By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
It is common for people to sometimes question their pick of partner. This is especially true in long-term relationships. When doubts last longer than a passing moment – say, in the middle of a fight – it can be difficult to know how to proceed. You might want to hide your feelings so that you don’t hurt your partner’s feelings. Then again, if your partner is your best friend, you might want to share your struggles. So, what do you do?
The first step is to be honest with yourself. For a number of reasons, you might prefer to act like everything is okay than to face the possibility of a break-up. However, not only will those problems get worse with time, but a close relationship won’t survive in the long term by hiding from problems. By facing the issues sooner rather than later, you have a better chance of saving your relationship or ending it in a healthier, less contentious way. So, sit yourself down and take account of how you are feeling and thinking about your partner and your relationship.
Once you have seriously reflected upon the problem, it’s time to talk with your partner (assuming that there aren’t valid reasons for keeping your thoughts to yourself, such as being in an abusive relationship). Maintaining or achieving an emotionally close relationship requires that you share your thoughts and feelings. Talk about your confusion and the need for support. Be open to your partner’s response. And, give your partner a chance to work with you on fixing the problem.
Keep in mind that resolving issues often takes time, involves some emotionally difficult discussions, and probably won’t go perfectly smoothly. So, give feedback as you go along. Say when you notice and appreciate positive changes. Likewise, share in a constructive way when you are unhappy with your partner’s behaviors. Be committed to working it through together.
It is especially important to verbalize your positive reactions. When relationships are rocky, it is easy for partners to get caught up in all the negativity. I have often heard partners say during couple therapy that they don’t want to give positive feedback for things they think their partner should have been doing all along. While understandable, this approach is destructive. If you withhold the positives and only verbalize the negatives, you are setting yourself up for more problems. So, allow yourself to truly feel appreciative for your partner’s responsiveness to your concerns, and then communicate that feeling.
After committing yourself to improving your relationship, you may need to accept at some point that your efforts have not been successful. The relationship is not going in a more positive direction. If you have taken the approach I share in this article, your decision to end the relationship should not be a surprise – to either you or your partner. Even if you both have wounds that need some attention, you will hopefully be able to part amicably, as two people who continue to care about and truly want the best for each other.
Most importantly, please heed this advice: If your relationship has a solid foundation in friendship and caring, don’t wait too long to address problems. This common error causes many couples to part ways. Instead, trust in your love for each other. Face your doubts together and nurture an even stronger relationship.
The Art of Relationships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.