She Said, He Said: If you clash that much, maybe you should go
She Said, He Said
Dear Jeff and Lori,
I’m in my late 20s and have been with my partner for four years. Twice in the past year we’ve broken up and gotten back together. Each time we decide to try again, it’s good for a few months, then one or both of us starts to question if this is really it. On paper, we seem like we’d be perfect together: we have similar interests, values, lifestyles and goals. We don’t have any big issues, but we seem to bicker all the time about the small stuff. I’m at a place in my life of being ready to get married, and I can’t do this back and forth with him anymore. I need to make a decision to go all in or get out for good. Can you help me figure out how to choose?
Should I Stay?
Lori and Jeff: The British punk rock band and apparent relationship experts The Clash hypothesized about your predicament when they declared “If I go, there will be trouble and if I stay it will be double.” Partners caught in break-up-make-up cycles have often lost connection with their core selves — the parts of them that are grounded, centered and aware of their true needs, feelings and desires. Instead they’re living in reaction to one another and whatever is going on in the moment, without real sight of the bigger picture.
Lori: While it can be very powerful to look at the “why” for staying together, for couples in your situation it’s equally important to understand why you broke up. Couples who have ended it twice tend to have a major flaw in the foundation. One breakup can be blamed on bad circumstances, a mistake, or a partner needing to do a little catching up in the maturity department. But two splits tell a different story. Commonalities on paper are great, but they’re no guarantee you’ll gel. Because what’s not on paper is personality, protective tendencies and how you push each other’s vulnerability buttons. A couple that bickers “all the time” is struggling with lack of compassion, and perhaps a loss of respect. Passionate, romantic love in every relationship ebbs and flows. But once contempt creeps in, it’s often game over. So ask yourself, why did you really walk away? And what is the work that would have to be done to stay together?
Jeff: I’m curious what you each use as criteria when you decide that the relationship “isn’t it.” I imagine it’s not just the bickering you mentioned but since you haven’t indicated any other reasons for your splits, I’ll make some suggestions. We’ve definitely seen the “on again, off again” relationship before and it’s usually caused by one or each of the partners deciding that the person they’re with isn’t the “one.” These partners leave their relationships to free themselves up for the continued search for that elusive unicorn. The only problem, as Dan Savage (our favorite sex advice columnist) says, “The ‘one’ is a lie. But the beautiful part of the lie is that it’s a lie you can tell yourself.” Once the lie has been understood as such, or when one partner decides they simply cannot find anyone better, they go back, convincing themselves that at least it’s better than being alone. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Lori and Jeff: So, if “one day it’s fine and next it’s black,” take some time to figure out (with help, if needed) what each of you need in a relationship and whether or not the other is able and willing to deliver. Keeping one foot out, just in case something better comes along, can be an indication that there is no foundation of love, trust and vulnerability to the relationship. It can also mean that you’re not ready to emotionally commit, even though you think it’s time to settle down.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.