Could Your Relationship Use a Little Decluttering?
It’s that time of year again: time for spring cleaning, where it’s out with the old and in with the new. People start to go through their closets and cupboards, deciding what stays and what goes—it’s therapeutic, refreshing, and a long-standing tradition.
Along with last season’s sweaters and that broken down toaster oven, spring cleaning also presents us with the opportunity to take a really hard look at our relationships. This is a time for getting rid of possessions AND people that no longer serve you; a time to reevaluate your negative behaviors, throw out whatever isn’t working, and spice up your daily routine.
There’s a Japanese decluttering technique where you hold items up in your house and ask yourself, “Does this bring me joy?” This same idea can be put into practice with your significant other. Does this relationship still bring you joy? Or are you holding onto something that just doesn’t fit you anymore?
It’s natural for relationships to go through phases. All couples experience ups and downs. But there’s a point when you have to start asking yourself the hard-hitting questions.
Here are five signs that it may be time to let go:
This may seem like a pretty obvious one, but it can often be hard for a person to recognize their own unhealthy situation, or admit that their relationship has become dangerous. Holding on to a toxic relationship is like holding on to a faulty space heater—It’s less a question of IF it will blow up than a question of WHEN.
Abuse is NEVER okay, whether it leaves a bruise or causes even more damage deep below the surface. Abuse is not only physical, but emotional and psychological as well. If you find yourself in this never ending cycle (pictured on the right), it’s time to get out before you get severely hurt.
The Fighting Gets Mean and Never Really Ends:
Fighting is an inevitable part of every relationship, no matter how normally blissful yours may be. But when the fights start to become more hurtful and less productive, and when they start to feel more frequent, it can often be an indicator that something is not right.
You may remember the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse from the New Testament as the harbingers of conquest, war, hunger and ultimately death? Well Dr. John Gottman, PhD used this same idea of the Four Horsemen as a metaphor for the four most toxic communication styles. According to Gottman’s research, these behaviors were often predictors of either a failed or terminally unhappy relationship.
Criticism versus Complaint
We’ve all had those frustrating moments when you go to make a morning cup of joe only to find that your partner used the last coffee filter, or when their dirty red sock makes it’s way into a load of whites, leaving all your shirts an offensive shade of pink. If you bring it up and voice your frustration with the situation—This is a complaint. But if you were to accuse your partner of being inconsiderate, lazy, an airhead, even… This is where you stumble into horsemen territory.
Instead of identifying a specific instance that made you upset, you are attacking your partner’s character. Criticizing is a behavior that is harmful to your SO as well as the relationship, and often paves the way for other, even more damaging horsemen.
This horseman is the embodiment of when fighting gets mean. Contempt communicates disgust and disrespect; its goal is to make the recipient feel worthless, usually through body language and sounds. It can often include behaviors such as sarcasm, sneering, name-calling, condescension, mimicking… the list is endless.
Gottman believed that contempt was the greatest predictor of divorce, suggesting that even something as small as eye-rolling can have a huge effect on the well-being of your relationship. We’re all occasional culprits of being sarcastic, biting or disrespectful during a fight, but when this type of communication starts to happen all the time, you can’t help but wonder if you and your partner really like each other at all.
While everyone gets defensive at one point or another, it is not healthy to constantly be on the defense… Not in a loving and healthy relationship, at least. Defensiveness has a tendency to pop up more often when a relationship is already on the rocks. It conveys one very damaging messaging: “It’s not me, it’s you. You’re the one to blame.”
Just because one partner casts the first stone that launches you into a full-fledged argument doesn’t mean that they’re responsible for the whole conflict. No matter how hard you fish for excuses in hopes of minimizing your role in the fight, the fight is still happening and you’re still playing a part in it. It’s a relationship, not a straightjacket—Quit trying to escape it and learn to work through conflicts together.
This particular horseman plays out exactly like it sounds… When you’ve been fighting for a long time with no end in sight, one partner decides to stop fighting and simply shuts down. They put up a wall and quit engaging completely, choosing to ignore the problems at hand and often feigning indifference toward their partner, or even the relationship as a whole. While this may protect the stonewaller, it usually causes the stonewalled partner to feel even more distressed, hurt and hopeless.
How can you fix a problem when you can’t even your partner to communicate with you? The answer: You can’t. If you or your partner are done communicating, done working to improve the relationship, this is probably a good indicator that there is no relationship to save.
There’s No Trust:
Whether it’s from a past relationship, childhood trauma (like growing up with an alcoholic or unfaithful parent) or something that has happened with your current partner, a relationship can not survive without trust. Any insecurities that go unaddressed for too long have a tendency to turn into jealousy. Sometimes the distrust stems from paranoia, sometimes it’s completely valid and warranted. Either way, once that green-eyed monster rears it’s ugly head, everybody in the relationship suffers.
This can be aided by therapy (for the one who has the insecurities) but it will take a lot of patience and understanding. However, if it seems like you’ll never be able to fully trust the person you’re with and nothing can be done to gain that trust, it may be time to let it go.
There’s No Sex (And You’ve TRIED to Work On it):
Sometimes, inexplicably, the sexual fire in a relationship goes out. It’s one thing for your sex life to suffer due to fatigue, stress, changes in libido or incongruent schedules. It’s quite another to not even want to try to reignite the spark.
This slow dissolve into sexlessness can happen slowly; you start finding more and more excuses not to get busy with your partner, but you assume it’s just a libido thing. Even when you do give it a go in the bedroom, something major is missing. Then, you notice there are other people that do get your engine revving, and it all becomes clear… It’s not your sex drive that’s out of gas, the destination just isn’t where you want to go.
Sex is so unbelievably important that a relationship truly can not survive without it. When two people want to work hard on their sex lives, there’s hope that things can change. But if that’s not the case, and sex with your partner just doesn’t do it for you anymore, then you aren’t with the right person.
There’s No Future in Your Future:
Most people love to talk about their future and what they want to accomplish, and this becomes even more true for people in love. When things get serious in a relationship, there is going to be long-term planning, from vacations abroad to pets to where to cook next year’s Thanksgiving dinner… Let’s be honest, that’s half the fun of falling in love! However, when bigger plans come into play farther down the road and your partner isn’t a main player in them, you may come to the realization that your relationship has an expiration date.
Issues may also arise if you find that your future plans don’t match up. One of you might want to move to the suburbs and have kids in five years, while the other hates the idea of being tied to a mortgage and a family. This is one sign that cannot be ignored. You may feel strongly for this person now, but down the road, those mismatched plans will morph into a pile of missed chances and resentments. The best thing you can do is walk away now and give each other a fair chance at your separate but equally bright futures.