I’ve been with my boyfriend for three years and overall, we’ve been incredibly happy – but the last year has been volatile. Money’s tight, my boyfriend lost his job and I had to support him for a while, and we’ve had some stressful family issues to deal with. The upshot is, we can’t seem to be nice to each other anymore.
Instead, we bicker constantly and the fun has gone. We both still love each other and in quieter moments we tell each other that, but the battle fatigue is getting us both down. He occasionally says we’re too different and he used to like that about us! Now it feels like a threat. I know we’re unhappy but my heart breaks at the thought of ending it. Help! AL
You started with something special, and at one point you were happy. There’s also still love there, so it’s worth trying to reclaim the relationship you once had. If you guys went to a counsellor, they might use a strategy where they asked, on a scale of 1-10, how invested you were in fixing things. At zero, you’re basically at Splitsville. But I don’t think you’re there yet.
To me, it sounds like you guys are in the mother of all ruts after a stressful year and you need a circuit breaker. Of course, the obvious one is a holiday, but if finances are tight look at other options for shoehorning more fun into your lives: a crack-up movie, going to see some good stand-up; inviting a bunch of mates over for pizza and karaoke. Make one new fun thing happen once a week and you’ll again start filling your bank of memories to savour and talk about and remind you why you’re together.
It’s also time to look at how you relate. It may be that you’re both strong personalities and feel it’s your way or the highway. But that’s not going to get you very far. Experts say our biggest human need is to be validated and understood. I’d wager it’s particularly important that we feel understood by the one we love. There’s got to be give and take and compromise – so long as it’s not always one person doing it.
So, here’s a little experiment to try for the next month: when you start bickering, put yourself in your partner’s shoes. Are they sad, mad, frustrated, tired? Are they overwhelmed with too much to deal with? It may go against every me-me-me expectation you have or feeling that you’re right – but give it a go. Try to understand why they’re fighting for their corner. That might mean being the bigger person at times and saying, ‘I’ve thought about it and I do get why you feel so strongly about XYZ’ or ‘You’re right. I’m sorry I made a big deal of XYZ’.
Once you start doing it, two really magical things can happen: 1) your partner may start to do it too, actively trying to see your point more or apologising for the part they played and 2) it completely changes how you fight (it’s hard to stay mad when someone’s trying to see things your way). Instinctively, you may also start picking your battles, rather than going to war over every little thing.
Wishing you guys all the best getting over this hump.
Love, reality chick