To clarify, I am very pro-breaking-up. Life is too short to be with someone you don't have fun with, or who makes you feels shitty about who you are, or who never laughs at your jokes (Taylor Swift knows what I'm talking about). But I also think that you should work through rough patches in relationships when you can. I'm team Give It A Fair Shot. My parents have been together for 35 years, and seeing how they sometimes want to kill each other, but are also perfectly suited to one another and are building their own unique version of life together, has made me a believer in toughing it out through rough patches.
My mom likes to say that "50/50" effort in a relationship is a joke. "Sometimes it's 30/70, sometimes it's 80/20," she says. One person's always giving a little more or a little less — and if you expect it to be perfectly balanced, you're in for a bad time. It's also important to know the difference between relationship deficiencies and circumstantial f*ckery. My parents lived in different states while they dated for four years, for example. And this was in the '70s, so Gchat was not a thing. They wrote LETTERS to each other. It was tough.
But my mom was the first person to tell my sister to give up on a relationship of five years when my sister admitted that she felt like the "spark" had gone. My mom told her that if it was gone even before getting married, then there was no hope. I see the way my parents laugh with each other, and I have a feeling she's right about that.
So what makes a relationship worth fighting for? The ones I see working have a few things in common: The people in them have their differences and disagree sometimes, but damn it if there isn't a very clear spark there. And both people should be able to forge out their own lives while with each other. My dad, for example, flies planes, fixes cars, and runs a classic film festival in our backyard. My mom sews everything from window valances to baby hats for her granddaughter, kayaks and snowshoes, and finds and reads the most obscure, historically interesting books, like Louisa May Alcott's early mystery stories.
There's breathing room for them to be themselves, and they appreciate and respect those differences — even while arguing about where to eat dinner. It gives me hope that relationships do exist that allow you to be the best version of yourself and to build a life that you couldn't have alone, even if it's not always roses. And when you find one, you should hold on for dear life.
Here's how to know if you're in a rough patch with your partner vs. if you're in a bad relationship. Though your gut probably already knows.
1. You Like Yourself In The Relationship
Sometimes we get stuck in bad patterns of behavior with partners that we can't get out of. If you feel like your person still brings out the best in you even during tough times — if you find yourself apologizing when you're wrong, trying to be a better listener, or laughing your way out of arguments — you've got a relationship worth working on. Bonus points for your partner supporting your hobbies and interests.
2. The Difficulties Are Circumstantial
Are things tough because you have conflicting work schedules, because one of you is going through a stressful life event, or because you're dating long-distance? Maybe you're sharing a studio, and you just want to get in the g-damn bathroom once in a while?
You might come out of this tough time even stronger, if you want to keep trying.
3. Overall, The Good Times Outweigh The Bad Ones
Your partner is still the one whose face you want to see after a bad day. They're still the best person to do just about anything with. They're still the only one who would understand why that thing that happened in line at the grocery is hilarious.
4. And The Bad Times Still Involve Trust, Respect, And Safety
You can fight without feeling disrespected, unloved, or threatened. You can go to your separate corners to cool down and trust the other person will be there when you come out. You're willing to keep talking and keep trying, even when the conversation is hard, and so are they.You don't feel the need to stealth check your person's email.
5. You're Hearing Each Other
Fights feel productive; frustrations are heard; concerns that are taken seriously, and changes are made when necessary. Maybe things have been tough, but you're not having the same fight over and over with no progress.
6. You Want Them When You're Up And When You're Down
If your partner is a blast to be around when things are good, but also supportive when they're not, they're a keeper.
7. Your Friends And Family Are With It
My mom knows this stuff, and so does yours. Your dad, siblings, and best friends do, too. Ask them if they see this working out. Their input might surprise you.
8. You're Attracted To Them
Cannot underestimate the importance of this. As my mom likes to say, regaining the "spark" is for married people — if you're two years into dating and it's gone, cut your losses.
9. You Genuinely Like Them
Physical attraction isn't the only thing — you have to like their mind and stuff, obvi.
10. You're Sure It's The Person, And Not The Makeup/Breakup Drama, That You're Attached To
This can sometimes be harder to differentiate than you'd think.
11. You're Both Willing To Try Harder And Better
Because you can only really control yourself. If you're both going to do better, you have to trust that they'll make the changes on their end, too.
12. On Your Death Bed, You'll Look Back On This Relationship As Having Enriched Your Life
Are you being supported? Encouraged? Challenged? Introduced to new experiences? Sometimes, we get so addicted to drama that we lose sight of whether a relationship is actually contributing anything to our lives.
13. You Have More To Learn
Maybe it's not meant to be in the long run, but if this relationship is the opportunity to face a fear or break out of an old pattern, it's sometimes worth working through. You might need time to get to the other side of some of your own issues and demons before it's time to let a relationship go. That's okay.
14. You're Just Not Ready To End It Yet
It's not over till it's over. If you're still in love, you can't help trying to make things work. Just ... don't lose too much time, OK?
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