How to Know When to Let a Bad Relationship Go

shutterstock_301290968Sometimes we sit back and reflect on our relationship, its strengths and weaknesses, and where it’s going, if anywhere. Sometimes this is obsessive ruminating, at other times it is a sign that things aren’t going well. Of course, every relationship has its peaks and valleys. You hope for a few plateaus. When all you have is plains for a long time that could be a problem. No couple is perfect. They may seem so from the outside. But they all have their problems. Some people look for absolute perfection in their relationship, and are perpetually disappointed when they don’t get it. A more practical approach is asking whether or not your physical and emotional needs are being properly met, and if you can adequately see to theirs. Does this relationship provide happiness, or does it strip it away? If you are by and large seeing your needs met and you still feel a significant connection, than this is a rough patch, and the two of you have to put your heads together and fix things. Unfortunately there is no algorithm that you can punch information into in order to tell whether or not this relationship should be saved. That is up to each individual. But here are some ideas that will help you make your decision.

When you spend time together, do you have fun? Or do you wish you could get away from them as soon as possible? If you can no longer appreciate one another, that is a big red warning sign. If you can’t be companions, there is no point in wasting any more time. This relationship is a desert and you must get out of it. What is the trust level like? If you don’t trust your partner chances are it cannot last. It will instead become worse and worse. But if there is a solid foundation of trust, a lot of other things can be fixed. You already have secured the bedrock of any successful relationship. Do you have common interests or hobbies you like to take part in together? This is a good indicator that your relationship has staying power. When people can enjoy their free time doing things they like together, it strengthens the relationship. When one person feels dragged to this or that, it hurts it. What are your core values or beliefs? What are theirs? If you share the same religion, philosophy, political leaning, finances, and education level, chances are you can see eye to eye on a lot of things, the better to help solve problems.

How significant are small problems? If they are well taken care of, chances are you deal with each other well. If a little thing turns into a giant issue, then this relationship may be on its way out. Do you feel supported? Does your partner feel as though you support them? Emotional support is one of the main needs people turn to their relationship for. If not for their partner, sooner or later they will turn to someone else, further widening the divide. Is there mutual respect? You can’t have real love in a relationship without respect. Is there flexibility? If when plans fall apart, no matter how droll, does your partner fall apart with them? If so, then you may be nearing the cliffs and you should probably jump ship. Relationships that can’t weather small gales are less likely to be able to keep it together should a tempest come crashing along. Is each one of you invested? Sometimes one person feels as though they are towing the other one. This can really wear you down. If you have several positive qualities, but cannot seem to work through it, try a self-help book, or couples counseling. But if there is no hope of resuscitation, it may be best to just let it slip away.

For more insights into the human heart read, If the Buddha Dated: A Handbook for Finding Love on a Spiritual Path by Charlotte Kasl.

Common Patterns that Threaten a Relationship

shutterstock_313918514We have few places to seek out what the model healthy relationship looks like. This is not taught in school, despite the litany of other inane things that are. If you were lucky to have parents who modeled a healthy relationship to you growing up, congratulations. But even then, no couple is perfect. We may pick up unhealthy habits that end up in our own later in life. Besides a lack of education on what is or is not good etiquette, our media doesn’t exactly portray relationships in a healthy manner either. Instead of round characters and the thorny difficulties that partners face, we get cute problems that are cured in just under an hour, and men and women who objectify and use each other, instead of engaging in complex, loving, supportive relationships. Luckily, psychologists have conducted a lot of research concerning what are and are not healthy habits over the years. It is unfortunate that a lot of couples take part in patterns that actually threaten the health of their love rather than strengthen it. Here are some of the most common relationship practices that are in fact toxic. See if any inhabit your love life, learn to banish them from it, and replace the behavior with something healthy.

Are you “keeping score?” In some places or situations a little healthy competition is good. It keeps things interesting and encourages each person to call up extra energies in order to achieve a certain task. But keeping score is different. Here, one person usually keeps a mental tally of each time the other has made a mistake. Tallies are compared to see who messed up the most over the months or years. Sometimes the scorekeeper thinks they can even the score, or have some wiggle room to say flirt with a cute coworker, because after all the scorecard says they are way behind. The reason this is toxic is everyone makes mistakes in relationships. But this tactic uses bitterness and guilt to control the other person. Usually, a lot of resentment builds until the relationship is no longer viable. If there is a habitual problem one or another person is taking part in, it must be addressed. But otherwise learn to forgive your partner when they make a mistake, and how to seek forgiveness when you have. Bringing up actions or problems from months or years ago will only cause greater friction today.

Passive-aggressive tendencies can hurt a relationship. This is dropping hints through sarcasm, or doing little things to hurt your partner to get revenge for certain slights, whether real or imagined. Instead of communicating clearly with the other person and letting them in, passive-aggression shields the user from their real feelings and sets up an adversarial relationship with their partner. Sooner or later their S.O. is going to be tired of being the bad guy. Instead, wait until the initial anger has passed, sit down with your partner and directly tell them what is on your mind. Lastly, no one should hold the relationship hostage. This is when minor problems are thought to be the end of the world. If you or your partner uses statements like, “I can’t be with someone who…” or “How can I be with you if you keep…” then either this behavior has crossed a line and needs to be discussed in depth, or you or your partner tend to overreact. The better way to interact is to communicate calmly and clearly. Outline the behavior and how it makes you feel. Don’t attack your partner. Just let them know what is going on inside your head and heart. Then give them a chance to respond. Most of the time if you address issues frankly from your standpoint, without shame or blame, you will get a positive response. Remember that emotions are not right or wrong, it is how you act upon them, and particularly within a relationship that makes all the difference.

For more on avoiding negative patterns read, Why Can’t You Read My Mind? Overcoming the 9 Toxic Thought Patterns that Get in the Way of a Loving Relationship by Ph.D. Jeffrey Bernstein Ph.D. and Susan Magee.

How Do You Know When It’s Real love?

shutterstock_253194109Love is considered one of the essential emotions to human life. But it is so complex, so elusive that many times when we are with someone, we cannot tell whether we are genuinely in love or not. Many are told by their parents that they will just know when they are in love, and given no further instruction. Due to this lack of understanding just what love is, we often find that we are bouncing around from one relationship to the next. It seems our love lives are nothing more than trial and error, and sometimes it can feel very much more the latter than the former. Psychologists will tell you that one of the chief things adults want to discuss in therapy is whether they are in bona fide love, or just lusting after someone, or in love with the idea of being in love. So how do you know when it is real love? That is a thorny question. Let’s follow what psychology has to say about the matter. As far as we can tell, love is something that happens to us. We fall into it. It is not something you convince yourself of. Instead, it is an uplifting experience. And you want more than anything to be around the person making you feel this way.

When the object of our affection returns our love, we feel absolutely sublime. In their presence we are blissful, our senses are heightened and we feel more creative and energized than ever before. If one’s love is not returned, longing and anguish are all that we experience. We want them to reciprocate our feelings. We want their approval. And we want to touch and be touched by them. There is an intensity of feeling and desire. For many this is the beginning stages of love. But falling in love and being in love are different. Falling in love is considered the honeymoon phase. But being in love is a continuum. Love changes as a relationship moves into a more long-term arrangement, and we have to change with it. After this initial stage is over, couples generally have to wrestle with differences, and love becomes a deeper and more profound experience, less based on intensity and more on a deep bond. Some people mistake love for power or the need to control. Here, the person is insecure. They intensely need control in their life. They woo another and feel longing. But that longing is for controlling situations and their partner, rather than for being with them, or for who that partner is. They fall in love with having the other person and being able to control their behavior, and not the person themselves, for who they are.

Some people think that the expression of jealousy underlies love. Jealousy comes from feelings of insecurity. So you can be totally in love and secure, and so not jealous, or not in love, insecure, and jealous. Some people feel that taking care of another is love. It makes them feel important and is wrapped up in their self-worth. This is a desire to rescue another, not love. It comes from the idea that love is done by one who has a certain kind of superiority, the forever mother, the saint, hero, or the knight in shining armor. Then there are those who enter into a relationship thinking it is love, when really they are looking for security. These intense feelings come from the sense of joy being in the company of another. Here a person focuses on the fear of being alone, desperation, and the need for another. This is translated into love in their mind, but is not authentic. There are those who mistake a beautiful face, popularity, or an eye-popping physique for love. This person lacks self-esteem. But they quickly learn that other aspects of the person which they would tolerate if they were in love, quickly begin to drive them insane. This person uses their own relationship to fill the empty places within themselves. The last is love versus a fantasy. Here the person projects their image of the perfect mate onto the person they have chosen as their partner. But when they begin to see through the cracks, love fades. Of course, the emotion itself is not enough for a relationship to make it. There has to be trust, good communication, and a willingness to work together, compromise, and so on. But it helps if you take some time to figure out exactly what you like about this person, how they make you feel, and why it is you are attracted to them. If you are in love with aspects of who they are, chances are it is the real deal. If you are more interested in what they are providing for you whether financial, emotional, reputation-wise or what-have-you, chances are you are not experiencing authentic love. If you love them for who they really are, real love is indeed your own.

For more pick up a copy of, Real Love: The Truth About Finding Unconditional Love & Fulfilling Relationships by: Greg Baer.


How to Benignly Get What You Want out of Your Relationship

shutterstock_283656011Ask someone what they don’t want in their relationship, and they can usually rattle off a list of traits. This is true for some long-term couples, especially if they have been having problems lately. But ask them what they want out of their relationship, and they often draw a blank, or scramble for words. Most people will have to think about it for a while. As time passes, it is easy to see what is wrong with our partner. But their positive qualities become less obvious. Also, annoying habits become more and more apparent. We focus on the negative, and what it is we want to discard, rather than the positive things we can focus on, or want to bring into it. Couples who have been married a long time for instance often say things to each other like, “How can you forget? I’ve told you a hundred times,” “You are so insensitive sometimes,” or “You only think about yourself.” But statements like these are bound to shut down our partner or cause a fight, rather than to have them open up to what we are really saying, and have them exhibit the behavior we desire or expect.

“Can you help me with this?,” “I feel more relaxed when I get a helping hand from you,” or “I understand your need to get things done, but would you mind checking with me before you make a decision like that?” Living closely with someone, sooner or later you are bound to step on their toes, and they yours. This automatically puts us into a defensive position. We have to learn that our partner is not out to get us. They love us and have our best interest in mind. They make mistakes however, just as we do. And as with us, they don’t always go about things the right way. In this defensive posture, we start to see our partner as the adversary. We want to win the argument, but what we gain is more anger, resentment, and frustration, and a more turbulent house. We’ve increased disharmony, not lessened it. We may listen to negative thoughts or critical inner voices at this time, which ultimately can even make things worse. Then there are those partners or even couples who instead of directly saying what they want, shutdown. They turn inward and choke on what they want, and their resentment toward their partner grows and grows, as they die a little inside each day.

The first step of getting what you want is knowing what you want. Instead of concentrating on how you feel when your partner disappoints you, zero in on the words or behavior you had expected. You will be surprised. Stating what you want, though making you vulnerable, can take the fury out of a fight, sometimes immediately. Your partner is being let in and is coming to know you, and will likely want to provide for your needs and desires. If you do get caught up in the heat of battle, you can stop the fight by dropping your side of it. Simply say, “I’m quitting because I care more about our relationship than winning this argument.” That ought to put the brakes on fast. Don’t use “you statements” or passive-aggression. Don’t play the victim. Instead use “I” statements. Tell them how their behavior made you feel. Be vulnerable, communicative, and open. Some people view vulnerability as a weakness. But when used correctly it can be our greatest strength.

For more on how to operate in a better way read, The 11 Pillars of Relationship Success by Matt Bishop.

How to Argue Mindfully

shutterstock_255824092Mindfulness is a millennia old Buddhist practice that has lately gotten a lot of attention in the West, particularly in the media. In an age where we are constantly distracted by a legion of small devices, mindfulness teaches us to clear out all the junk and focus solely on enjoying the here and now. It is incredibly relaxing. By taking the stress and tension out of situations, and making us hyper-focused, we can see problems better, get to solutions faster, and do so in a manner that doesn’t set off the defenses of our partner. Research has shown that conflict is a natural, healthy part of any relationship. Those who do argue tend to work out problems. Couples who ignore them see them grow bigger and bigger, until they consume everything. No matter how well matched you are, sooner or later you and your boo are going to have a disagreement. How you and your partner go about fixing it makes all the difference. So argue mindfully. Sold? Well, here’s how to do it. The first thing to do is to dissolve judgment. In today’s world where we are bombarded by a constant stream of stimuli, we are used to judging something every three seconds. But rash judgments can be damaging to a relationship. Instead, dispel your feelings, wave away judgment, and replace it with curiosity.

A detached, objective, curious view is what you should strive for. Instead of blurting out a rash judgment, put forth a question. Ask for some more information. Get clarification. Reach into the heart of the matter, and investigate it from all sides before making an evaluation. We get so caught up emotionally in a disagreement with our partner. But if we and they can both remain calm, take a step back and learn more about the situation, misunderstandings will become apparent, lessening the chance of fighting about nothing, and it will help tease out certain aspects that you can understand, or that may help negotiate a mutually acceptable solution. This disassociating one’s emotions from one’s argument can be seen in Western culture, embodied in lawyers. Though they do not have the best reputation, we can see ourselves arguing the facts instead of what our heart is screaming at us. The difference between acting like a lawyer and arguing mindfully however is that lawyers are competitive, and only argue their own side to win. Their success depends upon the failure of their opponent. But in a relationship we strive for the win-win. Get too competitive and you may win the battle and lose your partner in the meantime.

Mindfulness must come complete with compassion. Not only should we venture forward curiously in a manner that objectively studies all aspects of the situation, we should strive to understand our partner and where they are coming from. We need to know what emotions are embodied within this conflict, and if there are any that underlie what is being portrayed. Instead of focusing on our own emotions in the heat of the moment, take a step back and try to understand theirs. We must not see our partner as our adversary, or else we set up an adversarial relationship that is bound to bring anger and resentment in, and cause issues. Instead, we should view them as our partner who sees things in a different way. We should come to see their point of view, and ours, and begin to discover what connections they have, and what kind of compromise or strategy can be employed to do the right thing, finding an option which satisfies both of you. Sure, sometimes you have to give a little, and so do they. But most people count fairness as an important quality and that is no less employed here. We have a tendency to fight in a way that falls into old patterns, either formed in our long-term relationship or modeled after our parents. But if we learn how to fight better, we can have closer, deeper, more satisfying relationship, where the emotional pain is brought to a minimum, and with the warmth, love, and compassion brought up to full capacity.

For more tips on this read, How to Be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful by David Richo and Kathlyn Hendricks.