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Hello Caller: When do you know it’s time to say goodbye to a rocky relationship?

In-house psychotherapist Ms. X has some good advice for couples stuck in the fight/make up/fight rut.

Hey Ms. X,

This is such a cool idea first of all! I tried to start an advice column at my uni mag but it didn’t work. I guess I’m the one who should be getting advice, not giving it.

So here I am! I actually do have a really big question I would love someone’s unbiased, intelligent advice on.

I’m 21 and I’ve been dating my boyfriend for two and a half years. When we met it was crazy, we fell in love instantly. We have a crazy, firey connection, but I think we are incompatible on so many levels. We argue a lot and a lot of the time we make each other miserable, but we love each other so much we always stick it out. Am I being dumb or insanely loyal?

Sincerely,

Love-struck

 

Hello Caller,

Thanks for the nice words.

I’m sure you aren’t dumb but let’s leave “insanely loyal” on the table because that is pretty common. To work out if it is worth the continued effort by both of you to stay in this relationship, I think you need to go through some kind of review process.

You don’t say what the arguments are about so I am going to lay out a general conflict resolution-type exercise. I find this tends to cut through the talking and give you both some clear feedback.

Sit down and draw a pie chart each. Using your pie chart you will measure and analyse the quality of the the time you spend together.

So how much of the pie is arguing and being miserable and how much is actually enjoying the time you spend with each other? By the way, the happy times together don’t have to look like an ecstatic toothpaste commercial where you are constantly hot air ballooning or water skiing. Just try and break down and analyse the quality of your shared experiences.

How does the pie shape up? Is the pie dominated by time spent arguing? Is there a lot of shit pie on the pie chart, Caller?

If you can, show each other the charts and use them as a springboard for a conversation (not an argument, if you can help it) about why you are fighting and/or miserable.

Are both of you feeling the same way? Because some people don’t mind arguing and a high level of conflict in an intimate relationship. Sometimes (OK, a lot of times) young people deal with conflict the way they saw their parents do it. That doesn’t mean it’s the right way but it just happens to be your inherited tool set.

You are quite young and this is the perfect time to work out what you like and don’t like in a relationship. Some couples can tolerate a fairly high level of conflict but I think both partners need to have a high tolerance of that style of communication. If it’s only one person consistently getting miserable after arguments then that’s just shit pie.

After looking at the pie charts, it would be great ( if you haven’t got into an argument already) if you talked about how the relationship feels for both of you. Be very straightforward in how you discuss it.

Set some rules for this kind of discussion. Say that each person gets time to talk uninterrupted. You can’t have a useful discussion if you can’t listen to each other.  And remember listening (and hearing what is said) is sexy as hell.

Ask each other and yourself questions like:

  • Am I staying in this because I am too scared to be single?
  • Am I waiting for something to change but am not sure what that something is?
  • Do I respect him/myself? Does he respect me?
  • Do I care about his successes and does he care about mine?
  • Do we have goals that will work together or be a bit complicated?
  • Do I feel like we are on the same team or are we actually working against each other?

If you can get through this kind of process with each other then you’ll have some real data that will be essential in deciding whether there is a path forward.

And one last question. It’s the big one, really.

Do I like you? Do you like me?

You can add to “like” but I really believe you need to start with it. If you have “like” as a base, then all the other stuff, like life goals and sexual intimacy, is easier to add.

To be clear I believe that “like” is that kind of mutual warmth you have towards another person where you feel interested in and enjoy each other.

I hope there is some useful material here, Caller. I really hope you can sit down and have some kind of discussion with your boyfriend about the future. Even if he doesn’t want to get the coloured pencils out and make a chart, you still need to have some kind of conversation about the nature of your relationship. Because no one wants to be on a steady diet of shit pie.

Ms. X

Got a question for Ms. X? Send an email to hellocaller@thespinoff.co.nz, ideally including key information such as your age and gender.

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Need help now?

Lifeline 0800 543 354

Youthline 0800 376 633

OUTline (LGBT helpline) 0800 688 5463

More helplines can be found at the Mental Health Foundation’s directory. For a list of Māori mental health services, click here.

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