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December 5, 2005 7:41 AM   Subscribe

WhydItEndFilter: Why did your marriage/long term relationship end (or almost end)? If you dodged that scythe, how'd you save it?

I was talking with my girlfriend the other day about a friend of hers who broke up with a boyfriend of four years. She thought the relationship could've been saved, I thought it couldn'tve been. It got me thinking: what is serious enough to end a long-term, comfortable relationship? how can you protect that from happening?
posted by soma lkzx to Human Relations (25 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
The couple mentioned in the post met their demise in the face of cheating, by the way. I err on the side of irrepairability on that particular issue.
posted by soma lkzx at 7:43 AM on December 5, 2005


It seems to me like no issue in and of itself is serious enough to end a relationship. You hear all the time about people who face serious issues (infidelity, spousal abuse, etc) and choose to stay together. So it all seems to be about choice- choosing to either work through issues, or put up with them.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:03 AM on December 5, 2005 [4 favorites]


I broke up a 2 1/2 year relationship for many reasons, but mainly because my partner wasn't really all that curious about new things, and so the conversations became dull. In my opinion, that's pretty serious.
posted by cmonkey at 8:06 AM on December 5, 2005


The only one true barometer of what's serious enough to end a relationship is "something that either party isn't willing to work through." For some people that's not putting the dirty socks in the hamper. Others feel strongly that after slaughtering a small village and raping the other partner's parent's dog the offender must say "sorry."

You feel like being cheated upon is an unforgivable betrayal, which it isn't. I'm not saying it's okay or even that you should necessarily forgive, but in the abstract it's possible to move beyond. People do it. Maybe you can't or won't or there's more to your mental calculus behind it. But the point is, in the context of your question, no matter how horrid something is, someone else is able to let it go.

So you protect that from happening in your own relationship by deciding what your Mortal Sins are and working out with your partner how to not violate each other's.
posted by phearlez at 8:06 AM on December 5, 2005 [4 favorites]


I ended a nearly 5 year relationship when I was 24. We had been dating since I was 19 and he was 21, and during those years we simply grew apart and realized that we weren't meant to be. I, for one, changed a lot during those years - I went to college and started a career - and I think I just realized how different we were. It was difficult to give up something that was comfortable, but it was necessary, and in the end it was the right thing for both of us. There was no abuse, infidelity, etc. – but I think incompatibility (including different goals/directions) is about the least work-throughable issue in a relationship.
posted by amro at 8:08 AM on December 5, 2005


My first marriage was wrong from the beginning and can't be termed long lived or comfortable.

I had a significant other after that. He and I lived together for 3 years and had plans to get married. He decided a week before the marriage that he needed his space and left. He moved a 17 year old into his new place. Claimed it was his babysitter. He married her two months later. My guess is she was his space.

My next relationship with a live in significant other lasted five years. I adopted his two sons. But he got involved with meth and I had to leave. I would not live that way and I refused to have the kids around a bunch of meth heads.

I am not sure how I could have prevented these problems in the relationship. Bad choices were made and consequences were dealt with.

I could have prevented the first marriage if I had had enough of a spine to refuse to marry him. But I was young and thought, nay truly believed I had to go through with the marriage because I had said I would marry him. I should have ran. He was an alcoholic momma's boy, who was abusive.

With the second relationship I was blinded by love. In retrospect I should have seen all the signs of his infidelity.

With the third relationship, I fought hard to help the man get through his addiction with alcohol, he just turned to meth. I stayed through the alcohol addiction because of his two boys. I took them to raise as my own sons. I couldn't deal with his meth addiction. So I left.

This answer may not be what you are looking for, but sometimes you just have to walk away and deal.
posted by bratcat at 8:08 AM on December 5, 2005


PinkSuperhero nailed. Ultimately, it's about the choices you make, and the wherewithal to stick with them.
posted by TeamBilly at 8:09 AM on December 5, 2005


PinkSuperhero, TeamBilly, others: In reference to "working through it," what about our society has changed that we don't compromise any longer, and fifty bazillion marriages end up in divorce? Financial security of both members of the relationship? Greater individual freedoms? Hubris? Does anyone know if second marriages have more staying power than first ones or ideas why they would? (we're older! wiser! ...more certain that the grass is not that green on the other side)

also, phearlez, despite the fact that i can sometimes find myself being terribly puritanical, i promise i don't think cheating is necessarily an unforgivable betrayal. i didn't know that much about the situation, and cheating speaks to me of larger problems that the couple is unwilling to work out, so by default i was for splitting. not in all situations, though!
posted by soma lkzx at 8:23 AM on December 5, 2005


My 15 year relationship ended a year ago. Neither of us cheated, but he went through an early (38) mid-life crisis, and after buying the two seater sports car, decided that he still wasn't happy, and needed to change his life. (Gay relationship, if that makes a difference.)

When he announced that we weren't working anymore, he offered to go to couples counselling with me to try to work it out. It didn't even occur to me to try that. What's odd is that we were the longest-term relationship of all of our friends, and everyone always thought of us as "the perfect couple."

While I was devastated by the break-up and the changes it brought to my life, I also knew, even through the initial shock and tears (mine) and guilt (his) that there wasn't really anything there to be saved.

I had spent the last five or so years molding myself into someone I thought he wanted, and neither of us was happy.

Now, with a year under my belt, I know I made the right choice. I LOVE living on my own, and have started dating again. I also love making myself happy, and not struggling to make someone else happy at the expense of my own well-being.

The way I look at it, I've already had the kind of relationship many people strive for - 15 years, joined lives, etc. Whatever I do now is just gravy.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must add that although I am happy and I believe well-adjusted now, it does make it secretly happy to see my ex flounder with a series of ever younger boyfriends...but I never said I was perfect.
posted by Futurehouse at 8:41 AM on December 5, 2005 [3 favorites]


what about our society has changed that we don't compromise any longer

Less stigma + better chances for women to take care of themselves results in fewer instances of people staying miserable out of fear.
posted by dame at 8:42 AM on December 5, 2005


what about our society has changed that we don't compromise any longer, and fifty bazillion marriages end up in divorce?

I would take a guess at a few things, greater freedom for women would seem an obvious start, bringing greater aspirations particularly allowing aspirations outside the homemaker role, matched with an increased ability for financial independence. This could also be interpreted as less shame in a failed marriage than was previously the case (on both sides). In the UK I would have suggested that the movement away from organised religion accounted for less shame concerning failed marriages but this may not be the case in the US

(My first bit sounds to me like it could be interpreted as 'It's all women's fault!' but what I'm actually saying is that previously women where stuck in a situation where they had few choices, now this is less the case.)
posted by biffa at 8:46 AM on December 5, 2005


what about our society has changed that we don't compromise any longer, and fifty bazillion marriages end up in divorce?

hm. There is less societal pressure to stay together and being a divorcee is no longer "scandalous." Couple that with women being more able to get their own financial security, as you mention, and divorce becomes a primarily emotional decision. Not that there aren't financial and logistical challenges, but these are much more manageable than 40 or 50 years ago.

I also don't see it so much as a lack of compromise, but rather an overwhelming drive to follow your bliss and a society that promotes that notion. No matter what you decide to do, as long as you claim that change is what will make you happier, there will always be someone around to pat you on the back and tell you it's the right thing to do, everyone else be damned. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but then, how good is it to surround yourself with "yes" men?

Strangely enough, the most blissful relationships I've had required a great deal of compromise. I think the key is shooting for a win-win compromise or "taking turns" at winning, whatever that means.


Does anyone know if second marriages have more staying power than first ones or ideas why they would?

I have a co-worker who's a former marriage counselor. He once told me that people often learn a great deal from their first marriage and don't want to repeat the same mistakes.

Plus, anyone that's been married for a long time is likely to tell you that the cyclical nature of a relationship can make you feel like you've been married several times. People change, so the relationship has to change or it dies. Among my friends, it seems that the transition periods (trauma from infidelity, illness, starting a family, etc.) are the most vulnerable times for a marriage.
posted by whatnot at 9:03 AM on December 5, 2005 [3 favorites]


It seems that marriage is more and more becoming a 'depth of our passion for each other right now' gesture, than it is a true lifelong, hell-or-high-water, good-and-bad, 'till-death-do-us-part commitment.

My own marriage ended because my ex-wife fell in love with someone else. By the time I was made aware of this, there wasn't anything to work through from her perspective. Eventually, I had to accept that and attempt to build a life after my marriage, as difficult as that process was.

Thankfully, I had the opportunity to talk a little about my separation with the older couple who lived next door. The wife of the couple gave me an insight into what it was like to be a married woman 40 years earlier, when she and her husband had been about the same age as my ex and me at the time. She was very open about the fact that if it had been possible for her to leave her husband at that point, she definitely would have, due to the many problems they experienced in their relationship. Had she chosen to do so, however, she would have had to accept that she was in no way entitled to any of the assets or any financial support, and almost certainly would have been ostracized not only by her friends, but by her family as well. In other words, marriage was a prison for many women, and many marriages lasted because there was no other real option.

It took a long time, but I have come to think of the end of my marriage as being a sad thing in terms of the experiences in my life, but symptomatic of a positive trend for women, in general.

My current (and I hope my lasting) perspective is that if there was no happiness left in our marriage for my ex, then she made the right choice in leaving. And I find it hard to resent the fact that women now can make that choice, where not too many years ago, those choices simply didn't exist.
posted by planetthoughtful at 9:22 AM on December 5, 2005 [4 favorites]


I went through a marital crisis earlier this year. What saved ours was the willingness of both parties to confront the issues and work through them. If he had been unwilling it would have been a dealbreaker. Honestly now our marriage is the best it has ever been.

I can confirm the cyclical nature of longterm marriages in my own (22 years so far.) What I have seen (and hate to see) in my friends' marriages is the unwillingness to get thru the bad patches. I have seen more than one marriage bust up when patience and time would possibly have brought them to the other side. Not saying that every marriage can -or should be-be saved but it seems that the difference now is people give up a bit too easily. If mine had ended at least I would have known I did what I could.
posted by konolia at 9:40 AM on December 5, 2005 [1 favorite]


John Gottman has done a lot of research on relationships, and has a lot of empirical data on the factors that seem to help some relationships persist despite serious problems, while others seem to fall apart. His research suggests that you can tell a LOT about how a couple is going to end up by looking at how they deal with each other at times of conflict. Their perspective was pretty ground-breaking, as we all used to think that couples that stayed together didn't fight, or didn't fight about certain issues. In fact, all couples have conflict - it's how they deal with each other during the conflict that predicted how the relationship would fare.

From a talk he gave that was featured in Edge...Bob Levenson and I were very surprised when, in 1983, we found that we could actually predict, with over 90 percent accuracy, what was going to happen to a relationship over a three-year period just by examining their physiology and behavior during a conflict discussion, and later just from an interview about how the couple viewed their past. 90% accuracy!
posted by jasper411 at 9:51 AM on December 5, 2005 [3 favorites]


I ended one of 3.5 years recently because I no longer perceived my boyfriend as the guy he was when we began dating. At first, he seemed happy, free, and interesting. Now, he is just interesting, but not so happy. He has sunk into a funk that I believe is caused by long term anxiety issues that have got to be gotten over. And since I don't want to knowingly commit to marriage with someone who has already foreseeable serious problems, I finally realized I had to end it and move on. Even though I realize every relationship will have its problems, I decided that I can probably create one with someone so that the relationship and the other person will have less serious problems than ours would have had.

There were a few other issues, but they were brought on by his general defeatist personality that has emerged in the last couple of years and that, while frequently held at bay, appears to have become his default mode of operation. And by my slow and irregular loss of interest in him and “us”.

Also, at my relatively young age (24) I wouldn't want to settle down after just one "real" relationship. I'm probably over-engineering, but variety of experiences and taking this opportunity to get out and date was a factor in my decision.

Note: the way I would have dealt with this in a marriage situation would have hopefully been entirely different - that is, to stick through it thick and thin. But pre-marriage I figure I have to look out for my own wellbeing and if a relationship isn't right, it's important to recognize that and move on.
posted by lorrer at 9:58 AM on December 5, 2005


man, i wanna see that relationship-prediction equation.

maybe it's terribly late and we're all terribly deep here, but anyone have totally shallow reasons for leaving a long-term relationship? Someone getting fat? Someone not making enough money? Anyone? Anyone?
posted by soma lkzx at 10:33 AM on December 5, 2005


A couple I know split because he was a raging alcoholic. He chose alcohol over the family. In that case, he could have saved the marriage, but I don't know what she could have done.
posted by GaelFC at 10:43 AM on December 5, 2005


In the past 6 years I've watched 3 of my friends go through divorce from long term marriages: 2 had lasted 20 years, 1 had lasted 15. They all ended due to infidelity on the husband's part, and, in 2 out of 3 cases, he left for the other woman. (In the third, he took to knocking his wife around; he was a charmer.) All three women, although initially devastated, are now doing really well and don't regret the end of the marriage. They say they look better, feel better, are more confident, etc, and also, they have all said they realized that in actual fact the marriages had ended long before; that they were only going through the motions, so to speak. Real communication, real sharing, had ended, and basically they no longer had husbands, they had roommates with occasional - or nonexistent - sex.

I agree with this from my own experience - when my 5 year marriage ended (a long time ago now) it really should have ended earlier. Infidelity played a part, yes, but we had gotten through that: what we hadn't gotten through was the communication wall. Neither of us were any good at speaking about our feelings and anger and emotional issues just got subsumed, until we began to feel like there was a huge black wall between us. Once that wall was built, there didn't seem to be any way to knock it down again, and eventually that (oh and alcoholism & emotional abuse & a lot of other ugly shit) ended it. I've actually been pretty gun shy ever since.

Shallowly speaking, I did have a 3 year live in relationship that ended because he refused to get off his ass & keep a job & I got tired of being the sole financial, emotional & everything else support, plus doing all the cooking, cleaning, shopping and pretty much everything else except for the vital lying on the couch and playing video golf parts of the relationship. He did have that bit covered. ;-) No, I'm being unfair. There were other issues too, and he's a nice guy & still a good friend. Who miraculously got his shit together once I moved away and did everything that could have kept me around if he had bothered when I was still there. /bitter
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:53 AM on December 5, 2005


I recently ended a 4.5 year relationship earlier this year. My long term gf and I had lived together for a long time, had started to plan our wedding, had moved to a new city together and had gone through a lot of things. She had been leaving hints about wanting me to propose to her for almost a year. I finally was financially secure enough to buy her the ring I wanted to get her so I ordered it. She found out about the ring and asked me to describe it to her. I did. The first things out of her mouth were that she was upset that it wasn't from Tiffany's and that the diamonds weren't big enough. Did she really mean what she was saying? No. She had a habit of saying irrational things, not having much tact, etc. I use to be able to just personally deal with what she said and move on. But I couldn't this time.

While trying to figure out why I couldn't just brush off what she said, I realized that we had been growing farther apart for a long time. She never realized it though but we were disconnected. There were several personal issues that I needed to go through that I didn't have an opportunity to work through with her around (for various reasons). I needed a chance to change myself and my ex was trying to change me into something else. It was tough but I finally realized I needed to leave.

Over the last 8 months, I've finally handled the things I needed to do. I'm happier, more well adjusted, and just doing the things that I need to do. It's amazing really.
posted by Stynxno at 11:14 AM on December 5, 2005 [1 favorite]


I ended an 11 year relationship earlier this year, because I had the slow and horrifying realization that I wasn't in love with him any longer. I went through the motions of marriage counselling, but the reality was that I didn't want the relationship to go on and I really couldn't admit it to myself. When I could face facts, I did.

I think couples that have serious issues but are still in love can work things out, if they are willing to try. In my situation, I really wasn't in love anymore and felt deeply depressed by my relationship. I didn't want to work things out, I wanted to move on. Although it was hard, it was the best decision I ever made.
posted by discokitty at 2:07 PM on December 5, 2005 [1 favorite]


what about our society has changed that we don't compromise any longer, and fifty bazillion marriages end up in divorce?

This fabulous book addresses exactly the question of what has changed:
Marriage, A History by Stephanie Coontz. It's got depth without academic jargon.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 3:33 PM on December 5, 2005 [1 favorite]


The book referenced here has been revolutionary for me in similar areas, and I'm very certain it will definately help matters be revealed about specific things that you can remember that were notable reasons.
posted by vanoakenfold at 10:07 AM on December 6, 2005


For more on the John Gottman research predicting compatibility with 90% accuracy, see this Metafilter thread. As a comment from the always trenchant caitlinb summarizes in that thread, "The main thing he does is look for signs of criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling (the "4 horsemen"). People can get angry or even highly confrontational and still stay together lovingly for years, but those seem to be the deal-killing failures to communicate/cope." More links to articles and sources are in the linked thread.
posted by onlyconnect at 11:25 AM on December 6, 2005 [2 favorites]


In the past 6 years I've watched 3 of my friends go through divorce from long term marriages: 2 had lasted 20 years, 1 had lasted 15. They all ended due to infidelity on the husband's part, and, in 2 out of 3 cases, he left for the other woman.

MyGothLaundry--When I was going through a divorce (and my ex was fooling around), my mother said to me, "Women leave a marriage for all kinds of reasons, but men only leave for another woman."

However, I believe what she was observing was something else: When someone decides to leave a marriage, man or woman, they get their ducks lined up--see a lawyer, find a place to stay, stash some money aside, etc. Part of this process is for men (women, not so much) is finding another squeeze. So it'll appear that infidelity is causing the breakup, but it's often more like the breakup is leading to the infidelity. I think sleeping with other women's men is pretty contemptible but it encourages marital breakup in the same sense that a divorce lawyer selling his/her services to a plaintiff does, (and arguably to a lesser degree).
* * *
But here's my advice, what I wish I'd done differently: I grew up in a household where snippiness was regarded as a form of repartee, and so did both my exes. I'm just teasing--why aren't you a better sport about it? Why should either of you have to be a better sport? Who are you trying to amuse that's worth hurting their feelings, even a little bit?

I'm not alone in this--I see people who presumably love each other say mean things to and about each other all the time, especially when they're tired or hungry or unhappy

Just don't, okay? And don't take up with someone who does (or who won't give it up). It's not funny, it's not cute, it's not charming.

It's not just that it's grating, especially over the long term. It's also indicative of someone who isn't careful of your feelings, even in the short term.
posted by MollyNYC at 1:31 PM on December 7, 2005 [6 favorites]


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