All good things eventually come to an end, but in the realm of relationships, many good things appear to end before their time.
Conflicting personalities, financial stress, mental illness, addictions and affairs are all responsible for putting a once-harmonious relationship on the rocks. Other quieter problems such as incompatible beliefs, goals and dreams can all slowly undermine the very foundations of our marriage or partnership — often without us even knowing.
Is Your Relationship Worth Keeping?
Relationship dread creeps up on everyone sooner or later. For some it is momentary, and for others it feels endless.
Before you read on, I want you to know that learning how to save a relationship can actually be detrimental to your wellbeing. As hard as it is to face, not all relationships are made for keeping. In fact, some relationships are actually designed to have expiry dates. Sometimes it’s better for us to say “good bye” than to say “stay” because we need to grow our roots in a thousand other ways. Sometimes life, God or destiny has other plans for us. And sometimes, the person that we’re with is just plain limiting to our inner growth and wellbeing. No use watering flowers that have already died!
But then on the other hand, a few rare relationships are made for keeping. These relationships are built to last for a lifetime, or more. These relationships are worth going the extra mile for, and all the blood, sweat and tears that are suffered along the way.
But how can you tell whether you have a relationship worth keeping or letting go of? Well, only you can answer that question in the depths of your heart. Nonetheless, here are some helpful questions to help you out:
- Do I still love my partner?
- Do we both care about the same things? (i.e. the same values, beliefs and/or dreams)
- Is the problem with ourselves as people or our communication style?
- Do I feel safe around my partner?
- Can I share anything with my partner? (i.e. do you trust your partner)
- Do I see a happy future with my partner?
Start with these questions and see how you go.
How to Save a Relationship or Marriage That Feels Doomed
If your relationship feels doomed or destined for death there are a number of things you can do. I don’t guarantee that these pieces of advice will help to salvage your relationship, but they will help you and your partner find more clarity:
1. Ensure you’re not in a co-dependent or emotionally abusive relationship.
Unfortunately for some couples, this could be a very real possibility. Don’t confuse arguments, differences in character and insecurity for the more sinister forms of manipulation, control and abuse. If you think this may be a problem for you, read through the three types of emotional abuse in this article.
2. Learn to openly communicate with your partner.
Open communication rarely comes naturally. Instead, it is something that the majority of us have to learn and master throughout our lives. When we fail to communicate openly, we hide our emotions, keep our thoughts and perspectives to ourselves, and don’t speak up when something bothers us. If something bothers you about your partner’s behavior — or the relationship in general — it is much better to openly and gently talk with them about it rather than hide it away and let it fester. Open communication is something the two of you should openly discuss and agree to work on. For an excellent open communication guide, I recommend reading “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life” by Marshall Rosenberg.
3. Make time to spend with each other.
I don’t care how busy you both are. When there’s a will, there’s a way. Spending intimate time exclusively with each other might be all you need to rekindle your fire. Actions really do speak louder than words. Saying “I love you” doesn’t mean anything if you don’t make it your priority to spend time with each other. You could do this by taking walks together in the evening, cooking together or simply watching a TV show that you both like to cuddle with.
4. Express your gratitude.
One of the biggest reasons why relationships falter is because we begin to take the other person for granted. Don’t take your partner’s effort and love for granted. Live every day like it might be their last day on earth (and it might). Say “thank you” every time they do something thoughtful and ensure that you express your gratitude through physical affection, or an equally generous deed.
5. Make eye contact and physically touch each other more.
Something tragic I observe in bitter couples (especially old ones) is that they rarely make eye contact anymore. Life between these couples takes on a robotic, mindless, habituated tone. What’s the point of being together if you don’t take the time to look at, or even touch, each other (other than through sex)?
For many couples shutting off any inner vulnerability is the easiest path because it doesn’t require the pain of courage. When we are uncomfortable with ourselves, we are uncomfortable with letting other people in, even our partners! Make a conscious effort to open yourself up more. Yes, it might be hard at the start, especially after so many years. But keep at it. You’ll see just how nourishing it is to the heart and soul of your relationship.
6. Do something crazy together!
Remember those crazy, love-drenched early days? Remember all the spontaneous things you did together? Through time it was natural for you to drift apart as your responsibilities accumulated. But don’t let that crush you. Get away from humdrum life for a while and do something extraordinary! Learn to rock climb, go out to a new part of town, buy each other strange presents, get a ticket to the opera. Do something that you will both enjoy, forcing you out of your habits.
7. Discover what triggers you in your partner’s behavior.
A trigger can be anything from a certain look, a tone of voice, a phrase, an action, or anything that “triggers” an emotional response within you. Once you have discovered what it is that triggers you (e.g. when your partner starts becoming opinionated), you may like to ask, “Why does that bother me so much?” Try to go deeper than answers like, “He thinks he knows everything,” or “She isn’t listening to what I’m saying.” Find the emotion that is attached to the trigger – for instance, annoyance, bitterness or resentment – and keep digging deeper. It is likely that you will uncover many harmful ideals, beliefs and personal issues beneath your layers of emotion.
Here is an example: You get offended and aloof every time your partner interrupts you. You then ask, “Why is that?” You get upset because he isn’t respecting what you’re saying. “Why is that a problem?” That’s a problem because it feels like he doesn’t love you. “Why is that an issue?” You feel alone and abandoned. Here we can see that the true issue is the underlying fear of being alone and unappreciated.
8. Learn how to empathize with your partner’s perspective.
This can be extremely hard to do, especially when you’re caught up in your own perceptions and feelings, but it is worth learning. Why? Developing this skill will help you to develop empathy, and this will help your relationship to mature immensely. I recommend starting with the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness can be practiced through a traditional meditation practice, by learning to live in the moment, by spending time alone in reflection, by mindful breathing, and many other methods. The more proficient you become at learning how to observe instead of react to your emotions, the easier it will be for you to empathize with your partner. Remember that your partner grew up in a different context and therefore possesses different life experiences, different genetics and a different personality. Remember that what they think, feel and believe is true for them but not necessarily true for you, and respect that.
9. Find the hidden lesson
Whenever you both get into a squabble or experience tension, ask yourself, “What is it that my partner is trying to teach me through their words or actions right now?” Perhaps you need to develop more patience, understanding or forgiveness. In the end, our partners are like vessels through which the harshest, but most valuable lessons of life are transmitted. Only when you open yourself to learning these lessons can you grow as a person.
10. Forgive each other
Realize that each of you carry your own different types of pain. Every argument and every rash and hurtful decision is a product of unresolved pain. When you both learn to understand this, you can both forgive each other and allow the love you feel to cleanse all wounds.
Relationships are alive. They require nurturing, attention and constant maintenance. They are just like delicate plants. Treat them as such, and your relationship will thrive.
I hope this advice proves to be useful. I use a lot of this advice in my own relationship with Sol, and it makes all of the difference. So I know how complicated love can get and how exhausting it can sometimes seem. But if you’ve found that your relationship is worth it, nourish it with every fibre of your being. If all else fails, you will be proud that you tried at least.