My client has a pained look on his face. One moment he’s on the brink of tears, and the next moment his brows are furrowed in anger. My client is struggling to decide whether to (finally) let go of his relationship. He longs to feel close, secure, and emotionally open with his significant other. Yet he also feels the need to pull back and protect himself from ongoing hurt and disappointment. This turmoil has put my client at a fork in the road, and he’s not sure which way to take his relationship.
Everyone faces relationship dilemmas because we are vulnerable. There is always the possibility that we might be rejected, neglected, or hurt somehow. While we long for connection, we also need to feel safe and secure. This can lead to a push-and-pull dynamic, where we find ourselves oscillating between engaged and withdrawn, open and cautious.
There will be times when the discouragement makes us wonder, “Is this relationship worth holding on to?”
It can be tough to evaluate the answer to that question because there are often many ways to look at a problem and various angles to consider. While part of you may feel defeated, burnt out, and hopeless, another part may believe there is the possibility that things in your relationship can change for the better. After all, we humans have an incredible capacity to learn and transform, and a little bit of intentionality goes a long way.
If you are trying to decide whether to keep working at your relationship or to let it go for good, here are five questions to ask yourself:
1. Why is this relationship worth the work?
The best things in life often require our time, energy, and effort. If a part of you is still holding onto this relationship, it suggests there is still potential for a fulfilling relationship. The more aware you are of your longings and hopes for your relationship, the more energy you will have to keep fighting for change. If, however, you can’t name reasons why your relationship is still worth the effort, it may indicate that the relationship has run its course.
2. Am I stuck in self-protection?
Everyone experiences both relationship longings and insecurities and the accompanying need for self-protection. Unfortunately, one partner’s self-protection moves (e.g., defensiveness or criticism) tend to trigger the other partner’s self-protection moves. When we are stuck in a pattern of rigid back-and-forth self-protection, our relationship tends to end. The solution here is to focus on addressing your own moves and to take real responsibility for what you do when your underlying insecurities are getting triggered. If you feel able to see your own moves, but are stuck or unwilling to change them, this may be a sign that it’s time to walk away.
3. Have I been consistently vulnerable?
When we articulate our vulnerability to our significant other, we help to make it feel safer for them to do the same. This is because when we are genuinely vulnerable, we are not in self-protective or other-attacking mode. When we share our hearts and show our fears, sadness, or shame, we’re able to draw others in, rather than to put them on guard for attack. Suppose you’ve historically expressed vulnerability, but your partner has consistently rebuffed your feelings. This may be a sign that your relationship lacks the emotional safety needed to continue long term. If your partner has stated that they are unwilling to provide emotional safety, this may also be a sign of the viability of your relationship.
4. Do I need to forgive, and have I tried to?
One reason we might get stuck in self-protective mode is that we haven’t worked through the process of forgiveness. If you sense that lingering hurt from a past relationship injury prevents you from moving forward wholeheartedly with your current relationship, check out this article on forgiveness for further insight on what might help.
5. Do I have more hope for a future apart?
What do you notice if you stop and imagine your life separated from your partner? Is there a sense of relief, confidence, or peace? Is there sadness and fear? Perhaps there is a mixture of many different emotions, and that is normal. But, if you feel more hopeful than not about a future apart, this may signal the need for separation.
Relationships require us to evolve. Periods of distress and struggle are expected, even in healthy relationships. Relationships require humility, responsibility, vulnerability, and willingness to change. Some relationships will last great lengths of time, while others will undoubtedly come to an end.
If you need more help discerning what steps to take, you might benefit from couples or individual counseling. If you would like to schedule an appointment and live in Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Texas, we can help. Contact us to get started.