This week I have been working on and have faced this notion of being in a marriage or a relationship that no longer works and yet has so many benefits that make it hard to say goodbye. Relationships usually begin moving from the honeymoon stage to a power struggle stage sometime after 6 months. Many couples can come through and pass the power struggle stage. Some get stuck in it and the everyday power struggle creates a loss of attraction for their mate. The romantic relationship is based on attraction and desire and when that is gone, the core reason for the intimacy goes away. Many couples also like the stability, financial security, being a parent, creating a family and a community within their marriage. However, when the intimacy, attraction, and desire leaves the marriage, what is left is a functional relationship and not necessarily a joyous one. For many couples, if the functionality and the communication work then they remain in the comfort of a functional relationship and may actually prefer it to singlehood.
When communication continues to be in the power struggle stage which looks like angry outbursts or demeaning remarks, sarcastic remarks, avoidance of topics and ignoring each other’s needs, then there is no comfort left and either one of the partners or both think about ending the relationship. This stage begins a process of loss and bargaining. The grief of losing the relationship plus the loss of the fantasy of the ideal desired relationship that they thought when they started their relationship with, begins. There will still be some bargaining of “if you change to the way I want you to be, maybe I will reconsider”, however, this test also leans toward a set up for failure. This process will continue until the negativity surpasses the positivity in the experience of one partner and then they call it quits.
I have sat through 30 years of these pains with my clients and have gone through this phase personally in the past. It is one of the hardest places to be. At times it appears that staying is painful and leaving is also painful. Fear of harming their children and family members, fear of being alone, fear of not making it financially, fear of the unknown, fear of people’s judgment, fear of never finding their ideal relationship, fear of never experiencing love, and more becomes the vision of tomorrow. The pain of being alone inside the relationship, not being seen or heard, not cared for, feeling abused, feeling neglected and more will create a feeling of suffocation.
This ambivalence state might take years and when the pain of one side finally reaches optimum state there is a solid decision and action toward the position with the lesser pain. Some couples decide to stay and change all of their expectations and reasons for staying and therefore adjust and adapt themselves to a new form of the same relationship. Some will jump into the unknown side of the future and move on through the pain of grief of what was and the anxiety of what will be for the hopes of a better tomorrow.
This decision is so personal and unique to each individual and the type of relationship that cannot be categorized to what is right or wrong and what should be done. It is more of what each person is willing to tolerate and what price will each be willing to pay for what is desired to achieve.