She Said, He Said: If your relationship has soured, don’t hold off just because of pandemic
She Said, He Said
Dear Lori and Jeff,
Over the past few months, my girlfriend and I have been realizing that maybe our relationship is nearing its end. We’ve been together for two years and still really care about each other, but neither of us has been really happy since the summer. We’ve both threatened to leave during arguments, but the truth is that going through a breakup and being single during a pandemic doesn’t sound great either. Do you think it’s wrong to stay together until the world gets back to some semblance of normal?
Waiting It Out
Lori and Jeff: There is often no objective wrong or right when it comes to relationships. The key is making sure you understand your motivations and are transparent with your partner about your “why” for wanting to stay together or for moving on.
Lori: Staying together for convenience in and of itself isn’t an issue. There are a few significant caveats to this however. The first is if the relationship is unhealthy to either or both of you. If being together is emotionally toxic or harmful to either of your physical or mental health, you need to muster the courage to end it. Second, you both need to be on the same page. If one of you has stronger feelings about wanting the relationship to work, that partner is going to end up more hurt in the long run by staying together. Third, you need to have clear boundaries about what staying together really looks like.
With that having been said, I’d like to gently challenge you in your assessment that the relationship has run its course. Many partners are feeling unhappy in their relationships because they are discontented overall. Life is really hard right now. Most people are feeling worn down and emotionally and energetically depleted, and missing the feelings of joy and aliveness that we used to feel from “normal” life. Before you talk about pulling the plug on your relationship, reflect on what it is that’s actually making you unhappy. What initially drew you to your partner? Have those wishes, needs or priorities changed for you? Have either of you changed in a significant, fundamental way that makes you no longer compatible? Or is this a case of wanting to feel differently and hoping to find someone who will create that feeling for you?
Jeff: Couples who are afraid to acknowledge their problems or who don’t want to rock the boat in fear of things falling apart won’t allow themselves to see where improvements could be made. They are simply in denial or too fearful of a disastrous outcome. Couples like you, who are aware of their issues or thinking about ending their relationship, have a tremendous opportunity to learn and grow. Because each of you is questioning the strength of your bond, you both might be ready for a clearer understanding of what you’re bringing to the table that’s causing it to veer off course. Take some intentional time with your partner and start a compassionate, non-judgmental dialogue about where you are as a couple. Try to be constructive in your reflections about each other and try to own your behaviors and patterns that might have led to the decline of the relationship.
We often say, “You’re going to want to do this work regardless of whether or not you choose to stay together.” It might be the very thing that your relationship needs to grow and flourish. Or it might be what each of you needs in order to find someone with whom you are more capable of building a successful relationship. Either way, it’s committing to doing the work necessary to understand your relational patterns. We all have some of that work to do — you might as well do it now.
Lori and Jeff: The pandemic has turned many aspects of normal life upside down so it’s understandable that your decision of whether to end your relationship has been impacted as well. Make sure you’re clear of what is creating the discontent and what might need to change in order to feel better. If it’s moving on to something new, then there’s no time like the present to create change.
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. For more relationship advice, subscribe to our “Love Matters” podcast on iTunes.
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