Would you remain in a relationship in which you are clearly not at the top of the list of your partner’s priorities?
Would you hang onto an on-off situation with a person whom you suspect has other love interests, who consistently keeps you at arm’s length, but who reels you back in if it appears that you are losing interest?
Would you seek out ways to convince yourself that things will change, and that he or she will suddenly realise how much you mean to them and commit exclusively to you?
In each of these questions, could you replace the word would with have or do?
Will he marry me??
Lucy asked me if her two year long on-off relationship would result in eventual marriage? My considered, intuitive response was that no, it wouldn’t, and for the following reasons: during that time period he had been having a relationship with at least one other person; I felt that there was an absence of desire to make an exclusive commitment to her; there were other problems involved that were deal-breakers – but I then went on to describe an alternative future pathway for her, if she extricated herself from this dissatisfying situation.
Her response was one of frustration and bitterness, and she explained how many times he had ‘cheated’ on her with other women, not to mention the other problems that existed between them (the deal-breakers).
In my mind, this threw up two questions: 1) Why would she imagine that this man would change his ways and commit to her? 2) Why would she want to marry him?
Yeah… ‘course I’m committed to you…
Sadly, Lucy is not alone in her attachment to a romantic situation that is dominating her thoughts and feelings, dictating whether or not she is happy or miserable, chipping away at her sense of self-worth… and preventing her from aligning herself with a genuinely loving relationship that has long-term potential. But, as most of us know, the answer isn’t simple and straightforward, is it?
So, why do people expose themselves to, and tolerate, this kind of non-loving, obsession-inducing interaction with another human being?
Well, it depends, because there are two potential scenarios:
Scenario 1) You are in a mutually committed relationship that is becoming increasingly painful; your partner is becoming more and more distant or disinterested, taking you completely for granted, and allowing other people to take priority over your feelings and needs. It is obviously going to be more difficult to walk away than it would be if he or she was an on-off ‘partner’, or just a love interest. Now, I know for sure that on-off relationships, and even entanglements with a love interest, can feel agonising to the sufferer – but from an emotional and practical point of view, things are going to be more complicated when our daily lives, and even our finances, are tied up with the one who is hurting us so badly. Just packing up and moving on isn’t easy, and so we hang on and on, wishing and hoping that things will go back to being the way they were, or at least improve enough to be tolerable. Experience has taught me that this kind of situation can be made better, but with some soul-searching and a lot of genuine communication and compromise on both sides (even if the responsibility for the problems isn’t a 50 – 50 split). However, there still has to be some degree of real love involved, on both sides, even if it is buried beneath a huge pile of hurt feelings and recriminations. If there isn’t enough real love involved, it will eventually end in a parting of the ways. I personally know this to be true, even though it is a fact that can sometimes take years to accept.
Of course, it may be that there are periodic okay times within the relationship… just enough to convince us that it is worth holding onto, even if we know, deep down inside, that the uplift isn’t permanent. I imagine that, throughout time, billions of people have remained in just-about-tolerable roller-coaster relationships (up -down-up-down) until their old age and death! But when even the odd reasonable moments are no longer enough to justify our staying, we begin the serious process of leaving – because we are always leaving before we leave, even if we manage to cover our tracks well.
Scenario 2) The relationship has not developed into a genuine, mutual commitment, but is holding you prisoner as if it is a committed relationship… but without the benefits. What would induce you to continue to put yourself through an experience that is loaded with such potential heartache and wasted time and energy?
Well, here are a few possible reasons (scratch out the ones that don’t apply to you!):
Fear of letting go
Fear of being alone
Fear of facing up to rejection
Lack of understanding of how real love behaves
Unfamiliar with the experience of genuinely being loved
Addiction to emotional drama
Overly idealistic thinking
Misguided determination to ‘win’
Viewing the love interest through rose coloured glasses
Inaccurate interpretation of love interest’s words and actions (or lack of)
Exposure to false hope (as in too many psychic ‘love’ readings that assure you that he or she really is your soulmate… even though they themselves don’t know it!)
Stupidity (double ouch!)
Insanity (triple ouch!)
What I am actually seeking...
A 29 year old woman who I know very well, who has trawled the depths of the dating sites, explained to me that for her it is about validation. At the start of a connection, on a scale of 1 – 10, it is usually 10, and she feels great. She is hearing all of the things that lift her up and cause he to feel good about herself. But then it slips to a 9… and then an 8. The shine diminishes, he is less complimentary, he talks more about himself, he becomes less available… and, by now, we are at 4/5 on the scale. She believes that it is when it reaches 3 that women can become crazy.
Because, what has been occurring is that the love interest has gone from being full-on to disinterested, withdrawing the ‘fix’ of validation, which in turn leads her to plummet back into self-doubt and low self-worth again – only for him to suddenly switch it back on when he suspects that she is slipping off his radar – and then to step right back the moment she starts becoming hooked again. Against her better judgement, intelligence, and common sense, she craves the validation she once received from this situation, and so struggles to let go. I have seen her go from elation to desperation, in an increasingly miserable loop, too many times. However, she was determined to break the cycle, and the recognition that what she was actually seeking was validation of her worth, has led her to the firm conclusion that she needs to be her own source of validation, and not leave it in the hands of some guy whose cruel behaviour is speaking volumes about the dysfunctional workings of his own inner world!
If your life is not tied up in a practical way with your on-off relationship or ongoing love interest, then it is going to be easier to get yourself out of the situation – by being realistic in your thinking, and with a lot of determination. It might not be easy, but it is necessary if you intend to align yourself with a healthy, mutually interested and supportive relationship. You can’t hang on to the old, painful situation and attract the new… there needs to be an interim period of healing between the two.
So, if you find yourself stuck in a non-relationship relationship, and especially if it has been going on for some time – ask yourself why? And if you are harbouring underlying resentments for very real reasons, like Lucy, be realistic! Don’t fall into the trap of saying, “but I love him/her”, and using that as an excuse for not breaking away… I promise you, you will NOT be feeling actual love, but something masquerading as it: co-dependence, fear of rejection, desperation at the thought of yet another potential relationship going down the pan (and so I have to make this one work out), being so acclimatised to shoddy treatment where romantic liaisons are concerned that you believe that this is how love feels and behaves…
There is a whole world of free info, guidance and advice out there, for anyone who wishes to change their beliefs and destructive patterns in any area of life, not just relationships. You could, I suppose, start with my blogs… just saying, that’s all…