of us remain in a relationship long past the time that it brings us joy. Even
worse, some of us remain in a relationship well beyond the point of pain. We do
this for a number of reasons. We want to believe that the hurtful behaviors of
the other person are an aberration and that we can somehow return to the
relationship that we had in the beginning when, of course, everything was good.
Wanting to recapture the past and how we felt back then keeps us stuck in the
past and makes us contort what we see and feel in the present. To keep our pain
at bay, we may find ourselves rationalizing the other person’s behaviors and, as
a corollary, minimizing our own needs and desires. We may start tearing
ourselves apart, wondering what we did wrong to cause ourselves to be treated
this way, and we may even lose sight of who we are, of our own goodness or
Although there is some benefit to a certain amount of self-reflection and taking
responsibility, beyond a certain point, it is harmful. The way things were in
the beginning of a relationship is simply that—the way they were. There was
attraction, pursuit, and a process of revealing one’s best self. There was the
newness, which, in and of itself, is exciting and takes on a life of its own.
There may even have been red flags which, of course, we chose to ignore because
we wanted to let ourselves get caught up in the momentum of this new
Such newness is short-lived—about two months, sometimes more, sometimes less.
Each person and each relationship is different. But in every case, it is during
these first few months, or honeymoon phase, that we develop our attachment to
the other person and form our template of how the relationship is and, we hope,
will remain. And as wonderful as all this feels, once we get past this phase,
our focusing on returning to this “gold standard,” as our desired reality, can
keep us from acknowledging that something is wrong with the current or “real”
The real relationship involves two people for whom the newness has worn off and
life happens, with all the good and the bad that it brings. This is when we see
who the other person really is, how he or she treats us and sustains a
connection with us, and to what extent what we receive matches what we had hoped
to receive, based on the beginning of the relationship. This is what our
relationship is about. This is the way things are.
This is the time and place to be the most aware of how we feel in this
relationship because, in all probability, this is how it will be from now on.
What we may be willing to overlook or work with in this real-relationship stage,
because we keep hoping that things will go back to how they were, will most
likely never change, for either better or worse. Over time, however, as we get
further away from the beginning, behaviors that do not fit with our template of
the relationship, which we developed during the honeymoon phase, will make us
feel as if things have gotten worse, when, in reality, nothing has “changed.”
Rather, the way things are now is our relationship. And if we were to focus on
what we feel in the present, we would be forced to make a decision about whether
to remain in or leave the relationship.
This is all that we need to know. Anything else—how good it was in the
beginning, what we think that we did or did not do to cause what we perceive as
a change—gets us nowhere and, worse, can hurt us. Instead, we need to stop
living in the past, wondering if we can ever get back to the way things were. We
need to focus on the present—the way things are—and decide whether there is
enough good in our relationship to keep us there. All that matters is the way
things are and whether that brings us joy.