Imbalances were most evident in three relational areas: decision-making, emotional involvement, and equity. A higher percentage of both men and women stated that men usually made more of the decisions, were less emotionally involved, and usually experienced “the better deal.” Lastly, male dominance — but not equality of power between genders — was found to be linked with greater romantic relationship longevity. It seemed that the higher the relative degree given by the respondents to the male (rather than the female partner of the dyad), the lower the consequential rate of relationship dissolution (Felmlee, 1994).
An imbalance of power may promote the actual solidity of a relationship, but this has been much less often researched than other conclusions. The previous findings that inequalities in power are linked to unhappiness, psychological distress, and disagreement mean that power imbalances will raise the likelihood that a relationship would fail; however, no distinctions were found between balanced power and male dominant college couples in separations. Nevertheless, the balance of power could impact relationship stability in ways that have not been scrutinized previously, because balance discrepancies in power might increase the rate at which a relationship dissipates over time. This study found that the more equal the power balance, the lower the rate of relationship dissolution. It is also possible for other types of power imbalances to influence relational stability. For example, perhaps it is not perceptions of imbalanced power that have an impact on relationship dissolution, but instead perceptions of having power over the other person. Relationships that endure may be those in which the people involved feel particularly powerful, and it is possible for both members of a dyad to concurrently feel more powerful than the other. Relationships that survive, then, could be those in which both partners convince themselves that they are equally powerful (Felmlee, 1994). Felmlee’s research also found that it is possible for imbalances in power, on the basis of gender, to affect the survival time of a romantic relationship. That is, it may be that having one gender “on top” gives romantic relationships added stability.
According to Knapp, there are five stages in which the relationship deteriorates after bonding has occurred:
Differentiating: This happens when a couple thinks that perhaps the relationship is too restricting. It is at this point when the people begin to hone in on their differences instead of their similarities. They complain of not having enough space and decide that they would like to do more things by themselves. In other words, they begin to stress their individuality. The most obvious change in communication is the increase in fighting, bickering, or quarreling.
Circumscribing: This term refers to a stage in which partners begin to decrease the frequency and intimacy of their communication. They tend to evade specific “hot topics” like money and sex since they are too likely to create more disagreements. They begin to tip-toe around, asking for consent to do things that they formerly would not have asked permission for. “Is it okay with you if I take a nap now?” “I don’t care. Do whatever you please.”
Stagnating: This reflects the increasing corrosion of a relationship that the couple is trying to keep together. There may be a number of reasons they do this — religious, financial, or for the children involved. Verbal and nonverbal communication becomes more and more like talking to a stranger. The relationship itself is no longer talked about.
Avoiding: This stage is a coping mechanism to diminish the pain of experiencing relationship deprecation, and physical absence is frequent. Avoidance frequently takes place between neighbors or coworkers after a big dispute. The people must still remain in close proximity, but they manage to maintain minimum contact.
Terminating: This is the ending phase of any relationship. This stage can take place even after the briefest relationships or lifetime relationships. According to Knapp, who applies his theory to the briefest of encounters as well as to long-standing relationships, usually, the longer, deeper, and more meaningful relationships involve more pain and the process tends to be long and drawn out. Distant and dissociative communication is exchanged at this time. For example, “I don’t care to ever see you again!” Or “I’ll always love you, but I can neither live with you nor respect you.” (McGraw Hill, 1994).
The most recent approach to relationship dissolution is to treat it as a basic element in the life of the relationship, not as a separate event or course of action. This development views the negotiation and conclusion of the breakup as something intertwined with all the other ventures and activities that the couple performs in their daily lives, implementing the same sorts of negotiation and conversational styles (Duck, Rollie, 1982, 1998).
Relationship breakups should not be viewed as a single occurrence or an individual decision — but an unraveling over time. It involves communication and compromise between the partners themselves and the network of people inherently connected to the relationship (Duck, Rollie, 1982, 1998).
Strategies for Breaking up Gracefully
The problem with ending relationships gracefully arises because so many people see it as a reflection of their worth when someone doesn’t want to be with them…” (Paul, 1997). Dr. Margaret Paul states that ending a relationship without hurting another’s feelings is almost always difficult and challenging. The problem is that so many people take the breakup personally as if to say, “If I were good enough then this person would not want to end the relationship.” or, “If I were different, then I would feel a connection with this really great person.” According to many psychologists this simply isn’t true. There are many reasons why people don’t connect with one another. It may be for no other reason than that they simply don’t feel a connection. But this is not to say that there is anything “wrong” with either person — it just isn’t there. Dr. Paul suggests obtaining a new perspective on the matter. By stating, “I don’t’ feel a strong connection between us,” one is simply stating a fact and not making a judgment about the person’s acceptability or self-worth. If everyone could accept that someone not wanting to be with us has nothing to do with our worth, we would not get hurt when someone says no or wants out of the relationship. One needs to gently speak their truth without fault and not take responsibility for the other person’s feelings. People’s perceptions and belief systems determine what ways they will choose to feel. The person ending the relationship has no control over these choices; therefore, they should not take responsibly for any hurt feelings.
It is a fact that some relationships will end. People’s needs often change and sometimes there’s simply not enough to hold the couple together. Sometimes an imbalance of power makes the costs too high and the rewards too low. Sometimes the problems within the relationship are so great that they can’t be solved. But there are strategies that people can do to help nurture the healing process: Renew your relationship with yourself and get to know yourself as a new individual. It is best to take time out from having relationships until you get to know yourself again, and realize that the relationship failed — not you. Acknowledge that loneliness and depression are normal. One might expect to experience these feelings for a short length of time. Identify symbols that represent the relationship and place them out of sight (photographs, gifts, or letters). Avoid going places that you visited together — you may be able to go back and enjoy these symbols again sometime, once you have gained some emotional distance. Seek support and try not to repeat the same mistakes. We can learn as much from our relational failures as we can from our successes (DeVito, 1995).
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