Authors Note: This is the 12th entry in a 23 part series – my reactions to each item on the post 23 Things Every Woman Should Stop Doing. Please join the conversation.
This one is a little later than normal – I’m knee-deep in grading final case studies for my class, so I’m asking for a little slack on the time of day!
Here’s what we’ll tackle today. Please know that I am not a licensed therapist or counselor, so the thoughts here are purely my own:
18. Being in relationships for the sake of having a relationship. If you’re terrified of being alone, the worst thing you can do is jump into a relationship you don’t really want. Nothing good comes from tying yourself to a person who isn’t right for you simply because you feel the need to couple up. As Nora Ephron wrote when she launched HuffPost Divorce: “Marriages come and go, but divorce is forever.”
So many people succumb to the societal expectations and pressure of needing to be part of a couple – of having that life partner – that when they are in a relationship they hang on until the bitter end because “they should”. The fear of being alone (and the perceived loss of social capital that goes with being alone) is so overwhelming that is can paralyze you into staying in a relationship that isn’t healthy. Family pressures are also palpable, and if you are married, many people also layer on religious doctrine and implications as well.
I was right there about 12 years ago. I was in a relationship that was not healthy. Both of us are good people, but we had been together for so long that the idea of anything BUT being with each other was just unthinkable. What would our family say if we weren’t together? How would our friends react? Granted – these questions were flying through my head – not necessarily his – but they were there. And so I stayed.
However, after a period of time, I began to feel that the relationship just didn’t work. When I began to be honest with myself, I realized that I hadn’t been honest with my partner from the beginning about what I wanted or needed. We wanted very different things – and we had simply grown in different directions. However, we stayed because of external pressures, and I stayed because I was afraid to be alone. The decision to end the relationship was a very painful one, but one that needed to happen for both of us to go and find truly healthy relationships.
And truthfully, I was alone for a while. During that time, I learned a lot about myself, my needs, what I wanted, and I developed a better understanding of my own sense of purpose. If you’re curious about those lessons – here’s my Reverb Broads post on it from 2011. Needless to say, the greatest lesson I learned is that I needed to trust myself and be okay with who I was in order to be a true partner in a long term relationship. I’m much better than I used to be at this – but I still work on it every day.
If you are in a relationship and you’re having some doubts – take some time and think about why you continue to stay. Understand – this will take being brutally honest with yourself, and most likely will involve the assistance of a therapist (I used one – I highly recommend them). Note that I said THERAPIST not FRIEND/SISTER/MOM/BROTHER/etc. During any time of personal turmoil, you need a support system. Your friend/sister/mom/etc. can be that for you. However, unlike those who love you most, a therapist can be objective, which can help you challenge your own assumptions, perspectives and feelings. This is the kind of interaction you will need in order to grow. Your support system can commiserate with you over a glass of wine.
Please understand that I am not advocating for anyone to leave their partner. That is not my intent. I am simply advocating for you to go on a journey of self-reflection and discovery, to better understand who you are and what you want. Talk you your partner about what you are feeling and why. Perhaps you can grow together; maybe you won’t. But in the end, you will have developed a far stronger relationship with yourself – and that’s a relationship that will last throughout your entire lifetime.