Relationships are a tricky matter. Yes, that’s right, after spending the last decade of my life working towards my PhD in Psychology, this is the profound conclusion I’ve reached. And like most matters of importance, I’ve reached this conclusion not from my grueling academic course work, but from the bumps and bruises I’ve experienced in my day-to-day living.
What I’ve learned over the years is that what makes relationships tricky is not the decision to get in them, but in making the decision if and when to get out.
Most of us enter relationships excited about their potential and the possibilities the hold for us. It’s only when challenges arise in them that we are forced to decide to continue to move more deeply in to them or cut our losses and walk away.
Relationships v. Transactions
In this regard, it’s important to distinguish relationship from transactions. In transactions, we engage with another person for a specific purpose for a limited period of time. We buy a car from them or we utilize their services for something we desire.
Relationships are much different from transactions in that they require a higher level of trust. In them we become vulnerable. We expose our hopes and dreams, fears and insecurities, creativity and intelligence, our bodies and our minds.
In addition, relationships require an ongoing process of give and take that increases over time. Typically, this process starts on a superficial level (do they like the way I look?) and progresses to a deeper more intimate level (will they accept my imperfections?).
Honor and Respect
Healthy and meaningful relationships require the people in them to honor and respect the complete experience of the other. They require acceptance and allowances for mistakes and imperfections, fears and insecurities, vulnerabilities and doubts. In short they require, a safe and nurturing level of intimacy between the people in them.
Sometimes people are capable and willing to reach this level of intimacy. Sometimes they are not.
This is where things get muddy.
Because relationships involve matters of the heart, we are ruled by our emotions in them. Often these emotions overwhelm us and cloud our ability to see through the truth; or being ruled by our emotions, we have a hard time accepting the truth that we see.
To help you clear up the muddy waters that surround relationships, I’ve complied a list of questions that I’ve found helpful in my own life and work.
How Do You Feel In The Relationship?
In answering these questions, it is important to place the person’s actions ahead of their words. Words are easily fabricated and maneuvered. Actions speak loudly of the truth.
- Does the relationship encourage you to expand your heart, soul and mind or cause you to limit and protect them?
- Do you need to hide or suppress parts of yourself from the other person?
- Do you feel criticized or harshly judged for simply being you?
- Do you feel safe in the relationship or concerned that you will be hurt emotionally or physically?
Certainly if you feel physically unsafe, you need to remove yourself from the relationship. Feeling emotionally unsafe is reason enough to leave as well.
It’s Ok to Walk Away
What typically happens when relationships don’t go as planned is that we think it’s the result of our personal weakness. Because we hate to think of ourselves as weak, we think we can strengthen ourselves by pushing more deeply into and fixing a relationship that is troubled.
Fixing the troubled relationship then becomes a sole mission in life. Through this narrow focus, we view walking away from the relationship as a sign of failure.
Strength and Courage
Rather than viewing walking away as a sign of weakness and failure, I see it as a sign of great strength and success. It takes courage and faith in one’s self and the universe to walk away from something we have in order to find something we desire.
In order to experience honorable and respectful relationships, we must first honor and respect ourselves. This process takes time, practice and work. It also often requires us to sometimes walk away from a relationship that we know in our hearts is simply not working.