Why Relationships Don’t Work. ~ Kristin Luce

Via Kristin Luce
on Sep 25, 2013
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After a quarter century of personal, scholastic and professional experience with relationships, I have finally discovered why none of them work—neither for me, nor for anyone with whom I have encountered.

To illustrate the point, let me tell you about my most successful relationship to date. It lasted for 36 hours.

We met at a party of mutual friends, and quickly fell into a “Bubble of Wow,” together. It encapsulated us in a solitary and intense kind of intimacy for a while—even in the midst of the fray and party-goers—until we finally found a quieter space.

We then spent most of the next day and a half together. It was one of those, “where have you been all my life” kind of things.

When we parted on an early morning a day and a half later—after lots more “Wow”—I could feel that something was shifting ever-so-slightly in him, and for the next three days he didn’t call or reach out in any way.

I didn’t either.

I sensed that time was needed for whatever had come up between us. When I finally sent a short text (“I’d love to see you”), he texted back simply that he could not—that he was, in his words, “out of his integrity.” I never saw him again.

So after 25 years of intimacy and working with couples why is this 36-hour, seemingly failed connection, the most successful relationship I have ever encountered?

It’s successful because I didn’t feel blame or outrage that he “ditched me.” I just heard him: he was out of his integrity. I don’t want my friends or loved ones to feel out of their integrity.

Hell, if my kid told me she felt out of her integrity and was changing things in her life to rectify it I would applaud her! I might take her out for sushi to celebrate. (her favorite) Why would I want someone whom I care about to compromise himself?

I want to note that this wasn’t just an intellectual understanding and that is why, for me, it was successful.

Had I tried to talk myself into being happy about it (read: suppressed smoldering rage at being rejected), well, it would hardly have been a success story. The beauty and testament of it was that my actual, visceral, uncontrived response at not seeing him again—a man I liked and wanted very much—was joyful.

When I realized that my desire for him to be happy was stronger than my own personal disappointment, I knew that I had turned a corner.

So let’s take a hard look at why relationships never seem to pan out. I mean, really—have you ever seen a functional relationship? There are some that seem to be functional, or possibly even very good, but we never really get to know Breaking_Up_Phototoo much about them. Then later, we discover the seedy underbelly—often when the couple splits—and are disillusioned all over again.

This one had domestic violence in it. That one has been a sexless marriage for the past 10 years. This one had one partner lying and cheating on the other. That one was more of a business arrangement, waiting patiently until the kids were out of the house. The list goes on and on.

Further, the relationships that seem truly mature are ones that we know almost nothing about: Adaya and Mukti, Barak and Michelle, Katie and Stephen, Will and Jada—never-mind the myriad hollywood couples that are constantly appearing as perfect and happy in the media.

Perhaps they are the exceptions, or perhaps they are just a whole lot better at hiding what isn’t perfect about them. The point is that I have never had a direct experience of what most of us would call a deeply mature, intimate relationship that lasts over time, and no one I have ever met has either.

It seems, quite frankly, that relationships don’t work. And as a long-term researcher, impassioned by the mystery of it, I think I have discovered why.

Relationships are based on the fallacy that I exist, you exist, and that my happiness, connection and fulfillment can be met by something from the outside—that there even is an outside.

That might sound esoteric, but stick with me.

When we look at our experience we can’t actually find a “person,” or even a “self.” In any experience we can find what we call color, the sound of a voice, the experience of a touch, etc. Without a belief in a self, other or time—which are all just thoughts and images in the mind and have no substance—all we have is this moment.

No past, no future, no lover, no “relationship,” and that—to spoil the ending—is the only place where intimacy can reside.

The truth is that we are all living in fantasy-land and we build our relationships on that ground. What it means is that as long as you have an ego your relationships will fail.

So at this point you might be thinking, “OK that’s pretty depressing. I guess I have to become a celibate hermit or else resign myself to having painful, non-functional relationships.”

Herein lies the solution: Recognize that relationships are not primarily based on love, they are based on fear. Once we know this, we can work directly with the fear itself instead of on the other person or “the relationship.” We may discover that relating with another is not about our pleasure or comfort at all (although that’s sometimes a by-product), but about discarding every confusion we are still trapped in.

Byron Katie said, “Egos don’t love, they want something.”

When ego is operating—which let’s face it is pretty much 100% of the time—then no matter how good we try to be, how loving, selfless, kind or noble, we in fact want something.

We might simply want their approval, or we might want financial security, someone to stand by us, to be seen in a particular way, their validation, to avoid responsibility, or a long list of other things.

There is nothing wrong or bad about wanting something from someone. In fact, without the thought that we shouldn’t want something in a relationship, we can simply get honest and admit that we do! We might also notice that our partners do too. So, if you think that your partner is manipulating you to get what they want, it’s probably because they are.

They are not bad, just like we are not bad. They are motivated by fear, just as we are.

So how does fear operate? It motivate us to leave love in order to stay “in control.”

It whispers things in our ears like:

“You’ll be alone.”

“You won’t be able to support yourself.”

“You’ll be homeless.”

“You’ll become dependent.”

“They will manipulate you if you show your love too much.”

“They’ll use it against you later.”

“You need their love and affection.”

“You’ll never be happy again.”

What happens when we believe such thoughts is, ironically, that in the name of love we leave it. We begin to manipulate, withhold, and lie to our partners in order to get what we want or avoid losing something.

Here’s an example:

When I didn’t hear from “Wow-Bubble” Guy I could have pretended that I was no longer interested, told him that he was out of integrity by not talking more directly with me (especially now that I’ve discovered that his being in integrity is a sore spot for him), cajoled him into viewing our connection as an important relationship and insinuated that he was just scared.

I could have threatened to withdraw my appreciation of him or even to see him again—or used any of other the tactics that I have in my past relationships to try to get what I want.

That is not love.

That is reaction based on fear—fear of what will happen and/or what his actions mean about me.

OK, so my encounter was just a day and a half, but what happens when our fearful thoughts prey on a longer term relationship, one in which we have far more invested in? What happens when we watch as our blissful intimacies predictably begin to fail?

Most of us withdraw, manipulate, become fearful, jealous, go into denial, blame ourselves, become controlling or lash out. Meanwhile our partner is doing some version of the same thing. Even though we may be “in relationship” over time we are way out at sea, alone and often in pain.

At some point we face the ugly dilemma of whether it would cause us less pain to leave the relationship or to endure it, even while recognizing that neither of those prongs will bring peace because neither gives us the intimacy, connection, or comfort we seek.

So brace yourselves. Here’s what love looks like.

Love is feeling delight when your partner ditches you. Love is when you can’t find a partner and you enjoy how happy others are to have found one themselves—and all that’s beautiful about sleeping alone. Love is leaving someone you know you shouldn’t be with rather than holding them hostage to your fantasy or needs. Love is when you love and appreciate another who apparently doesn’t appreciate you back, or maybe even notice you.

I sometimes attend a drop-in group mostly to bask in the presence of a beautiful man who’s often there and apparently has no interest in me. I get to see him, adore him, hear his brilliance and witness his huge heart. I

Source: via Jenna on Pinterest
Source: via Jenna on Pinterest

sometimes even get to hug and smell him. Pure love, without requirements or agenda.

Here’s the secret and the power of it: If you want a good relationship then have one. Take it, don’t wait for permission. If you want love then be love and you will never be separated from intimacy and connection again.

What does that look like? It means caring for the other as much as yourself, especially when he or she doesn’t do what you want. It means deeply respecting what they want for themselves, which may or may not mean being near you. It means that if they say “don’t call me,” then don’t, and keep your heart wide open. It means if they say, “I need you,” and it’s not right for you, you say “no,” and keep your heart wide open.

So, I know what some of you are thinking: “If I let go of trying to get what I want in relationship then I will never have it.” But why would unilaterally staying open to someone—loving them and setting them totally free from your own expectations and judgments—make a positive, functional or long term relationship any less likely?

I think it would make it a lot more likely actually, and in the meantime how much fun is it to adore everyone like your own, sweet lover, whether they know it or not?

I will leave you with a quote. It will be a blessing to you every time your relationships fail—as they predictably will—while you quietly become love itself:

“You are your only hope, because we’re not changing until you do. Our job is to keep coming at you, as hard as we can, with everything that angers, upsets, or repulses you, until you understand. We love you that much, whether we’re aware of it or not. The whole world is about you.” ~ Byron Katie


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Ed: Dana Gornall


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About Kristin Luce

Kristin Luce is slowly going sane by using her actual life and relationships to wake up. Her quest for truth has led her through a B.A. in Philosophy, an M.A. in Buddhist Psychology, intensive retreat practice, certification as a Meditation Instructor, two life-changing relationships and two life-changing kids. She now provides in-depth coaching for individuals and couples who want profound and dramatic transformation. An avid writer, she has been featured in such publications as Mothering Magazine and The Buddhadharma, and is a regular contributor to elephant journal. Friend her on Facebook, Twitter, her website or contact her at [email protected].


91 Responses to “Why Relationships Don’t Work. ~ Kristin Luce”

  1. ldogg says:

    While I appreciate this article, and can see where we should all glean certain points from it, I think articles like this are dangerous for people to just accept verbatim without taking it with a "grain of salt". Yes, everyone needs to have a sense of self and needs to love themselves to some degree in order for a relationship to work. But to take it to an extreme isn't healty… the concepts of "I don't need a man" or "I don't need someone to complete me" are flawed byproducts of the women's lib movement. Very few of us are perfect, non-flawed human beings in an emotional an psychological sense. And IMO, it is perfectly acceptable and normal for a human being to look … to some degree … for acceptance and validation from other human beings as part of their journey in life and as part of their basic needs and as part of a working relationship.

    The reason that so many relationships fail (and the reason why the author's 36 hour relationship failed) is because people in today's world have become extremely self-entitled, overly picky, and driven by media images … images that almost always motivate one to be more superficial and looking for short-term gratification … rather than motivate one to seek out what will make a relationship work … and a good partner … in the long-term. Years ago, in our parents' generation, this is what made relationships work and the divorce rate was much much lower.

    Of course we are frequently driven towards those that overwhelm us … with their charisma, with their physical characteristics, etc … we feel the connection and the chemistry right there. But did the author stop at any point in that first 36 hours and ask whether she should be slowing this thing down or not to see what's really there? Most lasting relationships don't start with that kind of intensity. They grow and develop over a little more time.

    My concern … is that reading an article like this … will reinforce the behavior of non-compromise, of insistence that the sizzle and intensity must be there from the very beginning and this just isn't realistic. It will encourage the vulnerable amongst us to continue to seek out the wrong partners with the wrong qualities … instead of looking for qualities that are inherent to partners who are better long-term prospects. And there is nothing wrong with expecting a partner to make "adjustments" .. i.e. to change to some degree … in order to be part of a successful union. It almost HAS to happen in order for two people to be together successfully … for two human beings to "click" and get along. Not to change the core of who they are, but to make adjustments. Anyone who isn't willing to do so isn't for you.

    • Kabz39 says:

      Thank you #Idogg i thought the same of her write up. Infact, its loneliness and a selfpittying heart i saw speak.

  2. Merifully says:

    I'm a little amazed at the assertion that mature and healthy relationships are so few and far between. Maybe my partner and I have been working so hard that we didn't really understand the horrors other people go through. Maybe we are just lucky. But we went into it knowing it would be hard work. We went into it having started a vocabulary that help us talk to each other. We have learned over time that being together is preferable to being apart. We learned we don't need each other, but rather that we want each other. And we learned it by having spent three of our 17 years married living in different houses and on different continents. We were separated not by a bad patch of relationship but because one of us had an opportunity to explore. And we have done it without violence, without extra marital affairs, and without looking for the moral high ground, but with a good deal of tears. It's not as if our relationship is perfect, what is?, but it is work. Worthy, difficult, heart-wrenching, life affirming, and satisfying work. As a practitioner of Vipassana (our teacher is Goenkaji) we know that we are attached to each other. We will feel pain and suffering when one of us passes, but we also understand the power of annica or change. The suffering is caused by a healthy attachment, and as such, it will bring us to a better understanding of impermanence. It is a worthwhile attachment. Other than that, I am disheartened to read that you believe that our relationship will fail. This is a gift we choose not to accept.

  3. Mart says:

    Whilst I respect that these are the authors’ views and think it’s helpful to question the prevailing doctrine of romantic love ad the ultimate source of happiness and self-fulfilment, my understanding of the psychological theory of attachment leads me to think that the author has an avoidant or dismissive attachment type. Her emotional reactions to intimacy, separation and relationship are somewhat typical of individuals with this attachment type. Perhaps our experiences shape out views of relationships in not quite the way the author is aware of.

  4. Pearl says:

    Just found this article and found it fascinating. It makes a lot of sense to me.
    I'd love to have Kristin's thoughts on the following question. If you believe in the kind of unconditional love described, how do you react if you're in a relationship with someone and something you do hurts them? For example, say you go away for a couple of days with some friends, you're having a great time and aren't really thinking about your partner at home much, and you don't call him because you don't particularly feel like it & you're having a great time. If he then feels hurt by your behaviour and feels forgotten/unloved etc., is that something that you would like him to tell you? Would you like to know about him feeling that so that you can modify your behaviour and maybe call him so he doesn't feel unloved? Or do you think he should just be bigger-hearted and adopt the kind of unconditional love you describe, enabling you to do exactly what you feel you want to do at the time (ie not call him)? This is a very small example but obviously it could come up over any number of issues. I'm very interested in how it can be made to work. Or are you renouncing the traditional relationship set-up?

    • KristinSLuce says:

      My answer is easy and immediate: of course I would want to know about his experience and how my behavior impacted him. I may or not change it, or maybe we come up with all kinds of other ways to meet both our needs, but part of the care and intimacy I love is knowing his experience. I don't expect others to love unconditionally, that is my job and only because it is a value to me and makes me happy. Also, loving unconditionally and behaving in a way that makes another happy are two very different things. I love better when I am being deeply true to myself (which includes loving them). Thank you for this question!

  5. Chris Birdsall says:

    This article really hit me where I’m at now. In essence what it’s saying is that relationships can’t make us happy anymore than say having the perfect job. It just serves a purpose and our interpretation of what is happening is either the source of pain, joy, or anything in between. WE create the reality we experience through conscious or unconscious attention.

  6. Kim Roberts says:

    well said Kristin! so glad to see/read you and get a glimpse of what you are up to. keep it up! xox

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