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Should You Get out of a Relationship or Work it Out?





You’re married or in a long-term committed relationship. You’ve woken up to the scary thought that the relationship isn’t going anywhere; or isn’t going in the direction you want it to go.

What do you do?

Most of us have friends locked into relationships where the main problems are domestic violence and other forms of abuse. It doesn’t take a counsellor to understand that, unless things were to change, termination of the relationship is best for the health and well being of everyone concerned. But these tend to be exceptional cases. As relationship counsellors, we know that most people consider ending their relationships complain about three things:

1. Poor communication
2. Lack of affection and interest
3. Nagging.

The sad fact is that although all of these situations are solvable, many people give up and would rather walk away from their situation than try to sort it out. The impact on all parties involved is usually severe.

Is ‘ending it’ the answer?

Once people have considered ending their relationship, they actually walk away from it hoping for two main things: first, to escape the pain, anguish, lack of love or destructiveness that is involved; second, to find a new more satisfying situation, with a new partner or alone. But the truth is that walking away does not always accomplished these goals.

How often have you heard one of the parties in a troubled relationship remark, “If it wasn’t for him I’d be happy.” or “If it wasn’t for her there would be no arguments.”?

When people blame their partners, they are failing to see that it’s the habits and roles that both of them have developed that have contributed to their unworkable relationship.

Jane blamed Chris for their wrecked marriage because he wasn’t supportive to her when she lost her job and suffered depression afterwards, but Chris blamed Jane because she was always nagging him to be more talkative and supportive.

Neither Jane nor Chris could see that they had fallen into a pattern that could never work. The more Jane demanded support from Chris, the more he backed away, which made Jane redouble her efforts to get his attention and support, which had the effect of pushing Chris even further away.

Who was to blame? It depends from whose perspective you see the problem.

You could say both were at fault. Or you could say neither. The reality is they were simply caught up in an unhelpful relationship pattern, from which they could not escape because they were unaware they had created it.

Ending the relationship is often not the answer because we invariably take habit patterns into the next relationship. Unless something changes, Jane will continue to demand support in her next relationship, and appear to be nagging. Chris’ future partner will become surprised and disappointed when he starts backing away when she becomes assertive about needing his support.

Not recognising our contribution to destructive patterns of relating may explain why we so often don’t seem to “learn from experience” and why such a high percentage of second marriages fail.

Ending a relationship creates its own problems.

“Unintended consequences” occur when we take action to achieve a particular goal, only to find ourselves struggling with repercussions that we never considered. This is what often happens when we terminate a relationship, only to find that our vision of a new beginning and a better life vanishes in a whirl of disappointment and recrimination.

Consider finance. In the UK, a woman’s standard of living almost invariably falls after a divorce. One-year after divorce, women, on average, experience a 70% drop in income. Men lose about 50%. So, if you’re thinking about ending your relationship, you’d also better think about tightening your belt!

Think again ladies, if you’re determined to find Mr Right! Men have a much better deal the second time around. So far as divorced women are concerned, they are less likely to marry than divorced men are. “Finding Mr Right” could be a long and frustrating experience.

It’s also true that being single isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It can be lonely and depressing. Many divorced people have not recovered ten years after their separation.

It doesn’t seem to matter who wanted the separation, or why. There are usually feelings of remorse about the situation, especially when couples have been together for many years.

And what if there are children involved? There is little doubt that when Mum and Dad part, children are hurt, regardless of how old they were at the time of separation. They stand to lose so much – security, protection, some of their standard of living; maybe the company of siblings as the family breaks up, or the affection of parts of their extended family as people take sides.

Some say that death is easier for children to take, because death is a single event that passes and for which there is a clear-cut cause. People mourn, grieve and have memories, but death is final. Ending a relationship, on the other hand, lasts forever.

We’re not suggesting that people should stay together “for the sake of the children”, because research shows that whether divorced or married, when there is continual conflict between Mum and Dad, children suffer.

Nor are we suggesting couples should stay in an unhappy, lifeless conflictual relationship just for the sake of the children. What parents should do is to make their relationships work again. Mums and Dads need to regain the happiness that brought them together – not only for their own sakes, but also for their children!

A Third Way?

So, is there a “third way” between living in a lifeless, loveless, painful relationship and ending it with all the uncertainties that that brings?

As one expert on marriage and divorce put it: “Since we now know how devastating divorce can be for everyone involved, it is hard to imagine that anyone could opt to get out of a marriage without seeking professional advice.” And that’s true for people in any form of long-term committed relationship.

People in the throes of relationship problems need to understand that trying to work it out is a viable option to getting out.

During the coming weeks, we will be looking at some of the factors contributing to the breakdown of relationships. We’ll also be offering practical advice on how you can solve your own problems.

In the next article we’ll focus on some of the false beliefs leading to unrealistic expectations, which can make it difficult to see a way through when things go wrong. In particular we’ll consider the influence of parents on our thinking about relationships…that men can’t communicate…that an affair is the last straw…

This article, written by swift counsellors, was recently published in the Swindon Evening Advertiser.

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