Many of us have experienced, at some point in life, wondering if we should keep “working” at our current relationship. In these moments, people are often riddled with more questions and insecurities, then answers or steadiness.
These questions do not necessarily mean a relationship is over (quite the contrary, acknowledging and working to transparently/constructively address deep seated questions may revitalize and restore a relationship). That said, there are also times when ending a relationship may be the appropriate decision. In this blog, I’ll review a few different ways to “assess” your ambivalence. However, spoiler alert, this is not meant to be diagnostic of any relationship. Ending or continuing a relationship is a highly personal decision, often based on a myriad of variables.
That said, if you or a close friend, have been on the fence for some time about a relationship take a moment to think through (or journal out) the following:
- Static vs Dynamic Variables. A static variable is something that will not change about someone (such as their family, biological traits, etc) or something that is highly unlikely to change (some personality traits such as level of tidiness, desired activity level, sense of adventure, etc – may shift a little over time – but also may be deeply engrained in the other person). Dynamic variables are aspects of a relationship that may change more easily (these are usually ones where both people agree that there is a need to change – and are motivated to do so – an example here might be healthier eating or more collaborative co-parenting). In brief, no one person can meet all our needs over the course of a long-term relationship. However, getting clear with yourself on what “variables” (personality traits, lifestyle, value system, etc) are the most important can help you more clearly assess what to let go of as well as to listen more deeply to what might be lacking at a very core level (and if the vast majority of your deep seated concerns are linked to variables that are unlikely to change – it might be worth taking a hard look at those).
- Fear vs Strength-Based Decision Making: Fear-based decisions are based on what “we will loose” or “won’t have” if we pursue something else. Strength or growth-based decisions are rooted in personal development, values, and (in a relational context) love. When the foundation of your relationship is built out of strengths and values (note: fears can be absolutely be part of this, but the underlying drive is growth or love), it is a lot different then showing up because of fear for what life would be like without something. In other words, when you think about the underlying reasons you are in your current relationship, what bubbles up? Are the foundational reasons for being in your current relationship more oriented around fears or strengths?
- Motivation to Change: This is relatively explanatory, but if both parties acknowledge the relationship is in a “bumpy” place, and both parties are motivated to work toward change (and claiming personal accountability for their role), that’s a great start. Change within a relationship can absolutely happen when only one person works at shifting the patterns and lifting up more positive interactions, but it also can be very transformative (not to mention supportive) when both people involved are on board with working toward improvement and taking accountability.
- Validation and Accountability: This factor is a biggie. It speaks to how supported we feel in a relationship as well as our ability to articulate what we need (and vice versa – it captures our ability to meet our partner’s needs). Accountability means being able to directly turn to your partner and say “I am really scared/hurt/sad right now, and here’s how you can support me.” Or turning to your partner and saying, “how are you feeling right now, what can I do to be there for you?” Often (in most relationships) there are moments where we become defensive or accusatory rather then labeling the direct experience. For a quick, entertaining clip on accountability and blame, check out this video. Regarding validation – this is the sense that our partner has our back in small and big ways. According to the research, it’s the little day-to-day ways that partners support/validate one another that really add up in a big way. Check out this article on the ways in which validation and couple interaction can be a major predictor of relational success and health.
Lastly, after you’ve careful weighed these variables – do a gut check. What do your instincts tell you about the situation? Also review the “duration” of how long you’ve felt this way (as well as if there are times when you do not feel this way – and what may have been different). Ultimately, navigating on-going relationship ambivalence is not an easy task, but the more deliberate and reflective you can be in the process, the more likely you are to tap into the answers you’re looking for.