April 18, 2011
Issue: 12.04
The Way Things Are

Many 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 desirability.

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 relationship.

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” relationship.

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.

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