Fix or end romance when romance fades? Need relevant research.
April 24, 2010 9:05 AM   Subscribe

I need a research-supported process for deciding whether to fix or end a romantic relationship where the romance has faded.

All the advice I've found so far seems to assume you know whether to fix or end a (long-term, serious, romantic/sexual) relationship when the romantic feelings have faded, passion has gone, etc.

In my situation, my feelings aren't clear, and even if they were I don't rely solely on my feelings for big decisions like this. My bias is that people are reluctant to understand what causes their feelings, and miss out on opportunities to be happier that way.

(I'm asking because I was just broken up with and I'm busy figuring out what to do differently in the future, and because research-based support for "yes, you should break up" would help me accept this. I am not a special snowflake.)

Ideal result:
--Books, articles, etc. with good guidance on how to decide whether to rekindle the romance, based on up-to-date research, with research results included, and with a process for evaluating a relationship.

Less ideal but helpful:
--The process you use personally, or your personal data points.
--Research-supported results that answer part of the question.
posted by sninctown to Human Relations (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure I understand your motive here - you were just broken up with, are you trying to figure out whether your just-ended relationship should end, or what you should do in future relationships?
posted by amicamentis at 9:12 AM on April 24, 2010

Should You Leave? by Peter Kramer deals with this issue, but also I think addresses the question whether you can really get advice about something like this from a book.

If you search for the Kramer book on Amazon, or go into the self-help/relationships section of a bookstore, you will find quite a few books that are more or less relevant to your question. Some of them will certainly contain at least partial or seeming support for the position "yes, you should break up," but you'll have to decide if they are "researched" to your satisfaction. (I am sure you will also be able to find arguments suggesting that you should NOT have broken up, and it sounds like this may make you feel worse. I suggested the Kramer as a book that sort of gets behind the question and may make you feel mentally nourished, whether it gives you an answer or not.)
posted by BibiRose at 9:23 AM on April 24, 2010

OK, my motives are questionable. I haven't really accepted that my ex doesn't love me anymore and couldn't find a less terminal way to tell me. My real motivations, I think, are:

1. understand if I should do anything to try to resume the relationship, only with better communication and more passion, or if I should get on with moving on. (i mean, general evidence-based, broadly-applicable guidance for this situation).

2. be able to say (to myself only!) that current research suggests that my ex made a bad decision.
posted by sninctown at 9:35 AM on April 24, 2010

Life has thrown you a punch. I am sorry. You are at the very beginning stages of experiencing a big loss. It hurts, I know. And unfortunately, your experience and your pain (it sounds like you are already beginning to feel some of it) is unique and you are special in that all the research in the world is not going to undo, alter, or reason around this one. It might help you process and accept it though. To that end, I can think of one book in particular that might help you understand some of what your processes are or might be (or simply how others have conceptualized loss). Elizabeth K├╝bler Ross' book On Death and Dying takes us through a model where she outlines 5 stages of grief. One stage in particular, Bargaining, might be insightful. Maybe not.

Either way, I wish you the best, but just know that intellectualizing what you're going through can only take you so far. You can't deny that you were a human who had some emotions wrapped up in this thing and it is real uncomfortable when those get untethered. Sometimes the natural inclination is to wrap up all those ends in logic, like an intricate series of knots. But the reality is, you still have emotions that lead nowhere. You are at the beginning of the process of rerouting all that emotional energy. Use it to learn and become stronger so that you can be so awesome that your choices for where to put that energy next time are many. I wish you the best and know that you are not alone in this one. We are all people in progress, trying to tie and untie the knots.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:55 AM on April 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

Research that answers part of the question: "Marriage Clinic" by John Gottman.

This will help show you if your relationship would have worked in the long run or not.

Your second motivation kinda doesn't jive with looking at actual evidence, which takes a bit of an open mind, you know?
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:27 AM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Will our love Last? by Sam Hamburg will definitely guide you thru these questions.
It has a very good process for evaluating a relationship. It works.
posted by theKik at 11:14 AM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

To Good To Leave, Too Bad to Stay by Mira Kirshenbaum.

The author is a therapist who presents certain scenarios that commonly represent dealbreakers in the relationships she observes in her practice. Depending on the answers you give to the scenarios she poses, she advises you, based on experience from her practice, whether or not the relationship is salvageable or whether you would be happier apart.

Her advice is based on clinical observation rather than on true experimental research, but it is more than anecdotal.
posted by Ladysin at 11:33 AM on April 24, 2010

Once one partner has decided to leave, the relationship is over. So, given that your ex decided to dump you instead of working on the relationship there is a 100% chance that the relationship will fail. Now, if your ex was a different person, open to exploring if things can be fixed, then she would be a different person and we are no longer talking about the actual relationship.

For the future, the best clinical research on predicting which relationships will last is done by John Gottman. He focuses on observable aspects of interactions between the couples. He started with identifying which factors separated happy couples from unhappy couples and then went the next step to see if those factors could predict which relationships would survive and finally developed a counseling approach to helping couples with a poor prognosis change to a style associated with successful relationships. The Marriage Clinic is more targeted towards professionals with much more information about his research. He has several other books written for actual couples trying to change their relationship. I haven't read this one but it seems like a more accessible, practical take on his research.
posted by metahawk at 12:17 PM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think you're out of luck because love is an irrational emotional thing, sort of like faith. You can be careful and hold back and possibly lose out on great things or follow your heart and risk great pain. Two perfectly wonderful amazingly sex people could feel zero attraction to each other and not know why. I think love wouldn't be as good if it wasn't so mysterious and random.
posted by meepmeow at 12:21 PM on April 24, 2010

When you say "process for deciding whether to fix or end a relationship", I think of the marriage problem. This is not research-supported, it's a game-theoretical approach to the decision-making process during dating / courtship and addresses the question of "when to settle" without reference to romance.

It seems heartless and objective enough to serve as counterpoint to the sensitive and more-psychologically-oriented advice above.
posted by doteatop at 5:21 PM on April 24, 2010

I agree with meepmeow. Love isn't scientific, and you, and everyone else in the whole world, are special snowflakes. You can read every book there is and memorize it all, and your heart still won't be rational, and neither will your partner's.

Or as someone once said, the heart wants what it wants.
posted by MexicanYenta at 7:19 PM on April 24, 2010

Yeah, much as I would love to have an evidence-based guide to love, it is basically the most subjective process of all.

Also, consider that emotions are basically decision-making shortcuts honed by eons of evolution. They are your best guide to mate choice, consequently. While they are clearly imperfect, if you ignore them, it's as bad as following them blindly.

Btw, the Gottman research has been pretty intensely debunked here.
posted by Maias at 7:35 PM on April 24, 2010

I can't recommend any books or research, but I wanted to say that I'm sorry you're going through this. I was in a similar situation several years ago, and what helped me was writing about the relationship--what I liked, warning signs I should have paid attention to, things I did wrong and could have changed. I didn't follow any particular exercise, I just wrote in a notebook or on the computer, free-form. The outcome was that a) I got a clear picture of what had really transpired in our relationship; b) I learned what I want and will not tolerate in my future relationships; and c) one day I realized that I didn't want to think about that relationship anymore and I was ready to move on.

I hope you find something that brings you peace. Good luck.
posted by janekate at 8:20 PM on April 24, 2010

Thanks for the recommendations and support!

After more talking with the ex I understand her better...she clarified that "break up because I don't love you" meant something more like "take some time to figure out why I don't feel as strongly as I did when we were first dating, and definitely don't get married yet". No duh. I've been reading I love you but I'm not in love with you, which I think helped me get to this understanding (I think our issues were due to not arguing enough and so becoming too much the same for any excitement, and not spending enough time together due to living apart, but I'm still figuring this out for myself). Your recommendations should help me decide whether our relationship, which now seems fixable (because we're still talking, aren't seeing anyone else, and think highly of each other), is worth fixing (she doubts her emotions; i doubt her emotional maturity).
posted by sninctown at 10:12 PM on April 24, 2010

Please forgive me if this might be a derail from the question, but I was struck by the end of your last sentence: she doubts her emotions; i doubt her emotional maturity

Here we see that there is at least one area where you don't respect her; it happens to be a fairly enormous area.

You say you couldn't accept that your ex could not find a "less terminal" way to tell you she wasn't in love with you anymore.

I have the inkling that she did it that way of out thinking that if she had tried to tell you what she was thinking and feeling all along, you wouldn't be listening, respecting what she had to say, and trying to understand. You would be debating what she said into the ground and trying to prove that she was wrong (and immature).

This entire question seems to be (as you seem to acknowledge) to gather more evidence to prove to her that she is wrong, the move evidence based the better so that she will be even less able to argue against it.

Also when you say this:

My bias is that people are reluctant to understand what causes their feelings, and miss out on opportunities to be happier that way.

I envision you "explaining" to her what causes her feelings and what would make her happy. As opposed to what she, in her emotionally immature judgment, thinks would make her happy.

The point of this is --- if you want her back --- maybe all this is what has to change.

I sincerely apologize if you do not find this useful.
posted by Ashley801 at 10:46 PM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree I should listen better. But I'm not the overbearing guy I sounded like.

I think I wrote that last bit because I was angry that she says she currently doesn't feel in love. On re-reading, it's mean and inaccurate. I have concerns, but not that.

To clarify, I want to get understanding and do what's best, not berate people. I guess I asked about evidence-based sources because that's my preference, especially for areas of wildly differing opinion like this. This entire question is empathetically not to cherry-pick sources to "prove" she is "wrong"; it's to understand what I did wrong, which requires at least a theory of why she came to feel what she feels. Actually, I admire her courage in breaking up, and agree our relationship had serious problems that I contributed to. I did tell her some of what I was thinking, but only as an idea and only because it matched my experience. Thanks.
posted by sninctown at 12:28 AM on April 25, 2010

There is something spookily clinical in the way you are thinking about this. You may doubt her "emotional maturity," but the absence of a sense of her as a real person and not just someone you interact with on your terms is a red flag here. You can't reduce love to an algorithm, as everyone says above. You can't force it to happen, or get it back when it's gone following some logical argument. You're supposed to be in pain right now, so experience it.

A lot of people are reading the flat, clinical tone here as a stage of devastation, a kind of numbness. But Ashley801 sort of nailed something. If you're like this anyway, you're going to have a hard time sustaining relationships with women. In other words, what you did "wrong" may be something about who you *are.* Therapy is the evidence-based approach to dealing with that.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:28 AM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

She's a real person with her own life, thank you very much! But yes, I guess I do sound spookily clinical here. I'm much less like this when not writing, and when not dealing with heavy problems. Allowing myself to feel more strongly and trust my feelings more might be good, and therapy might help me get at why I'm like this and work through it. I don't think I have a hard time sustaining relationships...sure, I could be better, but I've had some friends for a really long time. And yes, I would like to be better at sustaining relationships with women...all of my close friends (except my ex) are guys. But I don't think there's anything wrong with where I'm at now.

I'm generally happy with who am, and I'm not sure what you mean by "like this"...I'm usually described as unusually patient, and seeking additional information when I'm confused about something has worked well for me in the past.
posted by sninctown at 1:03 PM on April 25, 2010

Sorry to threadsit and be crazy. Thanks for listening.
posted by sninctown at 5:21 PM on November 26, 2010

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