SUMMARY: Relationships take work. All too often leading advice tags resolvable issues as a reason for the breakup of a relationship or even a family. The result is a pandemic of loneliness and the neurotic tendencies that it spawns. We deserve better, those who depend on us deserve better; it’s time to learn how to stick it out! Encouraging healthy relationships is integral to a TBM lifestyle.
Sadly, encouragement to “stick it out” is advice you will not hear often, if ever. This is not only from our friends and co-workers, but relationship professionals as well. Too often, people want an exit plan from relationships when they aren’t “happy,” that are “uncomfortable,” or where “love” isn’t felt anymore. It is socially acceptable to build a laundry list of complaints against your significant other. Sadly, we see it often in social media settings.
But, research shows that coupled persons are happier than their uncoupled peers. Too often “bad” advice circulates to ditch your partner. Instead of a choosing to be a contender, disagreements all too often leave someone out in the cold. But, that’s the time to dig in your heels and fight to keep important people in your life.
The Three A’s to Exit:
Let me say, however, that there certainly are times to end a relationship. I think the what is known as “The Three A’s” provide a meaningful guide and near-comprehensive list.
- Abuse. If you are being physically or verbally abused, seek refuge.
- Adultery. Adultery covers a broad category of where the person whom you have entrusted your heart too doesn’t care for it. If your partners is not willing to make your emotional well-being an utmost priority its time to move on.
- Addiction. While all three of these “A’s” can be boiled down to selfishness, this one particularly so. When addiction takes over, typically anyone else’s needs disappear. If prompt and determined effort to overcome is not the desire of your partner then you’d better take steps to protect your world and that likely means they won’t be part of it.
Outside of abuse, adultery, and addiction, it is my personal and scientific opinion that it’s best if people stay coupled.
“Bad” relationships are often better than NO relationship.
You’re wondering, “How can he say that?”
First off, consider that being in a “bad” relationship has the potential to be made “good,” but being in no relationship does not.
Secondly, realize that we need to be in relationships. We need emotional bonds. I urge you to consider the insights provided initially by John Bowlby who yielded crucial insights about the importance of the infant-maternal bond, Sue Johnson who has illuminated the necessity for romantic bonds, and Jim Coan who has focused on social bonds and general health.
Third, we humans are messy and all relationships are going to have their ebbs and flows. A relationship that has arguments and struggles isn’t failing. Rather, with respect and communication, partners can build a foundation to safety. While it isn’t fun when life is chaotic, arguments surrounding “normal issues” can lead to eventual peace if both parties stay compassionately engaged.
Normal arguments could include: house chores, parental and step-parent duties, family engagement (what traditions and customs get upheld in the merging of two lives), how things get done, financial management, etc.
The “just leave”-mentality is normalizing pathology and leaving too many of us to live lives in isolation and loneliness that feel heavy, lack meaning, and result in increasing mental and physical health issues. Toxic statements like “you deserve better than him,” “she isn’t pulling her weight financially,” etc. breeds narcissism within society and relationships. So, what happens when we expect only perfect in relationships?
A Fish Out of Water Analogy
If you see a fish out of water, you wouldn’t ask why he was struggling to breathe on the shore. Would you need to spend time assessing the situation? What would you do? You would toss the fish back into the water.
Instead of trying to help people stay in and fix relationships, people give really bad advice. Sadly, society idealizes single life. Or “influencers” talk about relationships where only two perfectly healed people engage each other in relationship. There’s an idea of a dance between the “divine feminine” and the “divine masculine” as the pinnacle of consciousness and mindful relationships. Ultimately, these ideals are not healthy. Furthermore, these ideals leaves people struggling alone. Some people look for the better thing instead of happily settling in with the “next-best” (which ironically is the person in front of them).
I am reminded of the legendary wagon trains traversing the American West. A common social scenario, depicted in many Hollywood westerns, was a mother dies in childbirth leaving behind a widower and a man gets killed in a battle or by an injury leaving behind a widow. This widow and widower would realize that should they come together their chances of surviving not only the wagon journey but establishing a new home and farm or ranch would increase exponentially. Many times the two would accept this reality, form a new union, and set out to build a life together.
To stay in a “bad” relationship is sometimes the best option. The “bad” might have love, support, and comfort. No doubt, there will be annoyances, eye-rolls, and bristling until issues are dealt with. But, being with a person that keeps showing up, day-in and day-out, despite their imperfections is far superior to ending up alone and provides a foundation from which it can be made better.
The couple on the plains realized that they “needed” each other. If we think that we don’t “need” other people then we will never have the motivation to work through the hard things, the messy things, that are required to be worked through in order to remain “coupled.” From my experience and studies it is clear to me that it is not just a mindset that improves the chances of succeeding but it is accurate. We humans truly do need each other in general and particularly for forming romantic bonds.
Separation Regret-What We Need to Talk About
Mike shared with me recently that if he could go back, he would go to counseling and quit spending money. I haven’t heard Ann’s side, but I know they both remain single, doing the same things they did before divorce. However, now they do it all separately. Maybe she has regrets too. Either way, a family was wrenched apart.
And along the way, no one said, “Hey, you should really think about this. Its a big decision.” With the financial goals being brought into balance, Ann and Mike would have had normal life to deal with. What’s more, the good parts of their marriage got wiped out. And for what?
Too often, this is the case. “Bad” relationships were only bad in comparison to someone else’s or an ideal not being met. Almost every time, it would have been better to stay and do the work. If you are dealing with on of the “3 A’s” then it may be time to exit, otherwise draw upon resources, learn to communication openly and vulnerably, stay engaged, and keep in mind that humans are messy and relationships are worth the effort they require.