In my last post, I discussed some characteristics of healthy and unhealthy relationships. I'm always a little surprised at the sheer number of people I encounter that indicate their relationship has major problems. Many times it's manifested as "My spouse has a serious problem with me running barefoot." When I dig a little deeper, that seemingly minor issue is a symptom for far deeper issues.
I shouldn't be surprised, though. I've been in bad relationships. I was married previously. My current relationship with Shelly hasn't always been muffins wrapped in rainbows. In both situations, I knew I was in a bad relationship for a long time before deciding to take action. The gist of this post is just that- a guide on how to take action.
Once you acknowledge you're in a bad relationship, a decision must be made:
Fix it or end it.
Simply continuing is not fair to you or your partner. Life is far too short to spend in a shitty relationship. If your partner keeps you from being the best you can possibly be (or vice versa), you're wasting the precious little time you have.
Most people that stay in bad relationships use a litany of excuses to justify and rationalize inaction. Some of the most common:
- We have kids together. What's worse- having two happy parents that aren't in a relationship together or two bitter, angry parents modeling a loveless marriage? If you think the latter is better for your kids' well-being, please stop reading my blog.
- We've been together for a long time. This is the anthem of the unhappy. No matter how much time and effort you've spent on anything, be it a relationship, career, or jig saw puzzle, we have to look at the effect it has on us right now. Imprisoning yourself in a world of misery for the future based on past happiness is flat-out stupid. Learn to rejoice the past, cut your losses, and create a better future.
- "Everyone has problems. There are ups and downs in all relationships. Relationships are hard." WRONG. If a relationship is hard, you're doing it wrong. The hard part of relationships is recognizing and admitting our own faults, then fixing them so they don't pollute our relationship. There are lots of people in great relationships, and they do it with ease. Why? They're secure, healthy individuals.
- The entire relationship isn't bad. Most relationships have some good elements. There are a few good times mixed in with the bad, and those few good times can be enough to motivate inaction.
- We're working on it, but not really working on it. This may be the most insidious excuse of them all because it gives the illusion of improvement. In many relationships, this involves a series of behaviors where the relationship sours, both people change their behavior pattern for a period of time and the relationship temporarily improves, then both slip back into the same old destructive behaviors.
None of these reasons are valid excuses to maintain a shitty relationship, which leads back to the two possible options- really fix it or end it.
In my own relationships, I had to make that decision. I ended one, decided to really fix the other. Both situations ended up working out for the better for all parties involved.
Before we get to the point where we try to fix a relationship, we should probably assess if the relationship is worth saving. Here are few pretty easy cases:
- If one or both partners are physically or emotionally abusive, the relationship probably needs to end, especially if there's children involved.
- If both people just aren't into each other anymore, the relationship should end. This is actually the best-case "breakup" scenario.
- If one partner has no interest in continuing as a couple, it should probably end. You can't force someone to love another.
- If the people are fundamentally incompatible (vague description, I know), it should probably end.
Here's a quick and dirty test. Ask yourself how you would feel if you never saw your significant other again. If your honest gut response is "relieved", it's time to end it.
Yes, it's hard to end a relationship. There are a lot of costs associated with the decision. There may be kids involved. There's shared property. Family. Common friends. Pets. However, deciding to leave a bad relationship may be the best thing for you personally. If you're not growing as a person, you're not living up to your fullest potential. If that's not motivating, your partner is suffering the same fate. You're keeping them from being the best possible person they can be. If you have kids, you'll spend their childhood modeling bad relationship habits. Where do you think your bad relationship habits came from? Are you comfortable knowing you're setting them up for the same strife you're experiencing right now? If the relationship needs to end, end it.
There's more gray area if both people really want the relationship to continue, but have significant issues that cannot be overcome. This is where we REALLY fix the relationship. I would strongly suggest giving it one last shot with the understanding that using the same methods that failed to resolve issues in the past will not fix current problems. Most relationship problems stem from the bad relationship patterns we learned earlier in life. We simply don't have the tools to fix our own problems, let alone relationship problems.
In that case, I would highly recommend seeking individual professional help. A good therapist can help us work through our own issues so we can be part of a healthy relationship. IT'S IMPORTANT FOR BOTH PEOPLE TO DO THIS! Once each person has worked through their issues, then we can seek the help of a good couple's therapist to teach us the relationship skills to make a great relationship.
If only one member of the couple seeks help, the relationship will fail. This is common when one person is blamed for the problems in the relationship, which is never the case. BOTH people need to solve their issues or the relationship will continue to suck.
If you're in a bad relationship, I challenge you to take action today. Really fix it or end it. Life's too short to take any other path.
The next post in the series will discuss how we end relationships.