You’ve had fight after fight and you are struggling to save the relationship. You tried counseling sessions; you listened to your friends’ advice, read books… and you’re still struggling. You’re not happy. You’re afraid of saying or doing something that might further hurt the relationship.
Most couples disregard the fact that they have personal histories that preceded their current relationship. These histories are made of childhood experiences at home, at school, with friends. This history includes previous relationships and also deeply rooted beliefs around which our lives have come to revolve. This background, this history and stories, determine the way we relate to others and lead us to forming assumptions that kill communication (you think that you know what s/he meant… but you don’t verify to learn if your conclusions are right).
Love is hard work. Crushes are fed with desire, expectation, sometimes obstacles that keep passion alive. They are exciting roller-coasters. However, once the relationship goes steady, people often leave the fire unattended. They feel the “goal” has been met, they belong to each other now, and they forget the ongoing need to nurture the relationship.
This is very dangerous.
To know if your relationship is still viable, it’s important to examine what are you contributing to the relationship. Are the two of you growing together? Are you going in the same direction? Have you been supportive enough? Do you really respect and accept each other? Are you willing to negotiate and take responsibility for you mistakes? Are you competing or sharing?
When a couple comes for therapy to me, I let them know I am treating the relationship as a third party and I invite them to do the same: understand the relationship as a different entity. The struggles in a relationship are not about who you are or s/he is. The relationship is made of what you bring to it. It has a life of its own. You can nurture it or you can hamper it. You can keep it alive or you can kill it.
If in times of trouble you examine the relationship to assess if it’s still viable and you come to the conclusion that it’s not… the next problem you might be facing is that you would keep trying to fix it. It is difficult to end a relationship, after all you have made an emotional investment on it. Having a companion seems more desirable than being on your own. Changes are scary.
However, trying to fix an agonizing relationship against all odds, might lead you to even more dangers. You might find yourself trying to change the other person to suit your needs or to change yourself to keep it running.
You can change the way you communicate or change some of your behaviors but you cannot change yourself and you cannot change the other. After all you didn’t engage in a relationship with the ideal other, your enter a relationship with a real person. Trying to change the other denotes lack of acceptance… you might be transmitting the message that the other is the wrong person for you and you cannot love her of him until they conform with your ideal. Ouch!
What needs to happen in a relationship is that either you have an unconditional acceptance of who you are and who the other person is or you will fall into a “violent” relationship.
Violence refers not just to the shouting, the insulting, the sarcasms or the hitting… violence includes your disapproval, criticism, rejections, belittling… because violence is not allowing the other to exist on their own terms.
Intimacy is not being naked on a bed or becoming confidants. Intimacy refers to a relationship where you can totally be yourself, express yourself, in the presence of the other without fear of being rejected, abandoned or betrayed.
If your relationship has become violent –as per the above definition- or/and you lack intimacy, look for help. If you have sought professional help and keep hurting, it’s better to end the relationship and avoid causing more pain.