Why The 'Failed Relationship' Is A Myth (According To A Love Biologist)

Photo: VegterFoto

I don’t believe relationships fail. Research into the science of love clearly shows that love is about growth. However, over time you can stagnate, so the ending of a relationship presents an opportunity for the renewal of your personal development.

When two people fall in love, their brains release nerve growth factors and brain-derived growth factors. These increase connectivity and neuroplasticity and cause new connections, which are associated with growth and learning.

The first couple of years of a relationship are about learning new things about your partner and yourself. You’re often attracted to people whose characteristics are the opposite of yours. For example, a shy person might be subconsciously attracted to someone who is more outgoing because they admire those qualities and would like to foster them in themselves.

Some researchers, such as Dr. Arthur Aron, believe the purpose of relationships is for each individual’s personal growth. So it should not be surprising to find that as two people grow as individuals, some may grow apart. Each may develop new interests or priorities, or they can slip back into a more comfortable position where they don’t have to grow.

The end of a relationship shouldn't be something to mourn—at least not exclusively.

It's a time to take inventory—to look at yourself and explore what happened. If you could start over, do the whole relationship over, would you do anything differently? If so, what? The ending of a relationship gives you an opportunity to decide what you liked and what you didn’t like—about the other person, about yourself in the relationship, and about all the other particulars of the relationship itself. If you see the end of every relationship as an opportunity to learn, you will continually choose partners that are better suited to your wants and needs—refining your ideas of what works for you and what doesn't as you go.

The only way a relationship can truly fail is if you see the end of it as entirely the fault—entirely the responsibility—of the other party. When you look at the other person as the "problem," you can’t see the areas in your own character that could be improved. During a relationship, placing blame is unproductive. Once it ends, that remains true.

Once the damage is done and you've spent time grieving the loss of the relationship, you need to sit down and ask yourself, "Now what? Was I the person I wanted to be in the relationship? And, more importantly, who do I want to be now?" The ability to objectively assess your shortcomings and mistakes (along with your assets) is crucial to continual personal growth; and continual personal growth is crucial to a sustainable, satisfying relationship.

Life is about growth. Relationships are one of our richest resources for mining that growth. Reflecting on who you are and who you want to be helps you prepare to be the kind of partner you'd want someone to be to you, when the right person comes along. Continuing your commitment to personal growth during a relationship helps you avoid enmeshment, or losing yourself in the relationship. If you lose your identity in a relationship, the relationship is doomed. And when relationships end, the natural tendency is to focus on what went wrong.

If you blame your partner and take no responsibility, you lose the opportunity to become a better person and a better partner. If you blame, chastise, and punish yourself, you are telling yourself that you don't deserve to be loved, and loved well. But, again, if you hold firm to your commitment to see the lesson in every experience—if you can honor your investment in the relationship but recognize your own failings within it—the end of a relationship can teach you more about yourself than almost anything else. It can be a time of renewal—a time to take inventory, to decide what you liked and didn’t like, and to make changes to yourself. Then if you wish, you can choose again. And this time, you'll choose better.

Want more insight into your relationships? Find out the two types of passion (and which one is good for your sex life), then learn what the number of sexual partners you've had actually says about you.

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