When Relationships Go Bad
In a time when the divorce rate hovers around 40%, most people have multiple relationships before marriage, and many are even choosing to forgo marriage in favor of cohabitation, failing relationships have become a part of everyone’s life. Chances are, even if you have never had a break up or divorce, you’re close to someone who has been.
Relationships are unique because, in a sense, they are complex and changing beings which not only take on attributes of the two people involved, but sometimes even taking on a synergy that comes from the melding of two individuals. Because of this, there is no easy fix for a bad relationship. Therefore, the following is not meant to be a step by step manual for fixing a bad relationship. Rather, it is meant to be an examination of one’s self and the relationship as a method of analysis to figure out what aspects of the relationship need attention if the relationship as a whole is to be fixed.
Attributes Needed to Ask these Questions
Not everyone in a struggling relationship will be able to ask these questions, because to do it effectively one must undergo an overall attitude of humility. If you’re egocentric, selfish, and stubborn, you may need some sort of conversion before adequately and honestly answering these questions. Besides, humility, here are a few more attributes you need to cultivate before objectively analyzing your relationship.
Correct Intent: If you are going to use these questions to assess your relationship, you need to do so with the correct intent. If you don’t want to fix your relationship, then don’t bother. If your intent is to cast blame on your partner, then don’t bother.
Honesty: Next, one must be sure they are honest in answering these questions. This involves taking a sometimes harsh look at yourself, and sometimes a positive look on your partner whom you may resent. Try to be honest and objective, because if you’re lying to yourself or your partner about what is good and bad in the relationship, you’re only making it worse. This is one reason why humility is of utmost important. This also involves being open-minded about what you might find out about yourself and your partner when you ask these questions.
Selflessness: Fixing a relationship is hard work, and often requires a person to give of themselves more than they have been, especially concerning the relationship. If you are able to be honest and realize that you are partially to blame for hurting the relationship (which you probably will be), be selfless enough to fix it. This relationship isn’t just about you… it’s about both people involved (and sometimes others).
The 10 Questions
1) How committed am I to the relationship? This should be the first question you ask yourself. Do you even want to make this work? Is the reason the relationship is struggling because you just don’t want to be with the person? Are you married, did you take vows, do you hold a sacramental view of marriage?
If you have a high level of commitment and WANT to love the person you’re with, you should proceed. If you’re not married, or have a low level of commitment, and really don’t care if this works out, perhaps you should think about getting out of the relationship.
2) Who will be affected by this break up? This goes along with the last question, but it’s perhaps something you should consider separately. If you have children, that helps to establish a high level of commitment and, if there is anyway way possible, it would be advisable to try to rekindle the love. If you’re in a relationship and have mutual friends who might be affected by your relationship, take that into consideration, but by no means should mutual friends be the sole cause of you staying in an unhappy or abusive relationship.
3) What do I think love is? What do you think love is? Is it a choice, or is it a feeling? Is it sexual and physical, or is it a commitment? If you take some time to meditate and think about what love is, you may be able to think about how this affects your perception of the relationship. If you think love is merely physical and a feeling, and you don’t feel in love with your partner and are not having as much sex, then perhaps this is your problem. Trying to begin to see love as a choice and commitment will start the shift towards a more accepting and lasting form of love above that which is based on shifting feelings.
4) Why did I originally fall in love with this person? Often times thinking about why you originally entered into a relationship with this person will help rekindle some of those feelings, if not, at the very least, help you realize what you want to see in the relationship again. It can also help make question #3 clearer–did you fall in love with this person because they were attractive and great at physical intimacy, or did you fall in love with them because they would make a great mother and make you laugh? Do they still do these things for you? Is there a way you can help your partner be that person again?
5) What is my relationship with this person based on? Continuing Q#4, what is your relationship with this person based on–is it a sexual relationship? Spiritual? Emotionally co-dependent? Is this foundation healthy to establish a relationship on (is it co-dependent)? Can we change it? If we do, could it save the relationship?
6) How important is God in our relationship? Perhaps your relationship problem is a spiritual one. Let me be blunt, now that you’ve made it to question 6… a relationship that is based on physical or emotional appeal alone will fail. Any healthy relationship must have an element of spirituality. If you’re a Christian, is Christ central to your marriage (are you more dependent on Him than on each other)? If you’re of a different religion or spirituality, do you share and consistently practice these beliefs together? If you’re atheist (which I truly believe makes for the hardest marriages), do you at the very least participate in some philosophical or meditative exercises together? This is the most important aspect of a relationship, so I encourage you to figure out if the problem lies here, and if so, how to fix it.
7) What do I need out of this relationship, and how much should I expect? You next need to ask yourself what the purpose of this relationship is, and what its reasonable to expect. If you’re in a relationship, do you need to consider marriage, and is it appropriate to expect your partner to consider this? If you’re married, what do you need to your spouse to do to support the relationship? Is it realistic for you to expect marriage to be permanent? What is your love language, how do you receive love? Do you need more spirituality, more sex, or more intimacy from the relationship, and is it realistic for you to expect that from your spouse? If, for some reason, these needs present unreasonable expectations, what does that mean?
8) What do I need to ask the other person to give me? Which of these previous things do you need to ask your spouse to give you, or help you with? Do you need to ask for more consistent physical intimacy? Do you need to ask for your spouse to do more household chores? Do you need to talk more on the phone or go out on more dates? Which of these are most important to get? How do you ask your partner to give these to you? What can I do in return? Which of these needs can I reasonably forgo, for a period of time, to help the relationship?
9) How much am I to blame for the relationship problems? In order to be effective in fixing your relationship, you need to take ownership for your own mistakes, faults, and failings. What have you failed you give your partner that they need? Have you been spiteful or resentful to them? Are you the cause of the majority of the problems? Do you get angry easily or abuse your partner? Do you scoff at or disrespect their religious beliefs? Are you an absent or distant father/mother, boyfriend/girlfriend, or husband/wife? The list of things you could have done wrong is nearly endless–try to adequately think of what you’ve done (or haven’t done), own up to it, and figure out how to fix it. You actively and purposefully attempting to fix your own side of the relationship will be the best remedy for the sick relationship.
10) What good/positive things are coming out of this relationship? This question is pretty self-explanatory, but its one of the most important. You NEED to find at least one good thing about the relationship. Try to always look on the positive side, one experience at a time, and it will be easier to be more charitable to your partner.
A few reminders and a couple more points:
Relationships are complex–this is not meant to be a cure all for relationship problems. It’s to help you to start thinking about what’s wrong, and how to fix it.
While some of these questions may imply it, this list is in no way meant to support staying in an abusive, dangerous, or unhealthy relationship.
Rather, it is constructed around the belief that 1) love is seriously misunderstood in this day and age, 2) we can choose, to some extent, to be happy, and 3) with purpose and mutual work, a love that has died or faded can be rekindled if both partners want it and learn how to give it.
Not all relationships can be saved, and some shouldn’t. Sometimes people enter relationships when they as a person aren’t ready to handle them. Know yourself, and if you’re not ready for a relationship, don’t drag someone else down with you.