No matter how successful you are professionally, or how much money you make, it can be difficult to go through life alone. If you find yourself going through breakups, or even losing friends, you may wonder why you can’t maintain a relationship. The good news is that anyone can improve their relationship skills. It is just a matter of recognizing where you fall short, and committing to do better.
Conflicting Values Can Make It Hard to Maintain a Relationship
It is important to recognize that some people simply will not be able to maintain a relationship together. This has less to do with either person’s skill or personality. Instead, their core values may simply be at odds. Some differences may be apparent from the start – for example, you may be members of different religions. Others may not become apparent until far later.
For example, if one spouse has a core value of frugality (spending money only when necessary) while the other values new experiences or comfort, those core values may be at odds. Notice that neither value is morally right or wrong. This isn’t about you being a good person. It is about compatibility of values. That isn’t to say you can’t maintain a relationship with someone with a different religion or priorities, but it will take a careful balance of both spouses’ values to make it work.
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Childhood Experiences Can Shape How You Engage in Relationships
It is helpful to recognize that the way you engage in relationships isn’t “your fault.” Often, the patterns you see in failed relationships, and the complaints your partners have against you, can be the result of behaviors learned in childhood.
There is no instruction manual for parenting. Your parents likely made mistakes along the way. That doesn’t mean there was necessarily something traumatic in your upbringing. It may just have been your parents’ habits shaping how you were treated:
- An overworked parent may not spend much time helping their children, causing them to be self-sufficient and not ask for help
- A narcissistic parent may work to maintain their own authority, overwhelming their child and causing them to retreat from relationships
- A loud, angry, or abrasive parent may teach children not to communicate their complaints, but instead allow resentment to build over time
There are many ways that children unconsciously adapt to the dysfunctional family dynamics in which they were raised. Working with an experienced psychotherapist can help you identify the patterns in how you engage in relationships and unpack their causes. Then you can work to establish new habits that will make it easier to maintain relationships as an adult.
Poor Communication Skills Can Create Barriers to Maintaining Your Relationships
Often, when you find it difficult to maintain relationships it is because you are not skilled with communication. This can take many forms and cause many problems in relationships. If you are unable to clearly communicate your wishes and listen to your partner’s needs, it can easily lead to tension, conflict, and ultimately breakups. Poor communication skills can make it difficult to:
- Express what you need to feel fulfilled in a relationship
- Listen to your partner’s needs without getting upset or defensive
- Say ‘no’ when your partner requests things you don’t want
- Establish and maintain boundaries
- Discuss and resolve differences and challenges
However, communication skills can be developed with time, practice, and a commitment to openness with one another. A psychotherapist can help you develop strategies to listen better, express yourself more clearly, and better manage the emotions that come up in the process.
You Don’t Know What You Want from Your Relationships
Ultimately, if it feels like you can’t maintain relationships and every partnership you have is failing, it may be because you are looking for the wrong things. That is not to say you are wrong in what you value in the other person, but instead, that you are not aware of what is most important to you in a partner.
Different people maintain intimate relationships differently. For example, you may want to involve your partner in everything you do, or you may prefer to maintain hobbies and friends apart from your mate. Both are valid, though if taken to extremes can cause problems in maintaining relationships. However, if you are more the former, but you keep looking for partners who are the latter, it will cause trouble in your relationship. If you feel like you can’t maintain relationships, you may need to evaluate what you want from them, and clearly communicate those desires and boundaries. A psychotherapist can help you identify what you want from your relationships, and develop strategies and coping mechanisms to keep them.