September 25, 2017

What to Do Once You Know What You Know—Staying Too Long in a Relationship

Brita knew. But she didn’t. She woke up most days with a heaviness in her chest. A sense of unease, guilt, and hopelessness. How long had she had this feeling? Years. She was caught in the trap of staying too long in a bad relationship.

Perry was exhausted all the time. He worried that his relationship with his wife is about to implode so he worked like a hamster in a wheel every minute to make it work, to be “worthy” enough that she’d stay. How long did this go on? Too long. Not facing his fear and anxiety took a toll on him.

Working with clients like Brita and Perry over all these years, I’ve learned something very useful. The things we fear or dread are often what we need the most. Part of our journey through this life is to learn and grow, right? But learning something means we are not good at it… yet. To get good at it we have to do it. (It’s like when you learned algebra, or piano, or yoga. Maybe you put off your homework or practice because it was hard and you weren’t good at it yet. But if you just went ahead and did the work you dreaded… miracle! You got better!)

So why do we avoid the leap? Why do we stay in it too long, the way Brita and Perry both did in their relationships?

* We want to hold onto hope. We have an ideal (or illusion) of how it could be if only we could figure out the magic formula.

* We don’t want to be a failure. “I will make this relationship work if it kills me,” is something I’ve actually heard people say. Not that practical, because if you are dead, the relationship definitely will not succeed.

* We think in terms of “what we wasted” by staying in a bad relationship. Time, money, physical and emotional investment…. What this idea does not take into account is that on our path towards our own higher good, nothing is wasted. (Even if you don’t play piano any more does not mean that practicing every night as a child was a waste. Think of all you learned and the growth you experienced playing at those recitals!)

How do you learn how to know what you know? Here are some considerations:

√ Notice how you feel about yourself in this relationship. When you think of you, who you are and want to be, where you are and where you would like to be headed… do you feel solid, on-track, whole, strong? Or do you feel exhausted, disappointed, off-track, fearful?

√ Center inward and notice how your body feels. Often the rightness or wrongness of a situation is registered in our bodies before our consciousness is even aware. Your stiff joints, churning gut, tight chest might be little flags alerting you that things are not right.

√ Face your fears. By not facing them, you feed them… and they grow… and become harder to stare down.

√ Listen to the “it’s not right” inklings that you feel. Too many people wait until misery and anxiety are so great that they have no choice. Don’t wait till it gets to that point. Don’t sacrifice your own happiness and needs in order to stay in a relationship in the hope that it will get better.

Finally, there are some things that you need to understand about what is in store for you as you face the truth and take the steps you need to restore yourself to wholeness.

  1. Know what you know. Those uneasy feelings you’ve been pushing down will be acknowledged and their root causes faced.
  2. Acknowledge it. Once you come to a place of awareness, say the truth to yourself. Then say it out loud to a trusted friend. Look! The sun still rises, and so will you.
  3. Understand that you have wasted nothing. Check out this blog that debunks the myth of the failed relationship. Everything that happened got you closer to where you are now and where you want to be.
  4. Accept that it will be hard for awhile. I don’t want to kid you. Wounds take time to heal and the soul wound of staying too long can be deep. The healing itself can hurt, itch, and throb as it brings you closer to where you want to be.
  5. Await hope. It will come back to you in time.
  6. See the silver lining. You will once again be living in alignment with yourself. That feeling of hovering, always being in limbo, can be released at last. You are no longer waiting for the feared unknown. You have arrived at the next step with full consciousness.

Once you know with your conscious self—your head—what you have known for a long time with your heart and body, you will find taking action less overwhelming. Find the needed support for the next step—friends, therapist, coach. Getting back to yourself will take time but it won’t take forever. You are going to be okay.

 

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