All relationships go through rough patches. Like the weather here in Chicago, there are ups and there are downs. And sometimes the downs can feel like they go on forever (like how it was still snowing in April!) and the ups can be fleeting (that one perfect day where you can hang out at the beach). And that’s okay for a little while. But at some point you need things to get better. I mean, who would live in Chicago if it was 12 months of winter?! I know I wouldn’t…
That being said, a few extra months of winter won’t have us jumping ship (yet). Because we hold onto the hope of spring and dream of Chicago in the summer. Because, really, can you beat Chicago in the summer? With lakefront trails, movies in the park, street festivals, and outdoor concerts, there’s nowhere else we want to live. But we need the promise of summer to stay here. Just like you need the good stuff in your relationship to stick with it.
And right now you’re not thrilled with your current relationship. In truth, it leaves a lot to be desired. If you had to sum it up into one word it’d be “meh.” And, at this point in your life, it’s not exactly what you had imagined for yourself. But you’re not sure if you should kick it to the curb. Because it’s the best relationship you’ve been in (or maybe your only real relationship to date). So you’re wondering if maybe you’re just freaking out. Maybe you’re blowing this out of portion. Or maybe it’s as good as it gets. Gulp.
Right now you and your partner are just going through the motions. The spark is gone. It’s like your partner is more of a roommate than a soul mate. At the end of the day all you have energy for is binge-watching Netflix (and some wine). The stack of books you want to read sit in the corner and your Good Reads list is long and incomplete. You’ve stopped doing what brings you joy and things have gotten a little route and boring in your relationship. And you’re wondering, “Is this all there is?” Because, if it is, it’s not what you want. But, if things can get better, you’d like to know. You’re not ready to throw in the towel quite yet. Not without being sure. Keep reading to find out for my 3 top self-reflective questions so that you can get more clarity on your relationship and help moving forward.
“I feel like I’m spinning my wheels and getting nowhere”
You’re constantly wondering about what your life could be like in another relationship. You wonder if the grass is greener on the other side. And whether to stay or go occupies most of your brain power. You feel almost feel paralyzed by indecision. You consider yourself an intelligent person. So the fact that you don’t have an answer is driving you crazy.
Right now you’re oscillating between resignation, hope, and wanting to leave. But every time you come close to making a decision doubt sets in. “Am I making a mistake?” you wonder. “Is this the right decision?” you ask over and over again. All the while you feel confused, overwhelmed, and unsatisfied in your relationship. And you want to feel centered, connected, and confident instead.
“Am I settling?”
Settling is accepting staying in a mediocre relationship. So does that mean that you need to end this relationship and go find a new one? Not necessarily. But that is what we typically do in our current disposable culture. When something’s not working or stops being exciting, shiny, or new, we throw it out and upgrade to the newest, latest, most exciting model. And sometimes that’s the right answer (you know when your iPhone slows down to a crawl because Apple has decided you need a new one). But other times it makes more sense to see you can fix something and make it work better than before (like when you car breaks down and it’s too expensive to buy a new one).
When it comes to relationships, both options are valid. But I think we’re quick to consider upgrading in our throwaway culture. And the truth is that there are so many things that can block a relationship from being awesome and amazing. And, I really, really want you to be in a relationship that is awesome and amazing. So it might be worth exploring what you need and if you want to try to see if you can find it with your current partner.
Can things get better?
I wish I could answer that for you. I know that this uncertainty sucks and you’d like to move forward. But, until I can predict the future, all I can tell you is that it’s a possibility (somewhere between small and large). Why do I believe it’s possible? I’ve seen couples go from disconnected and lonely to happy and connected with the help of therapy. Part of what makes relationships mediocre and unsatisfying is that many of us didn’t have great models for relationship skills growing up. Our parents weren’t great at communication and conflict resolution. Maybe they even got divorced. And so you’re trying your best but feeling ill-equipped. And that’s where couples therapy can be super useful.
But to even get to that point you need to figure out if this is a relationship that you even want to improve. Because, without that, it’s hard to put the effort into your relationship. So I want you to think about what you really need from a partner. What would a happy, healthy, committed relationship entail? Spend some time thinking about it, visualizing it, and getting clear on your goals.
Once you get clear on your vision. Ask yourself these three questions:
“Are there personality/value differences that make this vision impossible with my current partner?” Maybe your vision involves being a happy family and your partner doesn’t want kids. Or perhaps you want to settle down and buy a house but your partner wants to live a nomadic life abroad. Or maybe your vision involves feeling healthy and happy and your partner has become increasingly emotionally abusive—belittling you, dictating who you spend time with, and being very manipulative. Sometimes there is a fundamental incompatibility at play. And other times it’s a little more nuanced and flexible.
“What would it take for me to get to a place where I am able to work on this relationship?” There can be a lot of barriers to why you have one foot out the door. Some are within your control and others are behaviors that your partner engages in that make it hard to fully commit. But understanding what is stopping you from working on improving this relationship can be critical. Because it can help you decide if you might want to tackle these barriers or call it quits.
“What would need to change in this relationship to make it worth committing to and staying in for the long haul?” This goes back to the vision. Maybe it’s that you’d need to feel sexually and emotionally connected. Perhaps it’s getting the conflict to a point where things aren’t escalating into yelling or shutting down. Whatever it is, get clear. Because this will help you determine if you want to work on this and, if so, what to work on. We can’t reach our destination if we don’t know where we’re trying to go.
Help for individuals and couples who are on the fence in their relationship
Often people don’t want to jump ship prematurely. They want to feel confident about their decision to be in the relationship OR to leave it. But trying to figure it on your own isn’t working. Because, let’s be honest, you think about this ALL the time. And you’ve been spinning your wheels and going in circles.
It’s hard to be objective. Instead of feeling confused and conflicted, you want to experience clarity and confidence. You want a sounding board, someone to ask the right questions and help you explore and probe so that you can make the “right” decision for you and your relationship. You’d like to stop wondering and feeling bogged down by uncertainty. And I’d love to help you get there.
At the end of therapy, most of my clients find that they have clarity and confidence about a direction for the future. I offer both individual counseling as well as discernment counseling for couples on the brink. Discernment counseling is a short-term therapy (one to five sessions) for committed/married couples where one person is considering leaving the relationship and the other person is trying to save it. You can check it out here to learn more about discernment counseling.