In a previous post (The Truth Is Not Every Marriage/Relationship Can Be Saved), I discussed the reality that not every troubled marriage or relationship can be saved or repaired. My main point in that article was to offer a counterpoint to the unrealistic claims being made online that state that it is possible for any and all marriage/relationship problems to be solved with the right attitude, technique or approach. In my opinion, this view is overly simplistic, inherently blaming of the couple and generally not helpful.
This said, I’d now like to make an argument for why couples should fight for their relationship, even in the face of marital/relationship problems, before making the decision to call it quits.
Relationship Help: Why Fighting for Your Relationship Is a Good Idea
Here are five reasons why couples need to roll up their sleeves and fight for their marriage/relationship, rather than prematurely bail out at the first sign of relationship trouble.
1. Faulty Relationship Expectations
We all have relationship expectations (expectations which we may not be fully aware of) about what a marriage or romantic relationship should look like. When your expectations are out of sync with the realities and challenges of long-term love, marital/relationship problems and dissatisfaction can arise. To end a marriage or relationship because of unrealistic expectations is shortsighted and prevents you from experiencing the potential gifts that come with long-term love and intimacy.
If you’re determined to shape and fit your marriage/relationship into a set of steel-clad, unrealistic expectations, you’re not giving your relationship a fair chance. While your relationship can change to become more aligned with your expectations, there may be times when your expectations may need to shift closer toward certain relationship realities.
2. Failure to Do the Needed Relationship Work
Like a healthy body, a healthy marriage/relationship takes effort—this work involves practice, patience and perseverance—these three P’s should be your relationship mantra. To jump ship (or want to jump ship) whenever your relationship hits rough waters doesn’t take into account the reality that long-term relationships take work. Feeling entitled is one of the most counter-productive mindsets you can bring to your relationship—that sense that you should be able to easily get what you want when you want it will never stand up to the give-and-take of intimate relationships.
A reluctance to do the work of relationships, combined with a sense of entitlement, will only set you up for ongoing frustrations with your partner and with the demands of married/domestic life.
3. Certain Challenges/Problems Take Time to Overcome
Too often couples try to solve some marital/relationship problem but then prematurely give up when they don’t see a desired result soon enough or if they experience inconsistent results, rather than the hoped-for outcome. Once this occurs, the couple goes back to their old patterns and any forward movement that might have been set in motion soon dissipates.
The reality is that certain marital/relationship issues take time to resolve and couples who give up too soon fail to realize the full potential that might exist just over the horizon.
4. Relationships Change and Shift
Marriages and relationships are dynamic entities that do not remain static—they change and evolve in ways that can lead to growth and deeper intimacy, but these changes can also emotionally tax the best of us. For instance, many couples report great joy in becoming parents, but the challenges and demands of parenting can also place significant stress on a couple’s relationship. In the parenting stage, you might feel less emotional closeness to your spouse/partner even though you find great meaning in your role as a parent.
To make a decision about the future of your marriage/relationship during a transitional relationship phase may be premature since the next phase might bring you and your partner a renewed sense of togetherness and intimacy that’s been missing.
5. Long-Term Relationships Are Complex and Layered
We all bring emotional baggage into our marriages/relationships—childhood issues and emotional wounds that stem from our family of origin. Since our unresolved/lingering emotional issues emerged in the context of close relationships (with parents/caregivers, siblings, etc.), these same issues tend to re-emerge (in some form) within the context of our closest adult relationships. For instance, if you learned as a child that your desire for emotional closeness brought ridicule and rejection, you may struggle with similar intimacy issues in your marriage/relationship.
In other words, our present day relationships (especially our most intimate and emotionally charged relationships) act as a playing field where our dormant-unresolved emotional issues play out—this creates both the potential for re-wounding (repeating old childhood relational-patterns without resolution) or healing (creating new, more fulfilling intimacy-patterns that aren’t determined by your past). If you fail to understand how your unique emotional vulnerabilities get triggered and impact your marriage/relationship, you might assume that you ended up with Mr./Ms. Wrong.
As you can see, long-term love is seldom linear or an easy ride—to expect anything less is to place your relationship at risk for premature dissolution. Ideally, couples need to be prepared for the inevitable twists and turns that make marriage/relationships a challenge, but don’t forget that the potential for many gifts and rewards lie at the end of these relationship challenges. That’s why hanging in and working hard on your relationship is a good idea.
Dr. Rich Nicastro