Sometimes men stay with women they don’t love – and sometimes men leave women they do.
A breakup is never just a breakup: just like every relationship is different, every breakup is different, too. Some are clean and quick, while others are messy and drawn-out. Sometimes it’s obvious why a relationship needed to end, and other times one or both people are left feeling confused, with lingering doubts about whether or not they could have saved their relationship.
We tend to chalk all breakups up to the same handful of things: incompatibility, bad timing, and ultimately, two people who no longer love each other. Relationships end, right? Prevailing wisdom says it’s all for the best, and that people ought to move on. Better luck next time.
But the truth is a lot more complicated than that. Think about it: how many couples do you know who are a terrible match, yet who are still together? Couples can be truly miserable together – they can never have sex, they can barely speak, they can resent each other, they can have nothing in common – and still never break up. Often this happens for economic reasons (they either can’t afford to split up, or they have so many assets that dividing them feels overwhelming and impossible), or because they think they should stay together for the sake of their children, or just because they’re scared of ending up alone.
When it comes down to who stays together and who doesn’t, love doesn’t always enter into the equation. Seeing couples who don’t love each other, but who stay together anyway, makes me sad. But the even sadder thing might be when someone walks away from a relationship with someone they still love.
If you’ve ever been left by a guy who you knew beyond a doubt still really loved you, you might still be wondering why he broke things off. These kinds of breakups can be the hardest to get over. It doesn’t make sense, you’re probably telling yourself. But just like there are men who stay in loveless relationships, seemingly content to remain in a state of inertia forever, there will always be men who throw away relationships with women they truly love. The question is, why?
He doesn’t feel appreciated
Everyone likes to feel that they’re valued. But for men, this is even more important. It’s all tied up with their need to achieve. Just like men want to do well at work, often causing them to put their career ahead of their personal life, they want to do well in their relationships, as well. They want to protect and care for their partners, please them sexually, and make them happy in general. If they feel like they’re not doing this, they’ll often opt to end the relationship, rather than sticking around and working on things.
So, are women supposed to go to great lengths to make sure our partners know that we appreciate them? Should we fall all over ourselves, thanking them for every little thing they do and making them feel like sexual supermen? No – but we could go easy on criticizing, nagging, and complaining, and pay more attention to the things our partners do right for us.
My yoga teacher likes to tell the story of the two wolves that live inside us: the one that represents anger, fear, and jealousy, and the one that represents kindness, joy, and love. Whichever one we feed is the one that gets stronger. In other words: what we focus on, we get more of. No one is perfect. But if you want your relationship to last, don’t harp on those imperfections. Make sure your partner knows how much you appreciate him.
He feels bad about himself
Sometimes, no matter how much you try to show your love and appreciation for your man, he feels so bad about himself that no amount of positive reinforcement can overcome his low self-esteem. It’s impossible to overstate how much a man’s state of mind and self-image affects his relationships; a guy who feels like he’s not a good provider, not a good partner, not good in bed, or just not good enough for you is likely to walk away from your relationship. It doesn’t matter how much he loves you, or how much you love him – in fact, you loving him might even make it worse, because he doesn’t feel worthy of your love.
If you’ve had a relationship end because your partner lost his job, went through a bout of depression, or started feeling shitty about himself for some other reason, there’s not much you can do about it. Just know that it’s not your fault, and that all you can do is move on and hope he gets the help he needs. Yeah, it sucks to watch someone you love, and who loves you, walk away from you because he doesn’t think he deserves you. But if he can’t see past his own misery to appreciate what he has and work through his problems, maybe he’s right: he doesn’t deserve you. When men leave, sometimes they’re doing you a favor.
He’s overwhelmed by negativity
Psychologist John Gottman, author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, says that for every negative interaction a couple has, they need to have five positive interactions to balance it out. Five to one: that’s a lot of make-up sex. That’s because we’re wired to give more weight to negative situations, which our primitive brains perceive as threatening, than to positive ones, which are nice, but which don’t make much of an impression on our neural pathways.
If you’re caught up in a conflict with your partner, it can be easy to rack up negative interactions and get caught in a positivity deficit that feels impossible to balance out. Both of you end up feeling attacked, criticized, misunderstood, and eventually, hopeless about fixing the relationship. But men are particularly susceptible to this: they become “flooded” – the term Gottman uses to describe the fight-or-flight reaction that men experience when they’re overwhelmed by conflict. Their hearts race, their palms sweat, and adrenaline courses through their systems, leaving them unable to have a productive conversation, let alone feel any empathy for you. They feel like they’re fighting for their lives.
No matter how much he loves you, a man who’s being flooded by negativity is likely to shut down and run away. So the key is to recognize when you’re heading down this path, and start getting those positive interactions in before it’s too late. Keep in mind that a positive interaction doesn’t have to take a lot of effort. We’re not talking about beach vacations, or even date nights. It can be as simple as giving his hand a little squeeze and smiling at him in a way that lets him know you’re on his side, or picking up a silly little gift you know will make him laugh when he’s had a long day at work.
In the end, love may not be enough to save a relationship. But if your partner doesn’t know enough to realize that all relationships suck sometimes, and it’s worth it to ride out the hard times, you might be better off without him, anyway.
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Comment: Have you ever had a guy break up with you, when you knew he still really loved you?
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