Still In The Right Relationship?

If you’ve started to have the creeping feeling that the relationship that you have been in is gradually not working for you, there are either one of two problems:

It may be that the skills that you have to deal with conflict need work, such as learning how to improve communication, or learning how to stop avoiding and withdrawing enough to deal with conflict. You may need help in terms of learning how to develop more intimacy, sharing your emotions or thoughts with an intimate partner, or just benefitting from general relationship help.

If so, you might benefit from learning how to develop those skills, in the context of therapy or counseling. If you have historically been an “avoider” or a “withdrawer” from conflict, your perspective will be altered if you’re seeing things through that lens. Assessing whether your relationship is the right one for you may be dependent on learning how to build these skills up, because if you can learn how to communicate better, or deal head-on with conflict, you may actually want to be more in the relationship that you’re currently in. You may be skewed in your thinking if you’re not dealing with these issues.

Now, the bigger of the two problems: that your relationship is not the right one for you. If you feel like you’ve tried to make things happen and get better, but your partner is not bending or is unwilling to see their side of things, or to take any real responsibility for the relationship problems that you are experiencing, it may be that you are hitting your head against the wall in trying to make changes unilaterally. It may be that the relationship is not working for you (or both of you) anymore:

What to look out for if you think this is the case:

  • You try to approach the situation and confront the issues, and your partner is not willing to
  • It feels like you’re just going through the motions, and there isn’t any connection, including physical intimacy and sex; maybe the family, kids or finances is the only “glue” left
  • Your partner is unwilling to take any ownership or responsibility for the problems that you are experiencing in your relationship
  • Your partner consistently gets defensive, blames you, shuts down or gets aggressive or otherwise when you try to confront the problems directly with them
  • You consistently feel like you’re not getting your needs met in your relationship or marriage, even after trying to advocate for those needs and constantly trying to communicate them to your partner
  • You’re very unhappy, and have been for a long time without any change
  • You have been considering break up or divorce for sometime, but keep coming back into the relationship against your better judgment, and may or may not know why
  • You’ve tried to make changes, but feel like you’re the only one working at the relationship
  • You’ve tried to make changes or decided to leave before, but guilt, fear, obligation or a sense of responsibility for your partner keeps overpowering you; you’re scared to be alone

I think one of the hardest aspects is really just figuring out that your unhappiness is attributable to the relationship itself, and not another situation or person. I talk with plenty of guys that are generally unhappy, but I think that their marriage or relationship is making them unhappy situationally.

In that case, I ask guys to take a real deep and serious look at themselves and see if it’s not their fundamental unhappiness that has nothing to do with their partner, and if they are just blaming their unhappiness on their partner or on their relationship. If they can genuinely say that they’re not fundamentally unhappy within their own skin, and it’s attributable to the relationship, then it may very well be that the relationship needs to be dealt with.

Diagnosis is the first step; trusting oneself is the second step. You need to be able to trust yourself to proceed through your relationship enough to deal with it, and possibly end it if it is not working for you. I think it warrants many different steps to try to repair it, including several attempts to try to communicate it or confront it, and possibly getting couples or marriage counseling or therapy to try to address it professionally.

It’s difficult to trust yourself, because a lot of the neurotic or pathological motivating factors drive us into a situation that is not good for us. We often feel responsible, whether there are children involved, finances, a sense of duty or responsibility, or generally worrying about your relationship partner enough to keep you in a bad situation. Learning how to trust yourself as a process, so go easy on yourself, but know that you need to start listening to your gut and what it is trying to tell you to do in your current situation.

Why therapy helps this is because it helps you to uncover those deeper and unconscious messages that you may have about your relationship or marriage, that have originated from your growing up. A lot of times, we get negative or problematic messages about marriage and relationships from our parents or our caregivers when we’re young, and we adopt those messages unconsciously, which serve to drive our way of showing up in a relationship later in life.

Therapy can help you work through those unconscious beliefs systems, and help you deal more effectively in your current relationship. It can also help you start to choose better partners for yourself, and break old relationship patterns that have guided you thus far.

If you do get to the point of trying to end your relationship or marriage, here are some things to think about:

  • Be kind, compassionate, but assertive. Speak your mind, and don’t be hurtful, but say what you mean and mean what you say. Be honest and forthright with the person as best as possible.
  • Make sure that you have tried to communicate your thoughts and feelings to your partner several different times over the course of your unhappiness. Make sure that they are indeed not listening or open to hearing what you are trying to say, and double check that there is no resolution to be had, because you would hate to end a relationship that might be able to be salvaged.
  • Develop better self-awareness and really get in touch with and understand what keeps bringing you back. Do you have strong emotional ties that you can’t shake? Are there kids involved, and are you deciding to stay because you want to preserve the family? These are all really important questions that you should ask yourself as you’re going through this process. Ask yourself “why am I really doing this?”
  • Get therapy to help you work through the break up. Even if you have the steps down to break up with your relationship partner, it may very well help you when dealing with the break up or the ensuing grief that may come as a result of the relationship break up.

Ending a marriage or relationship is a very serious thing, and has many implications, but you want to know that the decisions that you’re choosing to make are the right ones for you, and can minimize damaging or negative impact all the way around. It’s not good for anyone staying in a relationship that is not working, either for you or your partner, because then they’re not getting the best of you in the relationship that you both would deserve.

About Jason

As "The Man That Men Will Talk To," Jason Fierstein, MA, LPC is a private practice counselor and psychotherapist for men and couples in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area. He works with struggling men to find happiness in their lives, and with their wives.
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