Why do relationships end?

Coutesy Nick Fewing

A Scenario

It is just before Christmas. You come home and your partner of ten years is waiting.

“I have something to tell you”.

You know that voice. You are not going to like this.

“I’m leaving”.

“Don’t you love me anymore?”

“Well…I like you.”

Why? Why are you leaving”. A stupid question.

The answer you get will not be the answer. It will be an excuse.

As the door closes on her, a door in your heart slams shut.

For two years, your partner has been “different”. No sex.

“No, it’s not you. I am not interested in anyone else. I just have no sex drive.”

“Yes, I still love you”.

“Yes, want to be with you”.

You tried to talk. But your partner spent less and less time with you, even on weekends. Conversation was limited. Sharing even more so. There were complaints, little insults, provocations You tried hard to show love and trust and caring. You read all the articles on the Internet. Tried everything.

Maybe it worked, a little, for a while. But you were just putting off the inevitable. Later, your partner would tell you that you should have known their “confusion”.

It wouldn’t have mattered if you were a mind-reader. She would have left anyway. . I say “she” because 70% of breakups are initiated by women. Not that gender makes any difference. If it is a man — the scenario will be similar.

Your partner will take a couple of days to move their things. First, they will take just the things they need immediately — makeup, toiletries, underwear, clothes. The operation goes in a couple of stages, to save money because your partner doesn’t want to waste money on a failed relationship. She will leave few things they don’t want so you have to use them or dump them and say she is “giving” them to you out of generosity. . Throughout, conversation will be limited. She will avoid eye contact. “What are you looking at? Don’t talk to me?”

The final stage will require a professional mover.

When she leaves, she will not bother to clean. She just wants “out”!

Now this scenario is hypothetical. It’s fiction. It’s not my experience. If it seems to resembles yours that’s because it’s a composite of case studies and stories, each of which is different involving people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations, married and unmarried, some with children, some with none.

If you have children and own property, the male will have to leave! There will be an effort to pretend to the kids that you are still “friends”. Except you know your partner just wants you to fuck off and die. Say hello to lawyers. You may lie but the kids will know what you really feel. As often as not, they may take sides.

It’s nasty business.

Yet, no matter how different the situation, there are common elements:

Sex disappears prior to the breakup.

While one partner loses interest, the other does not.

The other recognizes estrangement and tries harder to win love.

The disaffected party is ambivalent and tries to provoke the other.

Ambivalence leads to passive aggressive behavior, especially in women but also in men although it may take a different form than the one described.

Where does this ambivalence come from you?

She: When we first met I loved you so much.

He: What went wrong?

She: I realized that we have no future with you.

Notice the logic. First is a claim to “love”, even though it was likely just hot sex. Then comes, “you have no future”. In the case of women, that normally means I want someone who earns more than you and has social status. In the case of men, it means a younger, sexier woman. And there are many other variations.

Women do not leave for love; generally, they “trade up”.

Men, oddly enough, usually leave seeking love — not that they really know what that is in most cases, confusing it with sex.

Women are often pragmatists; men usually the romantics. In either case, the ambivalence people feel is because they thought they really did love their partner in the beginning . In the case of men, that feeling is driven by animal lust or the challenge of winning a “hot” woman, the human equivalent of a BMW. In the case of men, they lust figures into the equation too — but they have been taught that lust is not permissible without “love”. Competition enters the equation too, if the man looks like a “catch” or is popular with other women.

Your partner will not know what they really feel because what they are emotionally compromised.

As you negotiate the breakup —which you must do, no matter what — you will find that he/she has been lying over the years, if only by omission. That complicates things because no matter what they say, it will be misleading, and you can never be sure why they really left. You probably tried to talk to your partner, to find out what was wrong, as estrangement became more obvious. You will be blamed for accepting what they said as truth.

“He should have known what was I thinking no matter what I said”.

Your partner lies. But not just to you. To everyone. And to themselves. Yet, they think they are honest. It is other’s fault that they are not mind-readers.

A man who lies to himself, and believes his own lies, becomes unable to recognize truth, either in himself or in anyone else, and he ends up losing respect for himself and for others. When he has no respect for anyone, he can no longer love, and in him, he yields to his impulses, indulges in the lowest form of pleasure, and behaves in the end like an animal in satisfying his vices. And it all comes from lying — to others and to yourself.”

Doesteovsky. The Brothers Karamazov.

The inability to be honest to one’s self, results in a kind of pernicious but socially acceptable self-indulgence, a kind of marginal, situational sociopathy. There is no room for empathy. Or altruism. Or love.

Yet in our society, everyone talks about “love” and how to get it. Perhaps it is so precious because it is so rare.

Most relationships are about sex and mutual convenience, not sharing or caring. Women are always complaining about men who do not “commit” or “communicate”. Men tangentially complain about women’s obsession with appearances, status, and their use of sex in manipulating relationships. Books like “The Game” are popular, especially with frustrated lonely men who realize that society has constructed an amatory game, with different rules for men and women. To “win” you must lie.

I take you to be my partner to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part,

You can forget the “till death us do part” thing. That’s 50–50.

Monogamy does not exist as a social fact. The numbers are not encouraging.

When you fall in love you have a less than 10% chance of making it to even cohabitation much less marriage.

If you marry in the United States, the probability of divorce is as high as 50% so a “rebound marriage’ can easily result in divorce.

Common-law marriages in the US now comprise about 20% of unions, and as much as 50% in some countries, have the same rate of breakup — –50 %. However, divorces occur on the average 7.2 years after marriage. Common-law breakups, occur on average about 4 years after the beginning of cohabitation. “Boyfriend / girlfriend relationships last anywhere from a few weeks to about a year.

An “average” person may have married twice but have had as many as four partners with whom they lived for longer than a year. That person will have had at least seven partners of various kinds through their lifetime, usually more.


Modern “civilizations” are artificial rather than natural and pit “nurture” against “nature” when one should be the extension of the other. We are taught to lie to ourselves.

Yet nature and nurture need not be enemies.

For 30 thousand years, we lived happy and abundant lives as hunter gatherers, not everyone of course, but most people, if they survived to sexual maturity. Our communities were small — rarely more than 50 people peacefully sharing large territories with other such groups.

Warfare was rare. There was always enough food to go around.. And separate bands would need to get along to cooperate for killing large animals, or simply for partying. These were reverse dominance consensus societies .

In prehistoric small group societies, men and women bonded, but not on the basis of sex so much as for mutual understanding and sharing. Women chose their sexual partners as they liked, and not necessarily within the band itself; rather in other bands with whom their group had cooperative relationships. Evolution had give us an instinctual antipathy to sex with people too close in DNA, although the exact mechanisms of this are not well understood.

We evolved as the most cooperative and childlike of species, maintaining juvenile characteristics as long as we lived. With estrus hidden in women, reproductive sex was the result of sudden but invisible surge of hormones driving women to seek the best DNA. The rest of the time sex was for play and pleasure and bonding as with our closest relatives, bonobos. With female promiscuity, paternity was difficult to ascertain, and many groups assumed multiple paternity. You might have five dads, the last five guys Mom had sex with.

Women did not necessarily choose sexual partners just within the band itself; since their band often shared territory with other bands close by, cooperating for hunting — and partying.

Marriages and families did not resemble those of today, keeping in mind that the “nuclear family” was an invention of 19th century industrialism. For one thing, women supplied up to 70% of the food. They didn’t need as man to “bring home the bacon”.

With this degree of independence, women could space their children, further apart than in “civilizations” , approximately one very six years, often with different genetic fathers, for better DNA diversity.

That was the Pleistocene. Then the climate changed, the Great Extinction occurred; times were tough.

To survive, many human beings adapted by moving to the resource-rich mouths of rivers forming sedentary tribal communities in restricted areas, at first 50, then 100, then 150 and on and on. Hunting and gathering in such restricted territory could not sustain larger populations so we invented agriculture and animal husbandry.

Since human beings had evolved to bond with fewer than 30 people as core social units up to a maximum of about 150, societies larger than this were multi-group, multi-level societies with institutions to manage competition within the group. “Property” was one of those institutions — dividing up territory — with “families” or “clans” holding that property, according to bloodlines.

The natural promiscuity and sexuality of women militated against patrilineal systems so women had to be controlled. Women became chattel, forced to give birth as often as physically possible. Their natural urges had to be channeled towards reproduction only — which required often extreme forms of sexual inhibition such as genital mutilation.

While resources in the Pleistocene had been abundant, in the Holocene they were scarce — they were restricted to a limited area, with many more people.

The result was the invention of agriculture, animal husbandry, and hierarchical societies, defined by property and power. Paternity and bloodlines became important in organizing these multilevel “hive” societies with women now chattel, where once they had been equal in prehistoric, “reverse dominance” societies. Slavery began with the subjugation of women.

Nature had brought the sexes together so they could share and care in all ways at all levels, quite unlike most other species. Now, ‘nurture” separated the sexes and “nature” was redefined. One result was what I call “genderism”, which supposes that men and women are “other” to each other. Are men from Mars and women from Venus? No, both worlds are inhospitable to life. Rather, we are from different universes.

Even today, girls and boys are brought up very differently, as different species.

How can you love someone you don’t understand? And how can you love at all if you do not understand yourself, if that “self” does not belong to you, but was lent to your by society, with rents due in the form of services and conformity?

Women are still desexualized and, in some sense, dehumanized since they see themselves as female first and human second. Men are a little better off since their sexuality is to some extent socially validated, as is their personhood. They too, however, must pay their dues to society, at the expense of personal authenticity. They, too, are dehumanized.

In prehistoric small group societies,while men and women bonded casually , on the basis of sex of course as a basic play activity and source of pleasure, really close bonds developed only over time as the result of mutual understanding and sharing.

Prehistoric societies were reverse dominance societies. Men and women, adults and children were far more equal than today.

Our modern societies by contrast are hierarchical and prioritize social status, therefore dominance, which presupposes inequality, violence, and diversions and perversions of nature to create artificial social structures.

Steven Pinker insists we are like Hobbseian chimpanzees — aggressive — seeking status in our tribe, and violent. In a sense, he is correct. But that is not the mandate of nature , as he suggests— but rather of nurture, of living in large, multilevel hive cultures for last 7000 years. Our nature is different. Chimpanzee and bonobo babies gravitate to the most dominant member of their groups; human beings, to the nicest. We have to un-learn that natural impulse.

Pinker also thinks we are evolving biologically to be more pacific and “civilized”. Again, he is correct —just not in the sense that he thinks he is. What see now is social evolution as our dog eat dog, neoliberal civilization collapses. To survive, we are going to have to cooperate.

Genderism is a social construct, along with racism, species-ism, ageism, sexism and all the other isms.

To return to our them….

So your partner left you. . But what did you learn? Hopefully you learned that the “Game” exists — just not as Neill Strauss would have it.

Society is a system of games. You have to know the rules, and strategy, and how to fake it. Yet, you must be able to look beyond the game and know yourself and the hearts of others.

Want to have a successful relationship? It isn’t about sex.

Sex is fun. But not love. Or else I would marry my hand, and count Pornhub as my lover.

And “falling in love”?

The core of your relationship is loyalty, honesty and sharing and caring. It is lies and a lack of self-honesty that kills relationships. Love has two aspects: one is empathy; the other is altruism, which implies sacrifice, or at least giving of yourself.

I counsel people in breakup situations from time to time, as well as people trying to make a relationship work. My advice varies according to the person and the situation. My rate of success is higher than that of therapists as a whole — which is in fact very low .

My first question is almost always: “What do you want?”.

Amazingly, a lot of people don’t really know. Or they want something they can never have. So, they fail and think there is something “wrong” with them.

No, you don’t have to “change” yourself. Rather, you need to be more of what you really are — at the core — beyond the narcissism, the fear, the failures of Mommy and Daddy, the roles that society has assigned you. Rather than “change”, the issue is goals. Figuring out what you want and how to get it. Achieving goals is often easier than you think. And you cannot make someone love you.

More on this, in another article



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Julian Macfarlane

Journalist media analyst, author. Publishes on evolution, psychology, anthropology, zoology, music, art, neurology., geopolitics,.