Consult with Krystal
I’m confused about when you should stop trying to make a relationship work. I’ve been with my boyfriend for the last few years.
The first year was amazing. I truly felt like the luckiest people ever! Yet after the first year, things started to change. We started seeing each other less often. He told me that it was because work was just so busy. This started to become sus to me because it was the slow season at his company. (We met at work but then I went to another job.)
I’m not proud of it but I snooped on his phone. I found some texts between he and a coworker that were not ok. There were even some photos of her naked. I freaked out and went to stay with a friend. After a couple days, we met up. He explained nothing had happened between he and the coworker. It was just flirtation. He said he just liked the attention, but it will never happen again.
I still love him, so I went back. But that’s when things got even worse. It seems like I can’t forgive him and we’re always fighting. He says that he apologized, and so it’s not fair I’m still upset. Because I’m being so unfair, he said he doesn’t want to hang out with me either. He will stay out late and get upset when I ask who he was with.
I don’t know what to do. I still love him so much. But my healing seems impossible. Do I need to just accept what happened and move on? Is this relationship even salvageable? How do I know if I’m just forcing things?
-Stuck in Uncertainty
When should you stop trying to make a relationship work
It is natural to feel stuck when you don’t know if you should leave a relationship.
One of the best questions to ask yourself to know if should quit a relationship is: Am I the only one trying to make this relationship work?
A healthy relationship requires two people who are equally invested. Both partners must be committed to working through issues as they arise for a relationship to work.
“A healthy relationship is a reciprocal one whereby both members feel accurately seen and carried in the mind of the other. Where both parties feel safe and trusted. Where no one has to prove their worth. Where both parties graciously attend to the bids for love and understanding.”Wendy T. Behary
When should you NOT stop trying in a relationship
While it may sound odd, fighting constantly is not an automatic sign you should quit a relationship.
Instead, fighting a lot may simply mean you need better communication skills. In a healthy relationship, partners aim to communicate assertively. This is where each person clearly states their feelings. An “I” statement is an example of this i.e., “I feel worried that you are staying out late.”
In a healthy relationship, the partner will receive this information as calmly as possible. They will want to validate you. Furthermore, they will work to not be defensive.
Apologies vs. Accountability
In your situation, it sounds like your boyfriend is defensive. He says that because he’s apologized, you need to move on. This sort of reaction pushes the problem off as your issue.
Defensiveness is one of the 4 behaviors proven to most likely to lead to a break-up or divorce. The healthy alternative to defensiveness is accountability. True accountability is more complex that just saying “sorry.”
Genuine accountability occurs when a person acknowledges the harm they have caused. Furthermore, when accountable, they communicate a plan to not act in this same hurtful way moving forward.
Your boyfriend has not taken genuine accountability. Therefore, it’s completely understandable, that the issue doesn’t feel resolved for you.
Love is not enough to make a relationship work
There is one thing that is even more important than love for a relationship to last. This is trust. Without trust, you cannot feel safe with your partner. This is true regardless of the words they say.
Trust depends upon feeling like you can rely on your partner.
In this situation, it does not sound like your partner is trustworthy. He betrayed your trust with his coworker. Then apologized but didn’t take genuine accountability. Finally, he is acting in a similarly hurtful way of avoiding you.
Trust can be rebuilt. However, this requires genuine accountability. Your boyfriend would need to be willing to honor what he has done wrong. He also would need to be willing to make changes to his actions. At this point, unfortunately, he doesn’t sound willing.
Commitment is also essential to making a relationship work. A healthy relationship does not require Herculean force to keep it together. You both want to be there. The commitment acts like a glue for your loving relationship.
Avoidant attachment and forcing a relationship
When a person is untrustworthy, it’s not your fault. Your boyfriend would struggle with honesty, and commitment, with any partner.
His actions also indicate an avoidant attachment style. This is one of four attachment styles. People with avoidant attachment get overwhelmed by natural expressions of intimacy. They will then blame their partner for this. At times, they will break-up or even ghost their partner due to this. Other times, they will stay and find distractions outside the relationship. This can look like working a lot, always going to the gym, or even cheating.
When someone has avoidant attachment, your desire to solve the problems in the relationship are also overwhelming to them. It’s common for them to act like all the relationship problems are your fault then. (Note: This can also be a sign of narcissistic abuse in extreme situations.)
When your partner tells you that you need to just move on, he’s not allowing you genuine space to heal the relationship. No wonder you feel stuck.
Forcing a relationship doesn’t work
No matter how much you love someone, you cannot get them to change. Also, no matter how much someone loves you, this isn’t enough to heal their attachment issues alone.
Instead for a dating relationship, or marriage, to work both people must be willing to heal their personal issues as they arise. Again, this is taking genuine accountability for your own mental health and attachment issues.
If you believe that you can find the right words to convince your boyfriend to change when you fight, this is misguided. At times, believing you can change others is also a sign of codependency.
Learning to trust yourself
The fact you snooped through his phone reveals something.
In some cases, it means you have anxious attachment. Other times, the urge to snoop means your intuition is telling you something important.
Learning to trust yourself is the most important skill in life. Sometimes, we don’t want to hear our truth but it’s there, nonetheless. Ask yourself: Do I know deep down that this relationship isn’t salvageable?
If you hear “yes,” no matter how long you stay this inconvenient truth won’t go away. The pain of ignoring your intuition lasts indefinitely. The pain of leaving eventually subsides.
In my panic I had been gasping for air…But what I really needed to do to save myself was let myself sink. It struck me that this is why we say to people to “Calm down.” Because beneath the noise of the pounding, swirling surf is a place where all is quiet & clear.
Since the chaos stills in the deep, I could sense something there I was not able to sense on the surface… It was a Knowing. I can know things down at this level I can’t on the chaotic surface. Down here, when I pose a question about my life – in words or abstract images. I sense a nudge. The nudge guides me toward the next precise thing, & then, when I silently acknowledge the nudge – it fills me.Glennon Doyle, Untamed
Signs you should trying to make a relationship work
There are many signs that you should try to make a relationship work. However, here are the Top 10 I’ve discovered from over a decade of working as a couples therapist.
- They blame you for all the relationship problems consistently
- You believe that you just need to find the right words or be perfect enough for them to change
- You no longer trust them, and they continue to act in similarly hurtful ways
- They are unwilling to go to couples therapy with you even as the same problems and issues arise consistently
- Deep down, in your gut, you know the relationship cannot heal
- Your partner is not willing to do the work of changing or healing the relationship
- By staying in this relationship, you are betraying yourself because it’s so hurtful or abusive
- You are exhausted and burnt-out from all the effort you have put in alone to keep the two of you together
- The cons greatly outweigh the pros of staying in the relationship
- They do not meet your non-negotiables
How to stop wanting a relationship
When you decide to quit a relationship, it will often be painful. This is true even when you know, deep down, that your reasons for leaving are important.
One of the best ways to heal after you stop forcing a relationship is to allow yourself to feel your feelings. It is natural to feel sad for awhile even if the relationship wasn’t healthy or mutual.
You can’t just force yourself to stop wanting a relationship. Instead, you can feel proud of yourself for respecting yourself enough by leaving a partnership which wasn’t healthy. Accepting your emotions including grief and anger is also important. You can do this by journaling, talking to a friend, or practicing self-compassion.
Finally, it’s important to keep reminding yourself of dialectics. This sort of thinking says one or more things that seem like opposites can be true at the same time.
It can both be true that you love your partner, and they are no longer healthy for you.
It can be true that you deeply wish you could have stayed and yet because of a lack of trust or commitment, you couldn’t make the relationship work.
In time, you will eventually stop wanting this relationship. But for a while, you must simply accept that it’s natural to still want someone you had to leave behind.
About The Author, Krystal
Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to heal from unhealthy relationship processes. She does this by teaching the skills and tools necessary to have a life filled with healthy and loving relationships.
This passion led her to write her best-selling books and create courses. Her books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many people heal.
Her third book, Self-Love Made Possible: The 5-Step Guide to Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy and Become Your Own Best Friend will be released late 2022. To be notified of its release, please join the waitlist here.
Her course, Confidently Authentic: Stop People Pleasing and Start Being True to Yourself, provides the skills necessary to have a healthy relationship. This course features over a year of relationship skills you would learn in therapy. Students share this course has been “life changing.”
Each week, she answers your relationship questions from a place of expertise and compassion. To submit your relationship questions, please DM her @confidentlyauthentic.com or you may send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to submit your question.