How do I know when the relationship is more work than it's worth?
Enough is Enough
Just after graduating with my undergraduate degree in social work, I got a car on my I'm-a-brand-new-social-worker salary (translation: roughly minimum wage). Now this was a car I could count on. It was predictable. Without fail, at least once weekly I could count on my little Blue-mobile to sputter, stall and throw a little I'm-not-budging fit. Many times she simply refused to take me where I needed to go.
As I find is the case in life, you get what you give. It took very little to get Blue. I got very little from her.
Eventually it became clear to me that I was going to lose my job if I didn't invest in more reliable transportation. I had to stretch my budget quite a bit to afford more reliable transportation. Initially, I resisted trading her in. I feared no one else would take her, and a part of me wondered if I did trade her in if she'd be better to them than she was to me. I kept hoping she would change. Then there was the fear that even if I did unload Blue, I may not be able to locate and acquire a better vehicle.
Change is scary, even when it is necessary and good.
Relationships are like vehicles.They are designed to help us get where we want to go in life. In fact, I believe relationships are designed to help us become the best version of our self possible. The catch, though, is that we must know where it is we want to go, and what the "best version" of our self is, if we expect our relationship to help us get there in life.
I wanted Blue to take me to work. She didn't want to. Or maybe she just couldn't. Either way, I wasn't getting to work on time.
Imagine an empty bucket sitting between you and your partner. What you can expect to get from your relationship correlates directly to what is given - by you, and by your partner. Our relationships are the sum-total of the energy, resources, and time devoted by each partner. Your relationship can be defined by the tangible, and intangible contributions that each partner makes to this bucket. The contents of this bucket become your relationship. If one of you is passionate, you'll have passion to withdrawal from your relationship. If one of you is fun and spontaneous, you'll have good times to withdrawal from your relationship. You can not, however, count on getting anything from your relationship that one of you is not giving.
I changed Blue's oil. I washed her tin and plastic. I tried fixing this and that and it didn't seem to matter, something else would inevitably go wrong.
When it comes to working on our relationships, we are all affected by two things: who is doing the work and how much work must be done.
1. WHO is doing the work?
Some relationships feel like more work to one partner than they do to the other because THEY ARE MORE WORK for one partner. If you are THAT partner, it is time to get in touch with how you allowed yourself to be THAT person.
Before you conclude too quickly that you are, indeed, doing all of the work, consider both the tangible, and intangible aspects of maintaining a relationship. For example, who is brining up emotional conversations and doing the work of keeping you intimately connected? Who is insuring that you are connected to the outside world by creating social plans and maintaining friendships? Who is making sure the house is clean? Who is paying the bills? Which of you is able to be playful and carefree, giving your relationship humor and fun? Who takes care of the dogs? Who is mowing the lawn and maintaining the cars? Who is initiating physical intimacy? Who is celebrating birthdays and anniversaries?
Do not be surprised if you are not getting from your relationship what neither of you is giving!
2. How much work must be done?
It will not help to exit a relationship that feels like "too much work," if the work needing to be done is related to your self.
Like attracts like. A person with lots of emotional issues is likely to attract another person with similar levels (though different actual issues) of emotional challenges. So if one partner is emotionally challenged with depression, anxiety, anger, or addiction, for example, the other partner may be equally challenged with issues of care-taking and self-neglect. Though different, the issues can - and usually are - equally debilitating to each partner, and to the relationship.
Whether you are partnered or not, you will still need to address the issues you have with your self, be that your depression or your issues with care-taking. The greater the un-addressed childhood hurts, traumas, mental health challenges, or other issues that one or both both partners has, the more work that is required to keep a relationship going.
If I responded to Blue by refusing to change her oil, I would never get anywhere. When I hurt or neglect her, I hurt and neglect myself. The same is true in our relationships.
Sometimes, however, we do discover that in our efforts to grow, our partner is not willing, and can, at times, become an obstacle to our personal growth. I find that rarely this is the case, though - it is our own issues from which we usually seek to run. If, however, your relationship does become an insurmountable obstacle to your personal growth, it will become abundantly clear to you the healthier you become.
Blue became an obstacle to my getting to work on time. Work was central to my survival. I did what I could and accepted that the only power I had left to improve my situation was to rely on another form of transportation. And so I did.
Relationships are more intricate than cars. They are sometimes more reliable, sometimes less. Though always, we are left with the same task of doing our very best and taking ownership for our part in what is not working, and continually striving to make the next best decision for our self, and for our life.
I once knew a girl like Blue. Luckily, I didn't marry her.
by Michele O'Mara, LCSW