So you’ve identified there are some issues in your relationship. You’ve realised that the starry-eyed honeymoon is over, and that the person you share your life with is flawed, habituated, and seems oblivious to your pain or desires.
“I’m doing all the work.”
“Why should I do anything when she does nothing?”
“It’s all just too much work.”
What are you going to do about it? You have two choices. In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda tells a struggling Luke Skywalker, “Do, or do not. There is no ‘try.’” And we know how wise Yoda was, right? Your choice at this point is either to start working with the ‘stuff’ in your relationship (conflict, trust, intimacy etc.) or… you can do nothing. The ‘nothing’ path is as much about choice as the alternative.
Many people don’t feel like working on their relationship. You might think it’s too hard or pointless – ‘he seems fine with how everything is going.’ Maybe you think you shouldn’t have to – that you are in the right and that ‘it’s all her fault.’
The underlying concern is that if you’re not willing to work on your relationship, you’re effectively choosing to prolong your difficulties or make them even worse (Harris, 2009). This could be seen as subtle, slow-moving, almost imperceptible masochism. So if this is where you are right now, you need to start engaging with the cost of your inaction. There are two main questions to consider.
Are you sullen or withdrawn? Do you not say things for fear of the effect, thereby putting you into a nervous state? Do you feel bright, full of life, and at ease, or are you double-guessing situations, treading on eggshells, or distracted from your other duties? When things are not going so well, the state of your relationship can impact throughout the day, not just when you’re in each other’s company. Do you have resentful or bitter thoughts about your partner, which you might easily take out on a co-worker, a child, or a stranger?
It hurts when we don’t feel loved or appreciated (Clulow, 2001). And that emotional pain can ride with us all day long like a big weighty backpack that we drag around. It distracts us. We don’t function as effectively. Maybe you can’t get through your work schedule, maybe you find yourself daydreaming of a ‘better’ relationship, or strategising about what you ‘should have said’ last night. Maybe you comfort-eat – another $4 donut, $3.50 coffee, some chocolate in the afternoon…’cos it tastes so good! How much money did you spend today distracting yourself from your pain? Meanwhile, the chasm between you and your partner grows ever deeper. The distance is harder to fathom. There seem to be fewer paths back to your beloved.
And still, you do nothing.
It’s a tricky state of affairs, isn’t it? You entered this relationship with all these fantastic ideas about what it would be, how it would complete you, and now you realise that it’s become hard work, frightening, and disappointing.
“Then, after a while, the ‘in love’ feeling fades, and each of you starts to feel dissatisfied and disappointed, at least in some aspects of the relationship. Your partner’s faults, which you graciously tolerated while you were in love, now get on your nerves, and you start to comment sharply on them.” (Crago, 2006)
The important thing to remember is that all relationships are hard work, that no-one is going to perfectly fulfil you, and that no-one is coming to rescue you from yourself. What ‘work’ needs to be done will be different for every individual and every relationship – relationships are complex. However, the repair work can be explored, nurtured and contained in session either independently or with your partner.
I encourage my clients to tune into what’s going on for them in their relationships. This can sometimes involve keeping a journal or developing a mindfulness practice. Other times it might be writing a list, whatever it takes to stay in relationship with what’s important. Ultimately it comes back to attunement and the ways in which we either find connection or we don’t.
Throughout this post, I use the word ‘work’ provocatively. Work does not necessarily need to be something that is imposed or put upon. The American poet David Whyte offers a different frame for imagining the meaning of work. He says,
“Work is the inside made into the outside. Like a real marriage or relationship, the outer forms of togetherness seem to have life and vitality only when the mystery and intimacy of the connection is kept alive in the physical here and the physical now. We stay alive and our work stays alive, through the willingness to remain as the lifelong apprentice”. (Whyte, 2014)
The dance of repair always starts with a simple and basic step. It’s never a massive leap, but a quiet and sometimes clunky shuffle this way or that. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if the above post resonates for you. I work extensively with gay, lesbian and heterosexual couples; indeed, love does not discriminate.
Clulow, C. (2001). Adult Attachment and Couple Psychotherapy. Brunner-Routledge, London.
Crago, H. (2006). Couple, Family and Group Work – First Steps in Interpersonal Intervention. Open University Press, England.
Harris, R. (2009). ACT With Love. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc,
Whyte, D. (2014). Consolations – The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. Many Rives Press. Langley Washington.