When to work on it and when to leave

One of my friends recently commented that all the relationship advice online seems to be “dump him and go to therapy.” Of course, the people who go online for this advice aren’t representative of all relationships, so maybe this isn’t such a bad thing.

It seems that all of us struggle at some point with figuring out how to deal with relationship problems. How do you tell the difference between “you should work on it” and “you should end it?” How do you find the right balance between dealing with your problems with this person, versus finding someone who give us fewer problems?

I don’t really have a complete answer, but I can say two things. They pull in opposite directions, and the idea is that by thinking about them together, you might find your stable center.

The first thing is that every relationship has problems. Things are hard sometimes, but that alone is not a reason to leave. To build meaningful relationships, you have to work on them. You don’t want to be the person who flies away at the first sign of conflict. Even if it ends up not working out at the end, the fact that you put in your best effort will teach you far more about yourself, and about other people, than if you didn’t try. And of course it might work out in the end, in which case you’ll be glad that you stayed strong during the hard times.

The second thing is that it matters very much how you deal with those problems. If you can be open, vulnerable, honest, and respectful, you can talk about what each person wants. You can work towards a satisfactory, or at least best-possible, solution. If you or your partner can’t be these things, you should at least work on it and making meaningful progress. Things should at least get better over time. If you’re not making progress, or going backwards despite your best efforts, that’s the sign that you should break things off.

I suppose my point is that it doesn’t matter whether you have conflicts. What matters is how you address the conflicts. Disagreement is actually healthy! What makes someone a bad match is that you can’t work with them, and as a result every disagreement blows up into something much worse.

If it’s not totally clear, and you’re on the fence about whether your partner is a good match, it might be best to work on yourself for a little while, reading and thinking about what makes relationships strong. If you begin to grow on your own a bit, you might find it gets much easier to talk to your partner about these things, and to find out together which choice is best.

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