Why Intimate Relationships End

Dear Neil:  My boyfriend abruptly ended our two year relationship.  No real explanation was offered—just that he decided that I wasn’t the one.  There was no discussion about what went into his decision, or what he was thinking or feeling about me—or about us.

But I’m sure we both loved and cared about each other.  I’m left with this empty feeling of having to accept his decision, but it is complicated by the fact that I don’t know what happened.  I don’t know why he ended things when they appeared to be so promising for me.  Can you help?

Lost and Hurt in Vail


Dear Lost and Hurt:  I cannot tell from your letter what factors went into your ex-boyfriend’s decision to end the relationship between the two of you.  Here are the most common reasons intimate relationships break up:

  1. Lack of heart. The relationship isn’t close.  There is a poor or superficial heart connection for at least one of you, which allows the least involved or committed partner to lose (or never to develop) a sense of belonging together.  So friendship, empathy and sensitivity are lacking, and communication is more about information exchange than it is about heartful feelings and emotions.   Even if the words “I love you” are used, behaviors and actions do not come from a loving, caring or empathic set of emotions.  Only one person needs a lack of heart in order for the connection and intimacy to be sabotaged.
  2. Feeling poorly treated. Not feeling respected, valued or cherished.  Poor treatment can come in many forms—disrespectful behavior, knee-jerk reactivity, too much anger, mistrust or jealousy, or not enough TLC, nurturance and affection—to name a few.  Poor treatment almost always entails one person not thinking about or valuing how the other person feels, and therefore not behaving in friendly, caring ways that allow the other partner to feel cherished, genuinely cared about, valued and respected.
  3. Poor intimacy skills. Lack of effective communication, conflict resolution, joint problem solving, negotiating, compromising, giving benefit of the doubt and absence of malice, offering generosity of spirit, loyalty, trust, good listening skills, empathy, etc.
  4. Very little affection and/or sex. Affection is a glue that keeps people bonded together, feeling close and connected.
  5. Betrayal. Once trust is ruptured in a relationship, it is extremely difficult to patch things back together again.  The deception, insensitivity and selfishness all lead to continuing mistrust—and mistrust is the death knell of intimacy.
  6. Addiction. You can be addicted to a substance (alcohol, drugs, food, etc.) or a behavior (watching TV, sleeping, knee-jerk reactivity, anger, jealousy, etc.) or an attitude (unwarranted mistrust or suspiciousness, fear of abandonment, selfishness, lack of reciprocity, etc).
  7. Lack of common goals or interests. This is not usually why your relationship ends, although it’s frequently cited as a reason.  It usually means the person wasn’t feeling close and connected enough in order to develop mutual interests and goals.
  8. Consistently not getting along. Arguing, bickering, lots of bad vibes, mistrust and bad blood between the two of you—until one person cries uncle.
  9. Someone else has entered the picture. Such as a new love interest, with new hope, new chemistry and no history.
  10. Losing (or not developing) respect for the other person. Why might you not respect someone you love?  For starters, how about all of the negative behaviors listed above.

One thought you might find useful.  Call your ex-boyfriend, tell him the break up confused you, and ask him if he’d be willing to talk about what happened.

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