Not at All Costs: there are times when you can keep working on the relationship

I’ve posted a series of columns lately where there is a gentle (or not so gentle) encouragement to get the hell out of a relationship. I bet you think this means that if there’s the slightest problem, I think you oughta just cut and run, don’t you? People who know me well enough to know about my marriage history know differently. Rocky times for a while? Boy, howdy, let me tell you what!

So, what are the criteria by which you can tell if the relationship can be worked on?

  • Neither of you (nor the kids) is in fear of physical harm from the other.

    This is a non-negotiable. If you or people dependent on you are being harmed, you need to get out. I know, it’s not always as simple as that. And it’s outside the scope of this article to discuss it, but when fists are flying, it’s broken.

  • You can both look each other in the eye and say, “I love you.”

    Do you and your partner(s) love each other? Please do not confuse this with Disney chemicals, NRE, making that fucking love/in-love crap a lot of really reprehensible people use to abuse other partners with. I mean the real thing. Are you willing to spend your time and energy on each other in ways that promote each others’ growth and welfare?

  • Both people are willing to put in the work with a similar amount of eagerness to do so.

    If just one person is driving The Relationship Repair Project, it’s not really a relationship, but one person controlling (or attempting to) control another. You certainly don’t have to agree (and probably won’t) at first on What’s Wrong with the Relationship, but if both of you are about equally eager to put in the required work, you’re on the right track. That doesn’t mean that both of you have to suggest counseling together in unison or anything. But there does have to be a fairly equal agreement that things are breaking and you’d both like to fix it, because, hey! You love each other and want to be together!

  • There is, over a period of months, significant progress without heinous backsliding.

    As you’re working on your communication skills, trying to follow through on what you say you’re going to do, asking for what you want, or whatever you and your partner(s) are seeing as relationship issues between you, is there progress? Are you remembering to bring up things to your partner that you’ve been asked to bring up? Is your partner following through on writing her schedule down on the family calendar? Are you following through on remembering to check it?

    Sure, sure, people slip up and forget. The point is, do you catch yourself sooner and sooner? Are slip-ups becoming less frequent?

  • Are there times when you enjoy being together?

    When is the last time you laughed together? Yes, hot sexytimes are great and I hope you and your partner(s) are enjoying as much of that as you want. But what about outside of bed? When’s the last time you’ve enjoyed an activity together? One of my partners and I find that the hour-long walk we try to get in anytime the weather isn’t truly horrible to be pretty important to us in terms of hang-out time where we enjoy the walk and just being together. Maybe you like chess, playing Munchkin or even cooking together. Are you enjoying spending time together? Maybe that evening hanging out on the sofa and showing each other weird things from the Internet is your bag. It doesn’t matter so much what is it. The important thing is that you’re doing it with a partner and it’s fun.

  • Speaking of fun, when’s the last time you’ve laughed together?

    If you can laugh and play together, it says a lot. I know a lot of people say it’s a good partnership when you can work together, and there’s some truth to that, but when you’re in play and explore mode, when you can be silly together, it means that you feel at least some comfort in being vulnerable, letting down your guard and not worrying too much about “getting things right”. Being able to do this with a partner is certainly an encouraging sign.

So no, it’s not always DTMFA. Plenty of times, the relationship is worth working on. Is yours?

6 thoughts on “Not at All Costs: there are times when you can keep working on the relationship

  1. Olivia Dromen (@wordscanbesexy)

    Partly, I think you come off as often telling people to end it because you’re seeing questions and concerns from people who could have used a lot more introspection at the beginning of the relationships they are writing about. It’s natural to see that some situations are just so broken that they should almost certainly DTMFA. Love (by itself) doesn’t fix relationships—and NRE certainly won’t.

  2. DBD

    I wish I had read this stuff years before I broke up with my first wife – would have saved me lots of time and energy…

    I thought back and went through that list: yes, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope

    But I still tried for too many months to get it working again. I won’t do that again, when there is no hope of it getting better in a reasonable time.

  3. Rick O'Sidhe

    Um, color me naive, but just what the heck is “DTMFA”? Though I can make an educated guess based on context, I’d rather know for certain. Hate to misuse any acronym that contains MF.


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