Sometimes people come into my room with a story which seems to have an inevitable end to everyone except the person telling it. When your relationship is falling apart it’s easy to be blind to positive action, engulfed instead by the impending catastrophe.
Even when a relationship reaches crisis point all is not lost. What matters most is the way that you respond to the crisis. It might be demanding but it’s almost certainly the best and fastest route to somewhere better.
Here are some thoughts about what you might do if you feel your relationship is falling apart. They aren’t all that easy and they might not turn the situation around, but they will stand you in good stead for whatever comes next.
Be sure it’s worth saving.
A client describes to me a relationship so one sided I feel sure it would tip over if he weren’t using all of his strength to keep it upright. He is visibly agitated when I ask him what value he feels in the relationship. We can feel aggrieved when pushed to examine something we’d rather not look at, when asked to justify our own irrational behaviour. We are attracted to scarcity, so when someone we crave is unavailable to us the chemistry shoots through the roof. But is that really what you want for yourself?
Play a longer game than you thought possible.
Sometimes you have to let go because desperation is the killer of attraction. The more resolute you are about reconciliation the more determined your partner will be to leave. When you let go you learn something. You learn whether it really is really is over and time to move on, or whether there is something left, but this can hardly ever be discovered by trying to maintain the status quo.
Stop thinking about yourself.
Self obsession may well have got you into this mess but it won’t get you out. The only way to convey love to someone is to demonstrate your commitment to their happiness, even if it is strongest without you around. It’s called “their happiness” because it belongs to them. Our lovers are not birds we can keep in a cage, they must choose to sit on our shoulder, or not.
Talk productively not bitterly.
If your relationship is at breaking point you need to accept you’re in big trouble and act like grown ups. Listen to one another without being defensive or argumentative. Open your ears rather than your mouth. If your partner is telling you what’s wrong you need to know it. If you don’t listen to one another you cannot hope to fix what’s wrong and you cannot hope to accept what’s painful, both of which are urgently required.
Realise the purpose of anger.
Anger is a useful emotion because it is full of energy. You can use it to propel yourself somewhere better or you can use it destructively. You will never make yourself feel good by being destructive with your anger however good it feels to let off steam right now. So use anger to get away from pain and into the light.
Focus on your own life.
Whatever happens to this relationship you will be OK. Create space for yourself and invest in your own life because true intimacy is built on the connection between two separate people. The more able you are to stand strong on your own two feet the more attractive you are to your partner or potential partners in the future. You cannot be happy in a relationship without being happy in yourself.
Own your emotion.
Your partner is not responsible for how you feel. There is no point in saying “you make me feel worthless” or “how can you do this to me?” This is more unhelpful self obsession. A feeling of helplessness and blame might be attractive when things are tough but a failure to take responsibility for yourself and your own happiness will prolong your pain.
Remember why you fell in love.
When a relationship is falling apart it’s easy to focus only on what’s wrong rather than on why you fell in love originally. How long was it since you last did something fun together? When did you last show kindness without the expectation of something in return? Intimacy is a verb, you have to make it, and do it constantly.
So the most effective things to do when a relationship is falling apart are counter intuitive. It might take courage to try them but you’ll probably end up feeling much better for it.