The Relationships We Choose
Before I go any further, let me make an important distinction about relationships: some are optional (husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, business partner, friend, associate) and some aren’t (family). Like it or not, your dad will always be your dad and your mum will always be your mum. And so on.
Today, I’m talking about the optional relationships: the ones we choose.
Like it or not, acknowledge it or not, believe it or not, the truth is that right now many of us (maybe the majority) have at least one unhealthy (optional) relationship in our life. It might be with a friend, a colleague, a business partner, a lover or spouse. For the purpose of this discussion, unhealthy could mean anything from poor communication, mutual indifference and boredom through to mental, emotional and (sadly) physical abuse.
And yes, some people will argue that once we’re married that particular relationship is not an optional one (it’s a forever thing – no matter what) but, for the moment, let’s not get into that theological, moral and philosophical debate. Take a look around and you’ll soon discover how forever marriage (often) isn’t.
*Which is not to say that it can’t be (1) lasting or (2) fantastic. I’m not talking about what’s (theoretically) possible but rather, what typically happens. BTW, my parents will celebrate their forty-eighth wedding anniversary this Thursday, so I’m definitely not anti-marriage. Happy anniversary Mary and Ron.
So, here’s a few relevant questions and some possible answers:
(1) Why do we stay in unhealthy (toxic, destructive, dysfunctional, dangerous) relationships?
For a range of reasons but here’s a few no-brainers:
* We associate more pain with getting out of it than staying in it.
* We believe we don’t deserve any better.
* We’d rather be in some kind of relationship – even an unhealthy one – than no kind of relationship (being alone terrifies us).
* We naively think that it (our unhealthy relationship) will somehow work itself out. Miraculously get better.
* We lie to ourselves and to others. We pretend it’s all okay because we’re scared to face the unpleasant reality.
* We’re scared of what he/she might do if we try to leave.
* We’re scared of what people will say and think.
* We tolerate the emotional negatives because our practical (financial) situation provides us with a level of security and predictability.
* We do it to protect our kids.
(2) When should we (try to) fix it?
* Most times – especially if we’re talking about a marriage.
* When we genuinely value the relationship.
* When we honestly believe that it can be a healthy, happy, positive place to be.
* When we feel strongly about the person (in a good way).
* When both parties are prepared to work (and keep working) to create a healthier relationship.
* When we know that we have contributed to the problem (and have the skills, desire and strategies to do better).
(3) When should we consider forgetting it?
* When we are in danger.
* When we are not respected or valued.
* When the relationship is like a painful (version of) Groundhog Day.
* When our dominant and prevailing emotional state (in terms of the relationship) is a negative one (fear, anxiety, frustration, misery).
* When we start dreaming about an alternative life (a lot).
* When we find ourselves constantly making excuses for someone else’s behaviour.
Now, before anyone accuses me of anything, let me be clear today – I’m of the opinion that ending any marriage is always a last resort. I’m neither anti-marriage nor pro-divorce. What I am is anti-misery. But, I do wonder about the value (for anyone) of staying in something that’s toxic, destructive and stressful (and not likely to change), when there’s another option.
For me, saying yes to an unhealthy relationship is saying no to my own self-worth. My own possibilities. My own happiness. For me, if a relationship is fixable (and I’m motivated to do so), I’ll endeavour to fix it.
If not, I’ll forget it.
Yes, this is only the beginning of this discussion and no, this article is not a solution to anything. It’s a few thoughts about a very complex issue. I’d love to hear yours.
About the Author
Craig Harper is one of Australia’s leading self help authors.
Self Help Books Best- Craig Harper