When most adults embark upon a new romantic relationship, they do so with the best intentions in mind. Yet most romantic relationships usually fail within the first three months, others break down within the first year and some that last longer and even lead to marriage create more pain than happiness. People often wonder why. Things looked so good at first! "It was love at first sight", "we had such great chemistry in the beginning", "we had so much fun the night we met", they frequently will say.
Truly, it does seem like a great mystery why some relationships succeed and thrive while other relationships fail miserably or become such a great source of strife and sorrow. Relationships are dynamic, they tend to take on a life of their own and it's really hard to pinpoint what went right or wrong after some months or years. There are some factors, though, which play a significant role in the quality and life-span of relationships, factors that influence our relationships in often invisible and unnoticeable ways, sometimes nurturing them, sometimes undermining them. What are these factors?
Self-esteem. I can not stress enough the importance of entering a relationship with relatively healthy self-esteem. What is healthy self-esteem? Self-esteem must not be confused with self-confidence which is based on our more external characteristics or abilities. Healthy self-esteem is the sense that we are acceptable, likable, lovable and worthy as individuals. Unhealthy self-esteem distorts our perception, narrows our choices, constricts our behavior, lowers our standards, causes us to make compromises we do not have to make, makes us "impossible" as partners with our extreme neediness and insecurity, and invites what we are most afraid of. If you feel that you do not have healthy self-esteem and if you recognize that this has often led you to wrong choices or kept you in unhealthy relationships, then invest in yourself and consider having some therapy to address your issues whatever they may be before entering a new relationship. It's an investment in your self and your future happiness you will never regret.
Self-knowledge. We all have a sense of "who we are", but it would be very helpful if we sat down and thought about "who we are" as if we had been asked by someone to give a thorough description of ourselves: our positive / negative traits, our abilities, our needs and desires, our preferences and dislikes, our values, our goals, our dreams, our world-view. Knowing who you are automatically helps you see who you are a good match to and who is a good match for you, which leads us to our next factor:
Compatibility. It's an obvious fact that not all people are alike. There is not only one type of a healthy personality, but many different types and many personality styles and not all are compatible between them. For example, an order-loving, cleanliness freak, a person whose life is constructed upon a lot of cultural "shoulds" and "musts" will have a very hard time getting along with a sloppy, chaotic and freedom-loving, non-conformist artist, even though the initial attraction and chemistry may be immense precisely because of these differences.
A lot of other variables may affect compatibility: social status or background, religious / cultural background, differences in educational level, values, a big age difference, past experiences, life-goals, etc. Family background also plays a very significant role: a person who comes from a broken family, for example, may not trust relationships, may not invest emotionally in relationships as much as a person coming from a family which stuck it out together to the end, may not have internalized the meaning of the institution of marriage in quite the same way as a person coming from a family where "marriage is forever".
Timing. Frequently, a relationship fails because of poor timing. One partner is too involved with his / her studies, business, career for a certain period of his / her life and can not or does not want to invest time and energy into a relationship, even though he / she may like a person very much. If that is the case, and you soon realize that this condition is not going to change for a while, instead of doing what people usually do – nagging, blaming, clinging, etc – let go and move on. That's where good self-esteem comes in (I can find someone else) that's where self-knowledge comes in (I know my needs, desires and preferences) and that's where compatibility comes in (we have different needs but we are both OK).
True Attraction. Many times people go into a relationship not because they have met someone really special they want to be with, but because they feel lonely, or have been alone for some time and think that they "have" to have a relationship to seem normal and be socially accepted. I'm not suggesting that you stay alone, drowning in loneliness, frustration and isolation while waiting for the Ideal Person to come along! What I am suggesting, though, is that if you just rush into a relationship ignoring some red flags hoping they will go away, they will not and pretty soon you will again find yourself out of a relationship!
Sexual Satisfaction. Another factor that often gets overlooked (except when it comes up in the therapist's office) is sexual compatibility and satisfaction, and this is an area in which women especially shortchange themselves, many times out of a silly tendency to protect the male ego. Sexual satisfaction is the glue that holds a relationship together, and its lack is a deadly virus that breaks out into all sorts of ugly symptoms (chronic resentment, temper tantrums, passive-aggressive behaviors like constant nagging about irrelevant issues, infidelity, etc).
If you are at the beginning of a relationship and his / her sexual characteristics, body language, sexual / sensual expression are not as you would like them to be, do both of you a favor, end the relationship and move on. If from the start you do not naturally and spontaneously hit it off, you never will – proof of this are all the sex manuals in circulation trying to cure the problem after the fact. There are perfect, multiple sexual matches for all of us out there and we do not have to compromise, or lie to ourselves or our partner.
Adequate healing time between relationships. Before planting the seed of a new love, we must take some time to weed our soil, purify our hearts from memories of past hurts, fears and sorrows by forgiving the past, blessing it for the wisdom it has offered us, and letting it go . Many people make the mistake of thinking that the only way to cure a broken heart is to fall in love with someone else immediately or, at any rate, find a substitute for the missing partner right away. Rebound relationships never work, because it takes some time for a jilted or abandoned partner to regain their inner balance, to mend the little holes and tears in their self-esteem and enter a new relationship with a clear and unburdened heart. Usually, the rebound relationship is still about "the ex" much more than it is about the new person we have met.
Ideally, romantic relationships are unions between two individuals' hearts, bodies, souls, spirits and minds. I believe that knowing the factors that may affect them in various degrees helps us understand our past mistakes and prevents us from repeating them over and over again by helping us gain more clarity and insight into the complexity of relationships that often evades our perception.