Why relationships fail is a common question that many sources tried answer.
And while the reasons are often many, there seem to be a common scenario that recurs over and over. And that’s that before the break up negativity engulfs the relationship.
And that negativity takes over via vicious circles.
- Before Vicious Circles Begin
- Vicious Circle of Emotional Withdrawal
- Vicious Circle of Combativeness
- Vicious Circle Example
- How to Fix Vicious Circles
- What If You Can’t Give
Before Vicious Circles Begin
At the beginning of all healthy relationship there’s a non written agreement and a sense that both party will make a one hundred percent effort to contribute their half. And they expect their partners to do the same.
Basically, this is the tacit agreement:
We each do our best to give it our all
However, this is the tacit corollary to that agreement:
But if you stop doing your best, and if you hurt me or disappoint me, then I might stop doing my best. And I’ll try to hurt you back
This second corollary is what allows vicious circles to destroy so many relationships.
Vicious Circle of Emotional Withdrawal
Emotional vicious circle happens when the partners stop supporting each other.
It can start in different ways and at different times in the relationship. It can start with a sexual rejection in bed, or it can start with criticism and a big argument on a day we’re particularly sensitive.
That day when our partner’s actions are just that little bit more painful, than we will unconsciously vow that we will make them pay for it.
And we will hurt them by either pulling back or attacking them later on to even the score.
And guess what often happens from then on? A vicious circle start.
And when the mutual emotional shutdown starts, each partner feels too hurt and too “in debt” to even think they need to give to make the relationship whole again.
Mira Kirshenbaum, author of Too Good to Leave Too Bad to Stay, says that she has never seen a relationship in trouble where mutual shutdown wasn’t working its black magic.
Vicious Circle of Combativeness
The other reason why relationship fails is when negativity takes hold with arguments and fight.
Arguments start becoming more and more common, and the good times start becoming less and less.
When the vicious circle of combativeness reaches its apex, the couple avoid each other. And every time they meet, their walls are up because they cannot see anything good coming from their partner.
That’s effectively the point when the couple behaves more like enemies than supportive partners.
This is also the case that Gottman discusses in his many books on relationships. The vicious circle of negativity does include indeed the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Such as, criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.
Note: Notice indeed that it’s not just about fights and arguments. Arguments are fine.. As long as couples can go back to being supportive soon afterwards instead of getting bitter. And as long as the positive times outweigh the negative ones.
Vicious Circle Example
And this is an example of the end stages of a vicious circle. You can see what’s it’s the N.1 reasons why relationships fail: there’s no good left. Only spite and poison.
And they got there little by little, slipping on the slippery slope of vicious circles.
I have also done an article on combative relationships, which is another advanced stage of negativity.
How to Fix Vicious Circles
Hitting back when we are hurt is a mutual reflex, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you ended up in a vicious circle.
Follow instead the exercises below to fix your relationship.
1. Be Proactive
Prevention is the best cure against the N.1 reason why relationships fail. How do you do that? Every time you see your partner pull back, every time you see your partner holding a grudge, don’t do the same.
But force yourself to give.
2. Start Well
A great predictor of how things develop, as Gotman found out, is how they start. Make sure you start your interactions positively then.
Greet him with a smile and a huge when he comes back at home.
3. List of Appreciation
Write down a list of what you love about your partner and read it to each other.
4. List of What We Want to Hear
This exercise might sound a bit weird and it’s not would I would personally go for, but Harville Hendrix, author of Getting the Love You Want recommends it.
Your partner writes a list of what they want to be appreciated for. Then you read it and tell them every occasion you can remember when they showed those qualities.
5. Focus on Positives
Focus on the positives. Think back of when things worked and focus on those time instead that on the last fight.
This is especially important for avoidant attachment styles who tend to dwell on the negatives.
6. Start Positive Circles
People tend to react more more quickly and more strongly to negatives than to positives. For example if your partner does something nice for you, you might think “wow that’s nice,” but you don’t do or say anything.
And that’s exactly what you’ll need to fix. Reward positive behavior as soon as you see one. As a matter of fact, look and hunt for positive behavior which you can praise!
That will help you starting positive circles.
7. Stubborn Giving
This is my definition for single-handedly breaking down the negativity spiral. It means that one partner, all by himself, will give and give even in the face of a hostile partner.
Do it for a month and chance are high, very high, that your partner will also start contributing. Stubborn giving is powerful stuff.
In a nutshell, you will recognize that each single exercise is about going back to positivity.
Indeed, the big secret is making it a habit to be good to each other. Gottman says that successful relationships have a balance of 5 positive moments to 1 negative. Securing a 5 to 1 ratio will prevent vicious circle and give you a solid, healthy relationship.
What If You Can’t Give
If you’re in a situation where you simply cannot even imagine of being nice and giving to your partner, than I see only solution for you: your partner has to do it for you.
If neither is willing, than vicious circles, the N.1 reason why relationship fail, has destroyed your relationship to.
It might be the time to break up and take your lesson learned for the future.
If you’re still ambivalent at this stage, take also a look at this article on when it’s time to break up.
The Last Hope
Before giving up, I would suggest you to force yourself into stubborn giving. Every single person in a relationship with much negativity will answer that “no, they can’t start giving”.
And they won’t.
And that’s also why most people don’t do much in life at all. They are weak in emotional intelligence and can’t see beyond their immediate fears and basest feelings.
They would rather not try then risk their ego getting hurt.
I would encourage you to be brave instead and go for it. Give stubbornly for a month. It will be hard. And if it won’t work, you can tell yourself you’ve done your best.
And much respect to you for trying.
And if works… What a win!
You just single-handedly prevent the N.1 cause of relationship failure to ravage your life.
The N.1 reason why relationship ends is too much negativity.
There are too types of negative vicious circles:
- Emotional withdrawal (there’s no emotional bond anymore)
- Combativeness spiral (arguments are the only way you communicate)
Things can start off seemingly innocently, but little by little negativity builds upon itself in a vicious circle until it squeezes out all the good in you and all is left is bitterness and anger.
You fix it by focusing on the positive, giving without keeping score and breaking the negative circle with “stubborn giving”.