Should you stick with a difficult relationship?

Should you stick with a difficult relationship?

It’s a question that divides a lot of people. (Ask it on a first date, and you’ll learn a lot about him.)

Some believe relationships should be easy. If you’re struggling, it’s because there’s something wrong. You’re not a good match.

Others believe that all relationships end up being difficult. It’s the nature of the beast. You have to work at it.

The truth, as always, is somewhere in between.

No relationship is smooth sailing 100% of the time. Life insures that.

Even if two people are perfectly suited to each other, life has a way of throwing curveballs. Stuff happens. People take out stress on those they love the most.

But, clearly, some relationships don’t work, and a sense of difficulty is one of the first signs. The relationship drains energy instead of restoring it. It feels limiting instead of an enhancement to your quality of life.  

How do you know whether the difficulties in your relationship are natural, or whether they’re a warning sign?

Here’s one way to tell the difference:

If the difficulties you’re experiencing are difficulties you’d experience anyway, then don’t blame this particular relationship.

For example, many couples struggle with issues relating to division of the housework or time management or budgeting. Often, these issues just come with the territory. Living with another person requires negotiation and compromise.

Other times, relationship problems are a result of dealing with a difficult life situation. For example, if your parents are ill or you’re struggling at work, your relationship may suffer, too. You might feel that your partner isn’t being supportive enough, when what you really need is a lot more support than he can provide.

Knowing that your difficulties are universal ones, common to anyone who loves another human being, doesn’t make them go away. You still have to deal with them.

This is where relationship skills come into play.

Many people believe that how well a relationship works is primarily a function of compatibility. If two people are made for each other, then they won’t have any problems. Their relationship will work like a charm.

But compatibility is only part of the picture.

The other part (a very BIG part) is relationship skills.

A couple with good relationship skills will find a way to make it work, if they love one another and are committed.

A couple who relies on their love alone to get them through life’s hardships may find themselves faltering. They have the willpower, but they don’t have the skills to work through the difficulties that come up. They feel as if their only choice is to accept an unsatisfactory relationship or say goodbye.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Relationship skills can be learned. In fact, they should be learned by everyone.

None of us are born with relationship skills. We absorb lessons from our parents, our teachers, and our peers. If we’re lucky, what we see and learn will set us up for a lifetime of healthy relationships.

But most of us won’t be so lucky. We’ll absorb dysfunctional ways of relating along with healthy ones. We won’t know the difference, because we’re just doing what feels normal.

That’s why I believe one of the most important qualities to look for in a mate is the willingness to learn relationship skills. We can all improve how we are in relationship. We can all learn better conflict resolution, communication, and intimacy.

If you find yourself stuck in a relationship, unable to budge on a problem, then it’s short-sighted to either accept being unhappy or decide to go your separate ways. There’s always a third choice:

Learn new skills that will help you see solutions that were previously invisible to you.

There are so many relationship resources out there. You can find many online. There are workbooks, DVDs and workshops. Non-profit groups, church-based groups, and counselors all offer help.

Some of those resources may require your partner’s participation. He may or may not be willing to learn new relationship skills alongside you. You can certainly go about it alone. Only one person needs to change his/her behavior to transform a relationship. But you may want to ask yourself if having a partner who values good relationship skills is a priority for you.

Even if your intervention doesn’t fix the relationship, you’ll find those new skills invaluable the next time you fall in love.

You might just be surprised to find that what you needed was not someone to love you more, but rather ways to love one another better.