What do you do when a good relationship turns bad?
Do you work hard to save the relationship? Do you ignore the problems? Or do you separate?
What follows is a dialog between two people: myself and a fellow I’ll call James, who, even though he is suffering in a bad relationship, has been doing everything he can to avoid separating from his wife.
James: “I’ve been living in a toxic relationship for years. Now I’m suffering from stress-related health issues, and I don’t know what to do. I got some help with professional counselling, but I’m still stuck. Can we talk?”
James: “My wife always knew how to make me feel bad by pressing my insecurity buttons. She knew how to manipulate me…how to get what she wanted. I honestly think she does it because she actually enjoys the sense of power and control. I was a fool to believe that one day she’d change for the better. She never changed, and I left her the way she is. Now, after so many years of suffering, I don’t know how to find a solution for my unhealthy relationship.”
Me: “Giving any advice—even as a friend—can be tricky. You’re asking a very serious question…one that has no easy answer. Take a moment and think about what are you gaining or losing by being in this marriage trap. Any solution you choose will have consequences. For many years, you pretended that everything was fine, but that approach didn’t work for you. Over the years, your relationship has been slowly and steadily sinking into an abyss.”
James: “I’ve been trying to keep my family together.”
Me: “I’m not blaming you. I’m just saying that your intention to save your marriage is a perfectly fine option, but that it’s not working. I can tell you how I see your challenge. You need to accept the fact that you—not your friends or counsellors—are responsible for your actions. You need to live with your decision and the consequences of that decision. You can leave your friends, separate from your partner or from your family, but you can’t escape from yourself. Down the road, your decision will still be there, staring you in the face.
If you do want to stay in this relationship, you need to learn how to change yourself to become a much stronger person, less vulnerable and less sensitive. Don’t allow your wife to make you feel bad…to manipulate you. Build a “protective wall” around yourself. Start with your mind. Change your perceptions, your mind-set…your expectations. Begin to see the world differently.”
James: “Sounds to me like this won’t be easy.”
Me: “You’re right. It isn’t going to be easy. But if you want to save your marriage, you’ll have to determine how much pain you’re able to accept. You’ll have to be honest with yourself.”
James: I have nothing to lose, I guess. “
Me: “If you aren’t ready for that level of honesty, then the path you are about to go down isn’t the right one for you. Look directly into the face of your relationship, and be real about how much it has been taking from you day after day. How much extra time are you ready to offer your marriage: six months, a year, or more?”
James: “I haven’t decided yet.”
Me: “Set your deadline; accept it andyou’ll free yourself from the trap. The only way you can change your situation is by changing your way of thinking. The only person who has the power to change is You, and if you want to stay in this relationship, that’s exactly what you’ll have to do.”