Behaviors That Weaken Emotional Attachment and Destroy Relationship

I’m regularly asked about the signs that a love relationship is bad enough to leave it. Ending a romantic  relationship is one of the emotionally toughest life events that we ever go through. It’s like going through death, even if we ourselves initiated the relationship end. We go from sharing our lives with another person to being alone. As well, it can be daunting to have to look forward to the conflict involved in parting ways. The arguing, anger, silence, grief and depression overwhelms us so much that many people decide to stay for just a time, just to avoid all of this.

No matter how many times you have gone through it, ending a romantic relationship never gets easier. And, it’s even harder if there is a marital or legal contract that binds the couple together, as parting ways usually involves a division of assets and the raising of children.

It is not easy to forget the good times and to let go of the lives we’ve built and shared together. We share family and friends, activities, property, pets, and the most important asset of all—children. We’ve built an identity with our partner that is very difficult to unravel, even when children are not involved.

Now, we may be about to tear the relationship structure down that took us many years to build. We enter into a time of great self-doubt, confusion, and a sense of failure. I have never counseled a person contemplating the end of a relationship, especially marriage, who does not feel failure, on some level. Their eyes disclose the gravity of the questions with which they are struggling.

  • Am I doing the right thing by leaving?”
  • “Is there still enough good between us to make our relationship work out?”
  • “Will I ever find another person to love or be happy again?”, and
  • “What if I’m wrong; I don’t want to make the wrong choice.”

Take for example, my encounter a year ago at a Trader Joe’s grocery store in Southern California. I bumped into the husband of a couple that I had treated in therapy many years ago.

Peter is that you?” “Dr. Khoshaba,” he said, in a warm, welcoming voice. I immediately asked how he, his wife and children were doing. He replied in a whisper, that both disclosed his pain and the delicate nature of what he was about to share with me, “Dr. Khoshaba, we divorced several years ago”. Oddly enough, I thought he said that his wife had passed away several years ago. “What, I exclaimed!”  “No, no, we divorced, once the children got old enough to leave home.”

Our carts were now closely pushed up against each other, right next to the wall of packaged fruits and nuts, as if we had created our own private space for psychotherapy. I asked him how he was doing. “Better, now” he replied. Those two words revealed everything to me. He went through a death of a type. He had to grieve, get angry, wish it didn’t happen, and accept that it did, before he could begin to heal.

It wasn’t the place or time to do psychotherapy. But, I wanted him to be assured that I know how much he tried. “I’m sorry it did not work out, but I know how much effort both of you put into making the relationship better. You must always remember that you didn’t easily give up on the relationship, like some people do. You gave it your best shot.” He halfheartedly smiled.

What made this couple decide it was time to call it quits, after so many years of being together? They were very different people, and their differences did not complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. What he loved, she hated, and vice versa. They shared no interests, other than their children, and had little respect for each other’s ways. I always knew there was a strong possibility of divorce ahead of them. The emotional attachment to each other was always weak, and their strong differences only weakened it further throughout the years.

Emotional Attachment

Our actions can strengthen or weaken the emotional bond we have to our mates, and vice versa. For example, infidelity injures the relationship in ways that threatens the integrity of the relationship at a level that is hard to repair. Injuries to our emotional attachment destroy trust and security so much that it’s experienced like a knife has pierced us. The more attachment wounds there are in a romantic relationship, the greater the possibility of it ending.

The following is a type of checklist for evaluating the kinds of behaviors that weaken our love and commitment to our romantic partners. Notice that as you go down the list, the behavior is more devastating to the mental health of couple and increasingly qualifies as an attachment wound that is like an open sore in the relationship. Wounds in our attachment to our romantic partner require professional expertise, guidance, and time to heal, if the relationship is to survive.

1. Disparity in Values, Beliefs and Behaviors. We don’t have to be carbon copies of our lovers. But, great differences between people in morality, ethics, responsibility, religion, and even politics can be the basis of ongoing misunderstandings that weaken the emotional bond between two people. We begin to lose respect and interest in our mates when—who we are at our core—is constantly threatened by—who they are at their core.

2. Little to no communication. Some people ignore or altogether avoid communication with their mates. Communicating daily with our mates about our activities, thoughts and feelings makes the emotional bond more meaningful and deepens intimacy in the relationship. When couples stop talking to each other, there’s a problem that can become more serious if left untreated. Sometimes, life stressors deplete us so much that we don’t have the energy to talk to our mates at the end of the day. But, meaningful conversations strengthen emotional connection. While communication problems are certainly not enough to leave a relationship behind, they can brew over time and cause more serious problems in the relationship.

3. Living separate lives, while living under the same roof. Some couples share little to no activities and interests, except children, if they have them. Shared activities build an emotional bond in relationship. If either of you has arranged life to avoid doing things with the other person, there is an attachment problem in the relationship. Curtailing involvement with a mate can be the first step toward separating. It’s like you are trying on the shoes of being single, to experience what it feels like.

4. Minimal emotional or sexual closeness. When you love a person, it is natural to want to be close to him or her. It’s not a good sign for the relationship, if one or both partners are not interested in emotional (e.g., holding hands, hugging or sitting by each other) or sexual closeness. Of course, sexual interaction may become more infrequent over time, but emotional closeness usually doesn’t go away, in a loving relationship. People’s unhappiness in this area depends upon their desire for more closeness and the extent of which there are other problems in the relationship.

5. Emotional Abuse. Behaviors like belittling, ridicule and actions to manipulate the thoughts, feelings, and reality of another person (often called gaslighting) constitute emotional abuse. Chronically being called crazy, too sensitive, paranoid, and delusional, or imagining things erodes self-worth, confidence, and mental stability. These behaviors can be as damaging to love as physical or sexual abuse and definitely destroys intimacy and romantic love.

6. Infidelity. Sexual and emotional unfaithfulness in a romantic relationship weakens the emotional bond but does not necessarily lead one to leave the relationship. Research show it depends if the infidelity was a one-time event, was more sexual than emotional (less threatening if only sexual), and if the unfaithful partner is truly remorseful and does what he or she can to heal the relationship. Even so, infidelity is definitely an attachment wound. It takes time to build up trust again and to restore the emotional bond between each other.

7. Physical and sexual abuse, and alcohol, drug and gambling addiction. Domestic violence or forcing a mate to have sex against his or her will deeply violate trust, security, love and the integrity of a love relationship. Also, alcohol, drug and gambling addictions seriously undermine the physical and mental health of a couple. These are relationship deal breakers that make the relationship too bad to stay within, unless the non-offending mate is masochistic. If the perpetrator of these destructive behaviors gets professional help and changes, the relationship may have a chance to survive.

Remember, the absence of these characteristics does not say our romantic relationship is trouble-free and we are completely happy in it, just as much as the presence of one or two of them says that we are unhappy enough to end the relationship. But, the behaviors further down on the list (5, 6 and 7) are especially problematic and highly destructive to the health of a romantic relationship.

Whether a romantic relationship is good enough to stay or bad enough to leave can only be decided by you. Let my post today be more of a guideline for sidestepping the types of problems that can destroy love and commitment.

Recommendations for furthering reading on this topic include: Author Mira Kirshenbaum’s New York Bestseller, Too Good To Leave, Too Bad To Stay and the blog How to Healthily End a Relationship by Peter Fox.

I hope you like my post today and found it helpful to you. If so, please let me know by selecting the Like button that immediately follows. You can also Tweet or Google+1 today’s post to let your friends know about it. Take good care of yourselves. Warm regards, Deborah

Note: The identities of the people in the stories I share in my posts have been significantly changed to protect their privacy.


9 Responses to “Behaviors That Weaken Emotional Attachment and Destroy Relationship”

  1. This is a great article, Debbie. It really clarifies what can undermine a relationship, and suggests ways of overcoming that.
    Warmly, Sal Maddi

  2. avatar Abdul Mueed says:

    Excellent attempt.

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Thank you so much Abdul, especially for taking time to say hello and comment. Happy New Year, Warm regards Deborah.

  3. avatar Muhammad ALi says:

    i read your article and you discussed all the aspects but i have been confused in your article . you , in this article , mixed up whole the issues which must be deal separately . By the way , it was nice article and i got number of information from your article and now i expect more effective article that deals with all issues separately .

    Thanks Regards
    Muhammad ALI Qureshi

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hi Muhammad, yes, I gave a checklist of a number of problems. But, you are right that each problem could be an article on its own. Indeed, I will get to your suggestion. Thank you. Warmly Deborah.

  4. avatar Angela Sanchez says:

    This article has brought professional understanding to my past life. All the paragraphs applied to me, but the one the hit the hardest was #5 Emotional Abuse. Knowledge helps in the journey of healing, along with Faith & Hope in God Almighty. Thank you for helping me along my Journey. May you continue to Prosper in 2014!

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Dear Angela, I’m happy that you have healed and out of that past emotional abuse. But, too, I know (first hand from a very early relationship of mine) the impact and change in innocence that comes from this kind of relationship experience. I also know first hand that with knowledge and healing we learn to choose better. This along with our faith in God — gives us courage, faith and hope in ourselves and in the power to make choices that are good for us. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment today. Warmly Deborah **And, may you and yours continue to prosper in 2014, as well.

  5. avatar Hannah says:

    This is a great and very helpful article. I’m in a painful time of considering divorce, and it is really hard to know when to leave. I can identify with many things in your article, but one thing in curious about is how/where would you put passive aggressive behaviors on this list?

    I ask because after years of being with a PA husband, it’s hard to identify clear behaviors that I could point to and say “that’s emotional abuse”. But I know that I feel emotionally abused. His covert aggression means that he would never overtly swear at me, ridicule me, call me names, etc, like you describe in point #5. But he does covert things that have been so hurtful that I almost wish he would just call me names so I’d know where I stand! Does that make sense? So, where would you categorize behaviors like constantly being late, not answering the phone (EVER), showing no emotion, obstructing ideas and plans, even when they’re supposed to be fun, going out for supper and then not talking, being careless about money and then claiming it was innocent, etc, etc. All I know is it feels terrible, but it’s hard to find much discussion about it. All the little behaviors seem relatively harmless, but put together it’s like my husband and I are paddling a canoe together, and he says he’s paddling with me, but he’s actually dragging his oar any time he can get away with it. My marriage feels like I’m dragging a dead weight, and I’m exhausted, but he still looks like a nice guy to everyone else, and he’s never sworn at me. I guess I need some help because trying to identify if it’s worth staying is extra hard when your partner is PA and doing everything they can to BE chaotic and confusing!! It’s sure not making my decision any easier. I feel heartbroken.


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