"Don't say 'don't be mad at me.' That invalidates every reason I'm mad at you," I wrote my boyfriend in an email. "Wishing you a good night too," he replied. "Are you being passive aggressive?" I asked to no response. I had no clue how to save my relationship from this hole it was falling further and further into. I didn't even know if I wanted to. I didn't think we had much of a chance, honestly. But I was proven wrong.
This email characterized the way we'd been talking over the course of the previous weeks. With us both incredibly busy with work and living in different countries, our interactions were mostly limited to the occasional email or WhatsApp message. And these messages were getting less and less friendly. I was already upset with him for not taking an interest in my life, and I was getting more and more upset each time he broke his promises to respond to my emails and call me.
On that particular night, I told him that if I didn't see any changes in his behavior, I wasn't going to make any arrangements to reunite with him (I'm a nomad). But a few days later, I was on a plane to do just that. I planned to surprise him, but after a long and complicated series of events, I broke my cover and cried to him on the phone. "I know you have good reasons to be mad at me," he said. "And I can't wait to fight with you while we're in the same room."
But we didn't. After I arrived, something shifted, and we started putting in the work we needed to heal a relationship that was on the verge of crumbling. I'm not quite sure how we did it, but here's what I think helped.
1We Aired All Our Issues
I'd been unhappy with my relationship for a while, but I'd held back out of fear that a) I'd hurt my partner or b) he'd see I was unhappy and leave me. But then I realized I'd rather take the chance of him getting hurt or leaving me if the alternative is me leaving him. So, I told him all the reasons I'd considered breaking up with him, and I asked if he'd ever considered leaving me. Now, at least we both have a chance to make things better instead of ignoring them and risking the relationship not working.
2We Acknowledged The Worst Case Scenario
In past relationships, I've always felt like the fact that we might break up one day was the elephant in the room — and like we weren't allowed to acknowledge it because that would be too painful. That was coming back to bite me in this relationship. By hiding the fact that I'd considered breaking up, I was preventing important issues from coming to the surface. I was also getting into an all-or-nothing mentality: Whenever I doubted our compatibility as life partners, I wondered if we'd might as well end it now.
So after our reunion, I was honest. I told my partner I could see myself breaking up with him one day, but that no matter what happens, I'll always love him. "Knuffleberens for life," he agreed. (That's our pet name for each other.) It was such a relief to know that no matter what happens, we'll be OK. And talking about the topic we'd been avoiding the most made me feel so much closer to him.
3We Played The 36 Questions Game
Those "36 Questions to Fall in Love" that have supposedly been scientifically proven to bring people closer really are great conversation starters. We're still working our way through them, but so far, they've taught me that my partner and I have more in common than we realized, helped me see a more vulnerable side to him, and led us to confide in each other about our problems. And our date nights are so much more interesting with something to talk about besides what we did at work that day.
4We Met Up In Person
A lot of couples won't have to deal with this, but if you're in a long-distance relationship (or one that's semi-long-distance like mine), sometimes just seeing each other in person is the first step toward healing a fight. You start to fight over the dumbest things when all you have are a few words on a screen, you can interpret them however you want, and your partner doesn't have a chance to clarify them. And without seeing your partner's face or hearing their voice, you can start to forget what you love about them.
5We Wrote Love Letters
Before we reunited and even occasionally now, my partner and I exchanged emails that were equally honest and sweet. We talked about all the things we loved about our relationship and all the ways, big and small, we'd like to improve it. We discussed things in writing that we would've had trouble getting out in person, and that also paved the way for more in-person discussions.
The moral of the story? If you're not happy in your relationship and things aren't changing, that's certainly grounds to end it, but first make sure you've actually given things a chance to change. The key to saving a relationship is having the discussions you've been avoiding, because those are usually the ones that need to be had the most.