Why Relationships Fail (And How You Can Save Yours)

by Ken Blackman  Oct 10, 2013

What does it take for a relationship to be sustainable? We all have an idea of the necessary components. Yet even promising relationships either explode or fade into apathy more often than we expect. The roadmap we’re using seems to be missing something. “Spherical relating” refers to leaving the map in order to pick up the fulfillment and passion relationships need to thrive and grow. Let's start by looking at the conventional roadmap; in Part 2 we'll talk about what Spherical Relating means, how to do it and what it gets you.

Part 1: The Conventional Roadmap for Relationships

Traditional uses of relationship:


We seek a partner both to give us pleasure and to share pleasurable experiences with. Lover, travel and entertainment companion, someone to spend lavishly on (or someone to spend lavishly on us). We treat relationships as part of our reward for of the struggle of life, the dessert at the end of the meal. The function of relationship is similar to vacation.


We may use relationship to make up for some void or problem we see within ourselves. Companionship to avoid loneliness; adoration to stand in for a self-love we lack; an earner who will work and produce on our behalf; someone who "completes" us in ways we don't feel whole; a pre-arranged “always there” promise for those days we think no one would willingly choose us. These are some of the compensatory motives we have for relationship.

Traditional compass points of relationship: Freedom vs. Securitydummy-image

Soon after the attraction stage, relationships enter a kind of negotiation phase in which rules of conduct are worked out. These usually revolve around balancing freedoms against security.

What I put in vs. what I get back

We keep an internal balance sheet of what we're putting into the relationship vs. what we're getting out of it. Our accounting may include fairness, how much effort is "worth it", whether the relationship is a good investment for the future, etc. As we learn how our partner responds, we gradually develop an elaborate, delicate exchange system. Traditional destinations:

The field of Positive Psychology gives us insight into why so few relationships succeed, let alone thrive or expand: Pleasure has diminishing returns as a path to happiness. So even if we succeeded in building the ideal relationship according to our specifications—even if we got every detail right—it would likely end up passionless, unfulfilling and pointless.

If this were all that relationships were capable of providing—pleasure, security, freedom, compensation, commerce—they would never hold much importance in our lives.

In order to have a sustainable relationship, we're going to have to leave the horizontal plane of the relationship map.


Read Spherical Relating, Part 2