Without A Shared Purpose (Your Relationship Will Fail)

September 24, 2018

dancing couple perla-de-los-santos-660437-unsplash lower res

For nearly 3 decades, choosing me as your boyfriend was like strapping yourself into a faulty emotional roller coaster whose wheels would scream and spark before jumping the tracks, offing us both towards an awful demise.

Sure, there was always that initial promising climb towards a giddy peak of excitement. But what always inevitably followed was a screaming plunge into undulating whip-lash twists and turns of confusion, chaos, and anger, capped off by a final plummet into heart-crushing disappointment.

What I’m saying is I never made for a very good boyfriend (or husband).

I never knew why, or even began taking any responsibility, until my late 30s.

I’m engaged now, three years into the relationship I always dreamed possible; the one that seems to prove that old adage: “When you finally find the right person, it finally makes sense why all those before never worked out.”

There’s surely truth to that.

Perhaps it’s equally true – or even more so – that I finally became the right person: A man who could actually pull this relationship thing off.

Silvy is a brilliant, sexy, beautiful, talented, scrumptiously divine woman. Any man would be a right fool to let her go. She is also a reflection of the Man I have had to become (and am still becoming) if I was ever going to make relationship with such a woman – or any woman – truly thrive, rather than merely keep driving love off the rails into excruciating oblivion.

I only know this because about 18 months into our relationship, I hit a wall.

Even though we had a beautiful connection and so, so many more things were right about our relationship than wrong with it, we had nonetheless been clashing over a cultural divide that even one of the most brilliant therapists in the world told us in a private session is unlikely to ever go away. After a little over a year together, that clash seemed to hit cataclysm status, and I found myself in painfully familiar territory. I feared this roller coaster was about to jump the tracks again.

I was sure I didn’t want to lose this extraordinary woman I’d waited a lifetime for, so I hired my own life coach, a man I knew would understand both my culture and my dilemma, a man I could therefore trust to help me navigate this scary situation with more clarity and intention.

In our first session, he asked me a question that caused a seismic shift in my experiencing of relationship:

“Bryan, what is the purpose of your relationship?”

“Is it to have kids? Or build wealth? Or worship God? … What is your purpose for this relationship?”

I already knew the answer. I just hadn’t considered the implications of it until that moment.

The core purpose for our relationship is to grow in our capacity to Love.

Many years ago I lived with a woman I wanted to love who did not value “growing” like I did. She mostly only wanted an honest man, a cozy home, and healthy kids. She didn’t have sincere interest in personal growth workshops, books, retreats, or any such inner/outer adventures – all the things I was a total junkie for.

There’s nothing wrong in what she wanted. I’m excited to be creating that homey kinda life with Silvy today.

It’s also fine she didn’t value personal growth. Countless couples endure a lifetime together without growth as a core aspect of their shared purpose.

Nonetheless, because our purposes for the relationship were at painful odds, we kept trying to pull each other in directions the other did not (yet) want to go. The brakes on our bumpy ride heated up as resentments grew and festered. Before long, those brakes went out completely as our grinding attempts to move forward caused us to lose respect for each other, which is when things turned catastrophic for us.

Some version of this played out in most every relationship throughout my 20s and 30s, though I mostly only thought I hadn’t yet found the right woman.

The reality is I had no meaningful context – or purpose – for why I was ever in relationship at all, other than, “I simply want fulfilling and drama-free companionship with a woman on my terms.”

Which, I have found, is the perfect purpose if you want to completely fail at relationship.

All relationships will face difficult times. Every couple will experience some hardship together, some gap in understanding, worldview, core values, cultural practice, or some significant external event, perhaps the loss of a loved one, or work, or an addiction – something that will push you both to the edge of your capacity to stay connected. If you don’t have a shared purpose for being together, there are endless pressures that can completely derail your intimacy together, even if you physically stay together.

A shared purpose can keep your wheels on the track through even the most difficult times together.

Silvy and I are deeply bound by our mutual commitment to growing in love together. We’re excited to have kid(s) and all that white-picket-fence stuff (we actually have a white picket fence enshrouded in yummy grape vines).

But it’s our commitment to growth that binds us at our core.

We both experience our relationship as a beautiful container for the ongoing expansion of our minds, the healing of old internal wounds, and our growing capacity to live authentic and powerful as heart-connected, loving human beings. Our commitment to growth extends to our work, too, where Silvy serves other people’s desire to grow through her work as a Marriage and Family Therapist, and I serve others as a writer, public speaker, Life Coach and Relationship Coach.

Our choice to stay together wouldn’t be right for everyone. Certainly not if your purpose for relationship is having an easy, quiet home life and kids; or economic stability; or merely a companion or lover; or mom’s approval, or dad’s, or God’s; or a green card; or whatever else one might have as conscious (or otherwise) purpose for relationship.

Sometimes Silvy and I wish our only purpose was an easy home life (or a green card)! Commitment to growing ain’t for the timid of heart!

Although it does make for the most thrilling roller coaster ride I’ve ever been on that also just continues to get better, more deeply enriching and satisfying as we go.

So … if you’re in a relationship, ask yourself,

“What is the purpose of my relationship?”

If you’re single, ask yourself “Why do I want to be in one?” (you can admit it: you totally do.)

It’s ok if your purpose changes over time.

Whatever your purpose for relationship is today, it can be profoundly empowering to know it for yourself, and communicate it with clarity and kindness to whomever you’re dancing with now, or in the future.

Otherwise, you might be strapping into a roller coaster neither of you wants to ride.


If this brings clarity for you, please share in the comments below.


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  • Yes, yes, YES!! Thank you for writing this Bryan, I totally resonate with it! I’ve been through 3 long term relationships where I keep growing and my partner does not…it’s frustrating and heart breaking! As I’ve grown and spent a number of years now on my own (working on myself even more) I know that I want someone who also values personal growth and growing together! Finding such a gem isn’t easy but I’m determined he’s out there somewhere 🙂

      • … ESPECIALLY as women hold true to their boundaries and standards, men will have no choice but to finally choose inner GROWTH.

  • Sensational Bryan your honesty ability to really relate and journey is so helpful in so many ways . Love your work you and Sylvy have really helped me grow and struggle at times I’m my limiting attitudes all in a good way . ????????????

    • Hi Carey 🙂 Thank you! Both Silvy and I are delighted to have you with us on our “Conflict to Connection” Couples Program journey!

  • Thank you Bryan, that is so helpful (and its wonderful writing.) I am getting through an unrequited love and I had clicked that the amount of emotional capacity we both have would make for a relationship that is about being melted down and remade in the fires of love. I want that but I can see that he wouldn’t. Putting that in the context of purpose in relationship is so clarifying and affiming. I can also feel I will grow in richness and clarity through really knowing and owning my purpose in relationship.

    • AND … you will call a man to you who is in alignment with that deeper purpose, and it will be MAGIC.

  • Wow, I finally get it. That is my purpose as well and I have been trying to make relationships work with people who do not share that purpose or have no purpose. Having someone as a partner who is also into personal growth has been very hard to find and I find myself ‘settling’ and telling myself I can’t have it all, when in fact I need it all!

    • yeah nothing so frustrating as trying to create something beautiful with someone whose intentions for the experience are out of alignment with yours.

  • I somehow intuitively knew this (that you must have a higher purpose for your relationship) , but had never heard or spoken it out loud before. And now that i have read it through your words, it brings enormous clarity. It feels like when you’re trying to remember the name of something/someone and it’s on the tip of your tongue, but you can’t remember. Then someone says it- and yes! That’s it!!
    That was this blog post for me.
    … purpose!! Your relationship need a purpose. And, ideally you both have the same purpose.
    Yes yes yes.
    Thank you.

  • Bryan–
    I love this. Getting clarity on why you’re in your relationship and what you want from it are questions few ask. They climb in the relationship and set sail but have no destination. It’s no wonder so many end up on the rocks.

  • Thank you for this post Bryan! I loved your recent live stream and find much inspiration and insight through your work. At the core of the relationship I am attracting is growth & fun. I am fuelled by growth and feel extremely connected to continuously rising up to meet life, clearing conditioning and learning more about myself, people, and my passion, relationships. I look forward to going deeper and exploring this question more.

    Thank you!

  • As always your words are a beacon. I was always striving for this with my previous relationship only for him to use it against me as if something was wrong with me for wanting a continual deepening relationship in our hearts, minds, and spirits. I know now that was his defense mechanism and fear, and if he was to ever choose what I wanted as the purpose of our relationship he would need a lot of personal healing. Unfortunately he wasn’t willing even though I held space for him to do so and I only ended up being the target of a lot of pain-filled behavior from him. I set boundaries, I did my own personal work at got the strength to walk away knowing I deserved to share my purpose for relationship with someone desiring the same.

  • Bryan, your words about the purpose of being in a relationship…to grow and change and have more capacity to love…is the most illuminating and helpful thought . It gave me words for what I’ve experienced. I started crying tears of relief and understanding. Because this is what I’ve felt, experienced, and long for. While not easy, it’s the purpose I want in a relationship. Thank you Bryan. I’m 62, my guy’s name was Bryan, and he was afraid to commit to that purpose. Even though he brought forth that in me. Whew, I’m not giving up on love, but it’s more clear what I feel and need now. Sending a smile and hug your way. Thank you!

    • Hey Janelle, I’m really glad to know my words serve you, and I’m sorry things didn’t go the way sounds like you wanted them to with your Bryan 🙁

  • I will…thank you. I am wondering, do you have thoughts or articles on “persuasion” in a relationship? Most coaching or counseling ideas I encounter set out very strict boundaries, where you leave people where they are in life and don’t cross boundary lines. I have a nagging and inspiring feeling that there is a role for persuasion. I find myself giving love and encouragement, while also “pulling out the rug” from under people when I experience dysfunction with them. If you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them. Thank you!

  • I really appreciate this blog post because I am going through a really tough situation dealing with difficulty being clear in myself and so with my partner around boundaries. I actually don’t know my purpose for being in this relationship so it’s a good place to look for clarity . I just left abruptly and jumped on a train after a difficult conversation with my partner. I feel like I am fleeing the situation and at the same time it feels totally stuck. I haven’t been authentic in staying true to my needs or boundaries and now he says he doesn’t trust me anymore. So thank you Bryan for giving me a direction to look for how to get clearer on what is important to know when getting back in touch with my partner.

    • I strongly recommend you enroll in “The Boundaries Program: Relationships Suck Without Boundaries!” … http://www.bryanreeves.com/boundaries … it will help you get clear on your boundaries and then actually SPEAK them in ways that preserve respect for your partner, AND for you.

  • Brother, I cannot EXPRESS how beautiful and relatable this is. This is my purpose as well. Growth. Love, Freedom and Growth. I fall off the wagon a lot, but I am DEVOTED to becoming a better partner and attuning to her (a major struggle for me with anybody). Thank you for this!

  • Very deep insight Bryan!
    Prompted me to go for introspection about my ongoing relationship.
    I am glad that I have subscribed to one of your program Bryan … although yet to complete that.
    Rajiv Gupta from the distant New Delhi,

  • This is exactly the perfect question I needed to ask myself and him. Thank you. It’s ok if he and I have different reasons…. but it is also a reason to let myself stop feeling guilty to let go.

  • This article was very close to home with regard to how you described yourself. Dealing with men at the 55+ ages really is difficult. They’ve had more time to be affected by life…divorces, problems with adult children, job stresses due to longevity, etc. it’s very difficult to fine a male in 50/60’s who has wanted to, had the inclination for personal growth. Very hot & cold behaviors. It’s a struggle. I do have your boundaries program as that was one of my biggest challenges. Women born in the 50’s early 60’s didn’t have boundaries role models like today…I told my guy that I wasn’t going to initiate contact because I didn’t know anymore what was waiting for me. (He also has depression) But that he knew where I was. Haven’t heard from him in a month. I’m stunned. I’m sure he feels I abandoned him. Since so much Covid…I am worried, but his last communication was wasn’t very “friendly” and I needed to take care of myself. So I backed off. I do not like being this age sometimes, yet others I am grateful to have so much information available to continue to grow. Thank you.

  • Dear Bryan, I’m from Germany reading your texts with big interest for a while now. I had a relationship with a man for 3 years, we lived together and have a dog together, his little family, he always said. Now he decided it’s better if I’ll leave, he just doesn’t have the energy for our relationship anymore. I know I might not have been easy the last couple of weeks, because I felt our relationship falling apart and was trying to stop this which made it even worse with him. I went through a lot in this relationship, lots of stuff had to do with his own past, not mine. But I decided to stay, because I loved him, maybe I still do, and because of us, the little family. So now I read about your past purpose “I simply want fulfilling and drama-free companionship with a woman on my terms.” And that’s exactly what he always said he wanted. And I wanted growth, union, understanding and growing together in love. I think I would have never left him, now I’m forced to go and I’m really afraid of being alone. I would love to have a relationship with a man not afraid to be honest, authentic and able to look at his wounds, to heal and grow on his own and with me. I really hope to find this man one day. I’m afraid I won’t, and I’m already 44…so I guess I’d have rather stayed with him, no matter what. But now I have to move on and your texts make it a little easier for me to understand all the black wholes in our relationship. Thank you so much!

  • Oh yes-not for the faint of heart. These are the words I was trying to find for what I am looking for in a relationship. …think I can put this in my dating profile? LOL- Thanks Bryan! Now, I am much clearer; words to express what I want. It’s a step in the right direction-thanks!!

  • Thank you for this post, Bryan and congratulations on your engagement to Silvy (if this is recent). I think your question is critical: “what is the purpose of my relationship?” The problem I had in finding compatible partners is that my (undefined) purpose was growth, and theirs was something else – fun, stability, companionship – just NOT growth. I found men to whom growth was scary and unsexy. Reading your article cleared up for me why these relationships were off…and that it wasn’t because either of us were unfit partners, just unmatched in our goals. It is true that the “growth” route is not an easy one in a cultural where introspection is not the norm. That definitely narrows the odds of finding a partner, but as you said, men and women are out there who are willing to do the work. The trick is finding them.

    • Thank you Sally 🙂 While indeed when you’re looking for a growth-oriented partner does narrow the so-called “dating pool” given that you’re only looking for one person (I’m assuming), the size of the dating pool doesn’t actually even matter. Because you can find just one person ANYWHERE and EVERYWHERE. 🙂

  • Quite honest…I know because this has been my life with my boyfriend…for 3 years. He is you I am afraid. We are in our mid 50’s, both divorced, I have 2 grown children…he has none. But surprisingly, he is the one with the baggage, the denial of feelings,
    maturity, denial of his own and my humanity, respect, and kindness. We have come far….but there are miles and miles to go.
    Love really isn’t enough…it’s all about the journey we are on.
    Thank you…

  • Very helpful in looking at my recent painful and unexpected breakup. I live for growth and soul-level love and I thought that was at least a good part of his dreams but it turns out it wasn’t. This post really helps in my healing. Now I know to find this out early on when connecting with an interesting man. I can also feel better about moving on and wishing him well, knowing we really don’t have the same relationship goals. Thank you.

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