suppress their attachment system and have a tendency to push people away when someone gets too close.
"By understanding your attachment style and your partner's style (or future potential partner), you will gain insight on how and why you are triggered, so that you choose to respond in a healthier way," says Amy. "It will help to develop compassion and not take it personally when your partner is reacting due to his or her attachment wiring."
There's a reason you've heard about communication being the key to a healthy relationship. That's because it is. "Both men and women struggle with being able to articulate their needs in a relationship," explains Thu Zar Wynn, professional matchmaker and love coach. "Expecting the other party to read between the lines while not being able to clearly communicate boundaries will lead to obvious conflicts."
Moral of the story here? Speak up ... with love, of course. And, don't be afraid to go deep when confronting issues and explaining your feelings and reactions to your partner's behaviors. "Vulnerability is what's going to attract a deeper level of connection with your partner," says Thu Zar. "How much you judge yourself reflects how much you're judging who your partner is to you. Any time you notice yourself judging or reacting, it's good to step back and become mindful of how compassionate and loving you want to be with/to yourself and your partner. Letting someone else see all of who you are, and why you are who you are, will give your partner a choice to make—the decision to move forward on their own accord. Be as honest as you can, so you can leave the situation feeling like you told the truth."
Oftentimes, attachments come from emotional components that lack roots: lust, loneliness, fear, etc. While these factors can take a relationship from zero to 60, they typically lose steam just as quickly.
"In the vast majority of cases, the relationship becomes steadily less healthy and nurturing over time before ultimately reaching a breaking point, usually due to some external stressor such as the discovery of an affair, financial pressures or perhaps the kids leaving home for college," says Dr. Naomi Arbit, behavioral scientist and life coach. "But it rarely ever happens out of the blue to a healthy, well-functioning relationship where two people are securely attached. If the secure attachment has eroded, or was never there to begin with, the relationship has a far higher chance of failing."
So what does a secure relationship look like, you ask? Well, for starters, it involves investing in the person—consistently, even when you don't want to. "Even the best of relationships take steady care, attention and an investment of time. Love doesn’t beat all, and relationships take consistent checking in, communication and compromise. Without these healthy habits in place, the relationship might be at risk. We recommend setting aside weekly time with your partner for checking in and having these kinds of talks."
While this goes right in there with proper communication, we feel it deserves a separate discussion. It's not wrong to want a relationship that will lead to marriage and it's not wrong to want one that remains somewhat casual and sans commitment. It is wrong, however, not to express these needs and wants to the person you're with. "People not being fully honest about what they want out of a relationship or where they see themselves down the road is a big breakup factor," says relationship and sex coach Gina Marie.
Thu Zar agrees with this notion, saying, "One partner will lie or is dishonest to avoid conflict for fear of losing the relationship—all the while controlling and manipulating the relationship into something it's not."
Have those conversations about non-negotiable goals and values early on to avoid the inevitable heartbreak. Remember, you always have a choice when it comes to relationships and dating, so choose the option that best suits your needs.
Okay, we're all guilty of this—or have been. We're so overcome by the initial attraction and lust factor of a new relationship that we write off little habits or character flaws that normally serve as red flags. Over time, these little behaviors and traits become more evident and our rose-colored glasses become less, er, rosy.
So what do we do? We go into fix-it mode and think we can mold someone into the model partner. "The false assumption that we can teach people how to be what we need instead of embracing their uniqueness and helping them foster it will lead to the destruction of a bond," says Gina. "It also means you're not being present."
The key here is to approach your partnership with a "what you see is what you get" mind-set. If there are things you're observing that are non-negotiables, you need to come to terms or move on before things get serious and messy. Also, "fully accept each other," says Gina. "Start with accepting yourself and then allow that to spill over to your partner."
While being real about what bothers you or hurts you in a relationship is important, it's possible to take it too far and venture into nagging, or, worse, critical territory.
Once we get past the honeymoon phase, many of us start nitpicking our partner. "When anyone hears a naggy voice, it can sound like bad music and over time it turns them off," explains Gina. The relationship guru stresses the importance of staying in one's own lane. "Stay focused on your life and at the same time provide support for your partner in a way that works for you."
And when the time is right to address things about your partner that hurt or bug you, keep kindness in mind. "Like in any relationship in life, there are two crucial dimensions that build a stable and healthy ground for love: kindness and generosity," says Patrycja Slawuta. "Kindness of the mind means giving benefit of the doubt and creates positive and slightly optimistic stories a partner can grow into. It also gives them the space to grow. Generosity of the heart means calmness and trust. Both kindness and generosity are best supported by a commitment to stay together, work things out and face challenges together."