Knowing when to work at a relationship can be stressful. Should you stay? Should you go? If you stay, should you just wait to see if things get better in time? Should you try to get your partner to change? Should you keep talking about the issues in the hope that it triggers understanding, remorse, resolve to change, and ensuring action? How do you know when to work at your relationship?
The decision is driven by a variety of reasons, with some of these actually being smokescreens for fear, plus you’d be surprised at how many people want to work at a relationship that they know on a fundamental level is actually not right for them, whether it’s down to conflicting values (incompatible), conflicting behaviors (eventually incompatible if not resolved), or unhealthy behavior that’s staying unhealthy (still incompatible).
- You might, for instance, decide to stay because you reason that you’ve been there for X years so it’s too late to turn back now – the whole not wanting to lose your ‘investment’.
- You might decide to stay because you remember how things used to be and even if that time was a long time ago, you want to try to get it back.
- You might decide to stay because you realize that you’ve accepted something for so long (being casual, putting up with abuse, repeated cheating) that to leave would be like “Oh my God, I put up with [insert whatever it is) for X years!” and you don’t want to face that outside of the relationship and may even wonder who will want you now.
- You might stay because you love them even if you don’t love your relationship and how your life is very much.
- You may have children together and worry about what leaving may do, or be afraid of being just like your own parents.
- You may be afraid of ‘failure’ and feel like not continuing to work at it is an indelible black mark against you.
How do you know when to work at your relationship? Pretty much when both parties are willing to work together and when you’re willing to also address any issues you may personally have.
Working at your relationship involves working together to find a solution you can both positively live with – compromise. If your solution involves you losing yourself, that’s not compromise – it’s a loss. ‘Work’ is also not waiting for the other person to change…
The answer to all relationship issues isn’t to break up or threaten to – breaking up is what you do to end a relationship, not what you do to force through what you want. Sometimes stepping away helps to gain objectivity, but it’s not the type of thing that should really be done more than once or a couple of times, after all, breaking up doesn’t make problems go away – addressing problems addresses problems.
A few things to look for:
Having an already existing foundation to work from. If the relationship has lacked healthiness from the outset, you can pretty much say you’re working to fix something that never worked in the first place.
You can tell a lot about a person by how they handle their problems in a relationship.
Do they avoid them or do they handle them? When someone avoids the existence or true nature of their problems, they’ll blame you or everyone else, or they’ll shut down or make fake attempts at addressing and then go back to their old ways, or they’ll cheat/look for attention elsewhere. Breaking up doesn’t make problems go away, neither does avoiding them. It’s like hiding bills you’re not paying.”
Here’s a foundation – mutual love, care, trust, and respect, or at the very least care, trust, and respect. If one or more of these areas are breached by your partner, you’ll have to work with them to get past the issue.
The issues being identified and joint effort to work at tackling the solutions. Maybe you can both figure it out together, but if you’re like the blind leading the blind or things are pretty difficult, a neutral third-party professional can help to navigate the issues. But remember, you can talk but you also need to be doing. If you mostly talk and you both keep weaseling out on doing the things to make your situation different, the window of opportunity for change will pass because you will both lose faith in your respective abilities to really do anything.
The truth. I’m all for working at a relationship, but you cannot work at something and fix issues that one or both of you are in denial about. It’s also pretty tricky to work at a relationship with an habitual liar and it’s also difficult to work at something where they keep drip-feeding the truth to win you back, but then show little or no remorse and act like “Problem? What problem?” and guilt you into looking like a jackass for bringing up “Old sh*t” when actually, its current because the problem still exists.
Remember: If a problem has existed for a long time, it may take a while to unravel.
One of the best things that you can do though if you’re unsure of what to do is make sure that you’re actively nurturing you and working on your own self-esteem. Not only does it give you personal security, but it also gives you a balanced perspective where you won’t blame yourself for ‘everything’ or make unnecessary changes based on panic and ego.
Ultimately, the decision and choice to work at a relationship is individual. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to give something a shot but don’t do it based on fear – one day you’ll look back and wish that you’d made a decision either way, based on love, even if that were loving yourself.