1. Prose and Prejudice

    Prose and Prejudice New Member

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    How to represent a relationship that is slowly breaking down?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Prose and Prejudice, Jan 26, 2019.

    I'm working on a story where my protagonist's relationship with her husband begins to break down, culminating in divorce. There is a semi-complicated web of factors that lead to this (elderly parent, long work hours etc.) but ultimately both partners just feel neglected. Do you have any ideas as to how I could convey the neglect that creeps into their relationship through little instances of plot? Or actions that contribute to the relationship breakdown? I'm not really looking for drama (cheating etc.), more subtle, everyday actions gone wrong.

    Thanks!
     
  2. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan Member Supporter Contributor

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    Things that you used to love most about someone start becoming the things that piss you off most about them.
     
  3. Prose and Prejudice

    Prose and Prejudice New Member

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    Interesting - I like this. I feel like I need something to push my MC 'over the edge' as well though, if you know what I mean. I think I'm looking to create a definable moment that she can pinpoint as being the catalyst for the divorce. Maybe a bigger action?

    Thanks for your reply!
     
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  4. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Has the Vocabulary of a Well-Educated Sailor. Contributor

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    Distance--both emotional and physical. Silence. Lack of touch or affection where there used to be. Ignoring each other. Loneliness even though the two people in the same room. Then irritation.
     
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  5. making tracks

    making tracks Active Member

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    I definitely agree with the others on the irritation thing. If you need a specific moment, maybe a missed event which was important. Maybe one needs a lift to an important work function and the other, who promised to do it, forgets? Or embarrasses them in front of their colleagues? Or there could be a show or band one of them had always wanted to see and the spouse wins tickets and takes a friend instead - this doesn't have to be malicious, they can just not be thinking about how this might be hurtful or frustrating for their partner.

    edit: or they could find a gift they'd given a lot of thought / time / money to just shoved somewhere to collect dust, so they know what used to be important to both of them isn't any more or that their care isn't really appreciated. Or that they just don't know their partner and what they like as well as they think they do.
     
  6. Prose and Prejudice

    Prose and Prejudice New Member

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    Ooh okay those are great ideas. Thanks!
     
  7. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Has the Vocabulary of a Well-Educated Sailor. Contributor

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    I think whatever action you choose would probably work best if it portrays the direct opposite of how they used to function as a couple, to show the marked change. Meaning, if they were a couple who had functioned well as a "team" who had each others' backs, being embarrassed by the spouse in front of others would be particularly damaging. If they enjoyed going out to fine restaurants, having one of them go with someone else to the latest hot restaurant the other was excited to check out. Whatever is the opposite of how they were.
     
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  8. Thomas Larmore

    Thomas Larmore Member

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    Money and sex are the big reasons people break up, I think. A lack of either can be fatal to a marriage.
     
  9. jannert

    jannert Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    From the standpoint of constructing your story, I have to ask. Does this breakup come near the start of the story, or does it come at the end? In other words, is the point of the story to watch the breakup happening, or do we start with the fact that they have broken up—or are about to break up? And the story deals with what comes after?

    If the split comes near the start of the story, it's probably best to do a scene that's 'the final straw' and just allude to what has gone before. If the breakup is the end of the story, then obviously we will watch it happening in more detail and over a longer period of time.

    Also, a lot will depend on whether you want the reader to be happy they've broken up, or hoping they'll get back together again. If it's just circumstances outwith the marriage that are contributing to the breakup (care of elderly parent, job difficulties, etc), maybe the marriage itself isn't really the problem. This is where counselling or a new perspective could help them rediscover what they've lost. If it's irreconcilable differences between them, though, that's a different deal.
     
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2019
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  10. Prose and Prejudice

    Prose and Prejudice New Member

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    No, it's only a short story - roughly 6,000 words - and the divorce comes as kind of the climax at the end. The story is about the progression of the relationship, culminating in the MC's realisation that she isn't content to be in an environment that's unsupportive, even if it's financially stable.
     
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  11. jannert

    jannert Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Okay, that answers my basic questions. Let me have a bit of a think....

    Maybe she has a talent or a skill that he doesn't value or support. He can simply neglect or disregard her talent, or he can be more targeted and mean. I have a friend whose husband didn't support her musical talent or aspirations, and who made his contempt for what she could do clear on many occasions. She was well regarded on the music scene—in fact, she was inducted into the traditional music hall of fame—but he used to actually get up and leave the room whenever she was asked to sing. She found that very hurtful indeed, and it did contribute to the breakup of her marriage.

    I've known other people whose spouses constantly belittle them in public.

    Maybe she needs his support on some unusual occasion and doesn't get it. Like she becomes temporarily unwell and needs not only a bit of TLC, but somebody to take over her household tasks for a while—if she's traditionally the one who does them—and he just can't be bothered to alter his routines, and leaves her to deal with her illness and the undone work on her own. Maybe she has scary hospital appointments to attend, and he can't be bothered to go with her. Or claims squeamishness about hospitals, to get out of having to go.

    I have a friend whose marriage is on shaky ground at the moment. Not only does the husband refuse to participate in anything his wife does (including holiday dinners with friends at home, etc—he stomps off to the bedroom, where he pointedly remains till it's over) but he constantly spends a fortune buying her expensive things she has previously said she doesn't want. Things that are difficult to deal with as well. Like they live in a small home, and he bought her a large wooden display 'sleigh' for Christmas, that would have involved removing furniture from the house to get it indoors. (And there was no place in the house to store it afterwards.) He'd pointed this item out beforehand, when they were at a garden centre, and she'd said no, she didn't want it (or like it.) But he bought it anyway.

    He does this kind of thing a lot, then complains to everybody in earshot that he 'can't ever please her.' Definitely passive-aggressive behaviour on his part, and a constant reminder to her that he doesn't really love her. In fact, it seems he might actually dislike her, or enjoy his little mean power trips that clearly distress her and leave her in tears. But the finance thing looms ...he's the major breadwinner. Her job doesn't bring in much money. So leaving the marriage would be very financially risky for her. She's kind of too old to start from scratch and build a new career. (She just turned 60.) It's not easy.
     
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2019
  12. Auroradawn

    Auroradawn New Member

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    I think you need a growing sense of irritation, allied with indifference. Slowly, they do fewer things together, they go to bed at different times, they may even move into a separate rooms scenario. He says something, she rolls her eyes, she says something, he snaps at her. They are like 2 people co-existing in the same place but with no real connection. They don't talk about anything, other than the day to day necessities. It's that slow move towards thinking: what is this about? Also, less physical affection. Touch goes out of the window when a couple disentangle.
     
  13. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Has the Vocabulary of a Well-Educated Sailor. Contributor

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    Spiritual differences are a big one that can slowly tear people apart, too, if one of the spouse's spiritual beliefs change. My former business partner had been with their significant other for eleven years and got heavily involved in a new spiritual belief during the illness of a parent. It eroded the relationship as my business partner got further into it, they broke up, and my business partner ended up hooking up with and moving to another country with someone from the temple.

    ETA: Anything where one partner grows and changes at a different rate than their spouse can significantly alter the relationship...spirituality, education, a new job or new career...
     
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2019
  14. Matt E

    Matt E Ruler of the planet Omicron Persei 8 Supporter

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    This question reminds me of a song by Macklemore: Thin Line (note: contains some language in the lyrics).



    There are a lot of elements here that can contribute to a relationship coming apart, and we see that the relationship in this song is turbulent. It has its ups and downs: both want to make it happen but conflict comes up and they keep drifting apart.

    He is too exhausted to put much into the relationship, and detached from the world checking messages, etc.

    They both keep trying to see themselves in a long term relationship, but it never works out, and is as much self-deception as anything else.

    Harsh words are said:

    They come back to each other, but it keeps spiraling downwards:

    And finally:

    All in all, people are good at deceiving themselves. Hopes, even misplaced, and indecision, can play a big role here. I can't help but think of Stella from A Streetcar Named Desire who can't help but go back to Stanley as he calls her name, even after a night of him acting like an animal. It doesn't have to be as extreme as that, but emotions are often conflicted, even when rationally they shouldn't be.
     
  15. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I'm curious about the elderly parent. There's potentially a lot there--loyalty to the parent versus loyalty to the spouse. Have you decided on the details there?
     
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  16. Prose and Prejudice

    Prose and Prejudice New Member

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    So, her father is placing extreme demands on the MC as an unofficial caregiver - she's spending up to 5 hours each day at the nursing home. She's loyal to her husband but also feels a sense of familial duty to her dad (especially since he's paying for her tertiary education), but her husband isn't supporting the decision. He was never attached to his father-in-law, and resents the fact that he's detracting from his wife's time. There's an atmosphere of conflicting obligations, but ultimately the MC's husband directs his frustration onto his wife instead of her father, which is really distressing for the MC.
     
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  17. Prose and Prejudice

    Prose and Prejudice New Member

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    Wow this is really interesting. I'll definitely have to explore this more. Thanks for your input!
     
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  18. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I’m kind of on the husband’s side. I don’t see why his frustration would be directed at her father.
     
  19. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    To go into more detail, as I’d see it from the husband’s view:

    - The father is in a nursing home, which should presumably provide care.

    - The father apparently has money, based in the help with education. Even if he can’t afford a better nursing home that provides better care, he could probably hire his own additional caregiver.

    - But presumably he doesn’t wanna. He’d rather wear his daughter to a thread and ruin her marriage. And probably hamper the education or the career it presumably led to? And that assumes that there are no minor children.

    - But it’s hard to blame a sick old man for being selfish. The person who could set loving boundaries with the father is the wife. And she’s not.

    - And maybe there’s a last straw about this—maybe the father’s wishes have always overridden the husband’s, throughout the marriage. Maybe Grandpa took little Johnny to his first baseball game, against the husband’s wishes. Maybe the couple always stayed in the father’s home state, because “Dad would be so hurt if we moved too far away for our Sunday visits.” Maybe that dream house was rejected because it didn’t have a guest room for the father’s frequent visits, the ones that used up all of the wife’s vacation time.

    And so on.
     
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  20. Prose and Prejudice

    Prose and Prejudice New Member

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    Yeah ok, this does make a lot of sense. The father is kind of meant to be a parasitic figure, but I guess I was overly empathising with the MC so I lost sight of this. Fair point!
     
  21. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Senior Member

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    Thank God something different! Everyone looks at the glory of falling in love but the other part - not so much. Love it all ready.

    Okay so it's hard to write something that you've never experienced. And I can't help you there thank God, but it usually ends in something explosive. All I can say is my aunt and uncle.
    Loves young dream that turned into a nightmare. So they were snarky with each other and tried to humiliate each other in public. Hurtful comments usually to do with the others less than satisfactory performance in bed. That was all we outsiders saw.
    Then it came out. My aunt had been having an affair and then the war guns came out and they really went at each other. It was like an explosion and at the same time a realisation that I can now admit how much I despise this person. It was not pleasant.

    Try watching a movie called "War of the Roses" - that looks at a marriage gone wrong. Love that film.
     
  22. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan Member Supporter Contributor

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    Just give it some time.

    And then sometimes it just gets to the point where both people are just, "Look, lets sit down and talk, you know this isn't working anymore...," and then that's that. Someone moves out, feelings are still hurt, but there's no explosive inciting incident, though those generally help with story telling. But that also depends on the story. One of the worst things about having a relationship that just collapses is that there's no obvious reason as to why it didn't work, and, "I dunno, guess we just fell out of love," isn't usually a satisfying answer. This kind of ambiguity can be pretty mentally distressing for some people.
     
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2019
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  23. J.D. Ray

    J.D. Ray Member Supporter

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    This thread is packed with useful information, and I won't have much value to add. However, I heard once that it's the small things that wreck a relationship. The example was that cheating could maybe be forgiven, but one of them leaves the cap off the toothpaste, and it drives the other nuts. Also, if one person complains a lot, it can generate resentment in the other.

    We have some friends who recently got divorced. We got a debrief from her, and she explained the scope of things that were wrong: he's an alcoholic, he's messy, he's unmotivated, he's unrealistic, and... he's intellectually inferior (frankly, she's brilliant; he's just average), which she apparently was clearly aware of at the outset, but thought his (perceived) positives would overcome that negative. Ten years in, that assumption turned out to be incorrect.
     
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  24. Prose and Prejudice

    Prose and Prejudice New Member

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    I think I'll go for somewhere in between - where there's a significant 'explosive' event that induces the breakdown, but the resentment gradually peters out until both are left with a quiet sense of discontentment, or the like.
     
  25. Prose and Prejudice

    Prose and Prejudice New Member

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    This is cool - twisting little, seemingly unimportant idiosyncrasies into unbearable issues. I like it!
     

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