Never Give Up On Love - but do give up some relationships
When to Hold and when to Fold
Amongst the many questions I receive in my workshops, Q&A’s and emails, this is by far the most frequent. “How do I know when it’s time to break up?”
The quick and dirty answer is “Later than you want, earlier than you do”.
This requires a bit of fleshing out, but as I do so, let me first take you back to the question I posed at the end of last week's post Dearest Gentle Reader.
“How do we navigate the belief that our relationship should follow the template of a fairy tale?”
In last week's post I discussed the templates of love stories in fairy tales and myth and its potential positive influence on the capacity of the heart.
There is another side to the “happily ever after” - a shadow of sorts, which is a steadfast belief that our relationship should feel like said fairy tales.
Then of course there is its even darker cousin - the belief that a relationship should serve as a crucible for personal growth - but that insidious idea deserves an entire post by itself.
The two most common themes I’ve seen arise over and over again when working with people - both in private sessions and in workshops are:
1. A relationship should be easy, pleasant and feel like a “happily ever after” fairy tale.
2. Every relationship is worth saving just because there is love.
These are nuanced themes, so forgive me for painting a broader picture as a means of coming back to the break up question - eventually….
Many relationships start with that magical time of getting to know each other - a heady and exciting mixture of late night chats about each other's lives and electrifying erotic exchanges which produce feelings of excitement and gooey positivity.
At some point, those early encounters either lead to a solidifying of the relationship or they fizzle and everyone moves on.
When the relationship progresses, there comes the inevitable shift from getting to know each other with all its excitement to the phase of settling in for the “Business of the Relationship”.
Contrary to what the fairy tale idea portrays, the business of relationship is mostly the arduous yet rewarding work of actually relating. Relating to a partner as a separate, cherished other, a human with their own likes and dislikes which we accept and enjoy and with whom we want to experience and co-create a full life.
This is where it gets tricky. The business of creating a lasting, sustainable relationship is not for the faint of heart. It requires the willingness to get on the same page - finding commonalities - having common values, defining common goals and cultivating the ability to communicate kindly and successfully.
While aligning those goals and communicating one's needs are one of the key ingredients for a lasting relationship, it’s not exactly sexy.
What makes a relationship sexy is an element of unpredictability, the spark created by opposites, which demands that we don’t merge into potentially codependent sameness, but retain an element of individuality.
This is easier said than done when two people spend most of their time together doing things in the “commonality” terrain, while expecting that somehow the discussion about bills and who takes the dog to the vet miraculously segues into an exciting erotic encounter.
When it comes to having a good relationship the applicable proverb is “ Birds of a feather flock together”. But when it comes to what in my work is called “Erotic Friction” - the spark that makes the erotic hot - the phrase is “Opposites attract”.
There are many ways to bridge those seemingly opposite tenets - I wrote about this extensively in the “Relationship” chapter of “The Wild Woman’s Way”, if you’d like to go down that rabbit hole.
But for the sake of this post, we are fast forwarding to what tend to be the most common relationship breakdowns:
The top of the charts in my office has always been “The spark is gone”. Where is the promised fairy tale ending? Why has passion waned and been replaced - at best - with a “at least we are best friends” and - at worst - infidelities, complaints and seething resentment?
It’s tempting to want to leave the relationship when the attraction goes and self doubt and blame kick in.
Another common therapy couch theme is the realization that there are just not enough commonalities - that love does not always conquer the gap between a vegan and a BBQ lover, that different ideas about money, religion or politics create the bad kind of friction and the only sex being had is makeup sex.
Then there is the less explosive yet deeply saddening recognition that two peoples’ goals no longer align. Perhaps one partner still wants to travel the world, the other yearns to settle down and have a child. Despite therapy, good communication skills and mutual love, things no longer align and the nature of the goals does not allow for a compromise.
And here we come back to the considerations around “How do I know if I should break up?”.
I am leaving the apparent therapeutic considerations around codependence, abuse, toxic behaviors and other assorted pathologies out of this consideration. Obviously those aspects go beyond the scope of this article and require separate support and attention.
But when we look at the themes mentioned here, we can come back to the template of a good fairy tale. Every epic fairy tale includes trials and tribulations, which the lovers must overcome. While in many tales the obstacles are evil stepsisters or societal barriers, for modern star crossed lovers the obstacles are often in the realms of lacking erotic chemistry or misaligned expectations.
The question I always pose here is “Can this be overcome by acquiring better skills or communicating differently?”. If the answer is yes, then this is the “Later than you want” moment, where it’s definitely worth a try - especially when it comes to “the spark” or differences in communication.
Good relationships and satisfying erotic connection are not taught to us - we are supposed to know what to do without having received proper education - with most people simply having inherited the relationship imprints of those who raised them and the erotic skills gained by fumbling about during one’s first experiences.
Gaining insight and learning skills together is a way to deepen a relationship and turn obstacles into profound connection. It can lead to a bond deeper than the initial chemistry and a true alignment born from not only attraction but dedication and devotion.
But what of those uncompromisable misaligned beliefs and goals? What of the realization that there is just not a good match? What about putting one's deepest yearning on hold while waiting for a partner to change? What about hoping that the partner with “good potential” will finally live into it?
This is where we have to consider going against the fairy tale belief that every relationship is worth saving just because there is love.
This is also where we have to consider leaving earlier than we do tend to. Because to preserve the love - for self and other - it is sometimes better to leave before resentment and blaming sets in.
Sometimes love dictates that we move on. Sometimes love is to end the nagging, accusing and pushing of the partner to become who we think they should be and instead set them free to be who they really are. Sometimes parting ways is loving ourselves as much as we love the other.
It’s never an easy choice, and less so when children are involved. Yet, sometimes the happily ever after necessitates that it is experienced separately.
And beyond the idea of a “Relationship”, there is simply relating to what is actually happening, for both partners involved.
And while the relationship might end, the love that is always who we are can remain.
As the gifted storyteller and author Dr. Martin Shaw often ends his stories:
Never give up on Love!
Never give up on Love!
Never give up on Love!
And for that, sometimes we have to give up a relationship so love can be freed to transform.
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via @artmemescentral sent to me by Kaitlin