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Should You Let Go of a Difficult Relationship?

I am often asked why I believe the divorce rate has become so high in this country.  Although I don’t presume to have all the answers to this question, I do notice a trend in the couples that seek out therapy and yet end in divorce.  While I still treat plenty of couples that have grown resentful and cannot even sit next to each other in my office by the time they come to seek my help, I also seem to be seeing a lot of couples that have positive feelings towards their significant other, but are nonetheless miserable in the relationship.  Unfortunately, the latter couples are more likely to end up divorced and my belief is that this is due to the relationship being flawed from its inception. 

The trend in our society has been for couples to seek out marriages later in life than previous generations.  There are many benefits to this lifestyle choice, including more career satisfaction and more maturity when entering the relationship.  However, it also seems to lead to fear of ending up alone and rushed decisions to marry, at least for many women, based on the fear of an inability to have families.  So when you meet someone who is mature, well rounded, has built a nice life for themselves and is an all-around good person why would you not want to spend the rest of your lives with them?  The problem becomes that sometimes two wonderful people have had life experiences that don’t allow them to meet each other’s needs. Of course, there is little worse than a spouse who is unable to meet your deepest needs.

When someone comes to my office in these circumstances I often hear statements about how they have shared their desires for changes with each other and their partner is receptive.  Sometimes there is even an initial push to make those changes in order to save what is basically a good and loving relationship.  However, over time those changes fade and the old behavior patterns emerge and both parties are left frustrated all over again.  They are eager to uncover why this keeps happening and how to solve the problem.  

The reason is often easy to determine: people grow and adapt based on experiences with their families of origin and other relationships.  For instance, they may learn through a difficult childhood to be extremely self-sufficient, thus making inclusion of their significant other difficult when it comes to emotions, major decisions or milestones.  It may not occur to such a person to share big news or skip an important work meeting for a birthday.  None of these decisions makes this individual a bad person, but it may make them a bad partner for someone who watched their parents be a connected team and place value on being present for celebrations of each other.

Solving these problems is a much bigger task and ultimately sometimes an impossible challenge.  The couple mentioned above can learn how to navigate these differences once they understand they are present and implement systems for making these decisions.  The question is whether they are both invested in changing and that investment comes when they recognize their behavior as a problem for their relationship.  Unfortunately, if their behavior is not something that they can recognize as a problem, it is not likely to change.

My advice would be to consider letting go of relationships where your needs are not being met, even if it means that you are letting go of a wonderful person.  Just because someone is a good person does not mean they are the right person for you.  Often understanding that someone is loving you in the best way they know how, but it is not the way you need, helps you to let go.  Think about whether the relationship you are in meets your needs.  What things do you truly need to make you feel valued and understood?  Everyone deserves to be with someone who can meet their needs, whatever those needs may be, and while nobody will likely be a perfect match to everything you want you should never stay in a relationship where you are thinking that someone will change for you over time.  I ask each couple that comes to see me before they get married one question and it is a good question to ask yourself about your relationship: if your significant other never changes would you still want to be with them?

If you are already in a relationship that you think may fall into this category, do not despair.  I always advise meeting with a therapeutic professional who may be able to help both parties gain the self-awareness necessary to make compromise possible.   Either way, open communication and an awareness of the real underlying problems within the couple’s dynamic will be incredibly helpful to improve any relationship.  While it is never easy to make a decision about whether or not to end a long term relationship, I hope being armed with some information about why it may not be working will help you come to the best possible decision for you.

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