I am in my first serious relationship. I have been with my boyfriend for 3 years. I am 22 and he is 23.
It has been said that a relationship can define the person you are. In the situation where a partner brings about negative things in you that have been hidden, what should you do? Should you let this happen? Or should you leave the relationship? What if you are afraid of what you are discovering about yourself?
You ask some great and important questions. Relationships are grand not just because of the good times, but because of the growth and learning that go with them, especially in navigating the tough times. Faith, hope and love, although vital ingredients, are not enough to guarantee the success of a relationship. Practical know-how, or relationship skills sure can help. Just as faith, hope and love are not enough to be a good mother. It takes mothering skills. I recommend communication and relationship classes or even books, to help you get those skills.
About how good to strive for, I ask you: how much effort should a woman put into being a good mother? And when a mother does things in relationship to her child she isn't happy about, or is maybe even embarrassed or remorseful about, does that mean she should stop being that child's mother? Of course not. A mother can't just quit. In a relationship, although we're free to call it quits any time commitment is what holds us together in our imperfection. Wedding vows generally state, "for better and for worse", and that includes our own worst. So if you find out about "dark" things within you because of your relationship, make that a learning experience. Let the things that come up between two people trying to make a life together become "grist for the mill", or, awareness to help you become the person you are meant to be. A committed relationship is a great way to grow. A piece of coal becomes a diamond after being exposed to pressure and heat over time. I like to think of committed relationships as possessing the same power of transformation, and that means pressure and heat sometimes. Thankfully, not all the time--just sometimes.
Does trying to make your relationship better mean you'll have to just hide those "unacceptable" parts of yourself even better? Or if they're unavoidable, you'll just have to leave? Hopefully not. If you are afraid of what you're finding out about yourself, all the more reason to stick around until you fully integrate it. After all, what makes you think those same things won't just show up with someone else?
All relationships can and should be meaningful in terms of your own growth and development, so even though you are 22, and even though this relationship might just be a "training relationship" for you and not necessarily one with a lifetime commitment, hanging in there to work things out can add vitality and depth to your experience. Let relationship commitment become a vital part of your commitment to grow as a person.
Your last question is about when to leave. I don't think there's a formula for this one, but rather what I call an informed feeling. When it becomes clear either in spoken or unspoken ways, that the two parties want something different or are not capable or willing to work out how to have both get what they want, it's over.
Thank you for your serious attention to these important issues. I'm sure you'll learn a lot with your wonderful curiosity and heartfelt attitude.
This question was answered by Andy Bernay-Roman, RN, MS, LMHC, NCC, LMT. He is a nationally certified counselor in private psychotherapy practice in South Florida working with individuals, couples, and families with a deep-feeling therapy approach. Andy's medical background as an ICU nurse contributes to his success with clients with difficult medical diagnoses and/or chronic physical conditions. He also serves as head of the Psychological Support Department of West Palm Beach's Hippocrates Health Institute.
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