Should your first romantic relationship fail

Why couples quit their relationship so quickly

For the wedding, Ronja wore a dirndl from Lena Hoschek, Matteo looked stunning in a traditional costume and the "Chucks" from Converse. Ronja laughed her Ronja laugh, self-confident and exuberant. And the little one, who was three years old at the time, couldn't help but laugh along with her mother's hand, as she had learned from Ronja.

For the wedding photo, the couple posed with their daughter, parents and friends. Even today you can see from the pictures the naturalness with which Ronja and Matteo started their marriage: We know, the cheeky looks said, that we don't have to get married - but we want to. We don't give a damn about traditions, said the outfits, staged with cool carelessness - unless we enjoy them. Must have been really nice, back then at the party, you think when looking at the pictures. And: it's a shame that it didn't work out with both of them. Ronja and Matteo are divorced again. The fairytale wedding was just two years ago.

Relationship longevity decreases

Couples give up faster and faster. The durability of relationships continues to decline. Within just one generation, the separation from the religiously ostracized, socially scandalized end-time scenario became the norm. Almost 375,000 marriages were concluded in Germany in 2013 and around 170,000 divorced. The statistics do not know exactly about the number of relationships without a marriage license, only about the trend: increasing.

There are many reasons for this. The world is changing radically. The society in which people had jobs and families no longer exists. We live in the age of serial biographies: How you live today, with whom, where and from, does not necessarily have to do with how you will handle it tomorrow. Just as job hopping has replaced long-term loyalty to the company, love has now turned from "forever" to "for the time being". Eternity itself has had its day as the distant point of romantic relationships.

"Even when they are in steady hands, many people keep looking for a partner."

The legendary American psychologist and columnist Joyce Brothers, born in 1927, said: "My husband and I have never thought about divorce. Maybe about murder, but never about divorce." The quote sometimes circulates on Facebook like a photo of the city of Munich, when gas lamps were still burning there. Murder yes, divorce no - how did they mean that back then? Because today there is no longer a deep, black abyss lurking behind every separation, but an inkling of new light. It could be that after the great love, the even greater love is waiting for us. This fits the findings of American sociologists, who found out in a study: Even when they are in steady hands, many people continue to search for a partner.

Affairs, affairs and Co.

Like Ronja and Matteo. He made an affair, she met a guy who looked astonishingly similar to her husband (in this context perhaps exciting: Why we cheat). And while Matteo's friends were persuading him to return to his family, Ronja's lawyer was already drafting the brief for the planned divorce. A few weeks later, she took the newcomer on a trip to Las Vegas and returned freshly married.

The writer Ingeborg Bachmann sketches in her story "The Thirtieth Year" how the multitude of possibilities that one sees as a young person is dramatically reduced around the thirtieth birthday. We just had the choice to become anything and everyone. And suddenly we are just ourselves - committed to the limitation of our own biography. This definition doesn't really fit into our modern society.

Everything has to be optimized - including relationships

We have learned to constantly improve. We are optimizers (or, viewed from the other side, the subject of others' optimizations, i.e. optimized, sometimes path-optimized). Sentences that come from management literature - "You can make every mistake, but no mistake twice" - spill over from business into private life. If everything can be tweaked, why should we settle for a relationship that works but isn't perfect?

In the last ten or twenty years we have had to learn to be flexible and to keep reinventing ourselves. We approach relationships with the same attitude with which one swaps the permanent job for the existence as a freelancer in order to shimmy from project to project. We no longer fall in love, but rather aim for concrete results in partnerships: weddings, children, condominiums. If the goal is achieved, the project is completed and replaced by a new one.

"Guilt is" the fleeting zeitgeist ", the culture of the short-term, in which you replace the partner just as quickly as the car at the time of the scrapping bonus.

Guilt is "the fleeting zeitgeist", says the Heidelberg psychologist and couples therapist Arnold Retzer - the culture of short-termism, in which you replace your partner just as quickly as the car at the time of the scrapping bonus. In this context, the end of a relationship is not an unexpected fate determined by a higher power, but logic - a possibility that one does not necessarily strive for, but has always taken into account.

People long for lasting togetherness

The dream of eternal love, on the other hand, has a difficult time. People long for lasting togetherness. In surveys, 90 percent of Germans cite a fulfilling relationship as the most important goal in life. Sounds very romantic, but modern partnerships have long ceased to be. They are all-purpose weapons in the jungle of growing demands. They should convey the feeling of being in good hands, guarantee emotional support, guarantee sexual fulfillment. It's about the next generation, about financial security and about improving one's status in society - again the optimization motive.

The urge for self-realization

The permanent need for improvement collides with the second guiding principle of this time: the freedom to realize oneself in the hope of becoming happy as a result. "Listen to your inner voice" is not only a slogan of self-discovery literature, but also an explosive device for the pragmatic togetherness that we now cultivate. The Zurich couple therapist Klaus Heer provides the nice bon mot that love is monogamous, but humans are not. 75 percent of women and 90 percent of men cheat at some point in their relationship life. Even in the most open-minded partnerships, infidelity leads to crises or an abrupt end. This is the bad news. The good: Because so many women and men are now giving in to the urge to realize themselves, there are more and more people who are ready for a new relationship. For a new project. For a new, better phase of life - in which the old pattern creeps in again.

"Is it worth the stress of separation?"

Is it worth the stress of separation? No, says couples therapist Arnold Retzer. "It's worth staying together even in difficult times. You probably won't find a better one." Because frustration, boredom and disappointment spread in every relationship at some point. Retzer speaks of "resigned maturity".

One of Retzer's colleagues, the American couple researcher John Gottman, has been researching for half his life what keeps couples together. In studies, he found: The whole secret is to accept the other person for who he is, instead of constantly trying to improve him and the relationship. Humor, respect and the willingness to let things go when things don't go well, help.

Sounds terribly antiquated. But it is precisely for this reason that it is an effective remedy against the modern mania for separation.