Relationships, whether purely friendly or sexual in nature, seem to be this peculiar obstacle course of booby traps mixed with rewards. In some ways they go against everything people are trying to tell you to build you up into this confident independent human being.
Between the highly conflicting standards, goals and advice and the ever changing definition of “toxic” it’s a wonder we can manage to navigate the relationship world at all without absolutely flaying ourselves. God forbid you actually have an issue you are seeking out an answer to, a quick dip in the internet could leave you vexed as to what one actually gains from being in a relationship.
You should feel safe emotionally with your partner
You cannot rely upon your partner for all your emotional needs
Your partner should be your best friend
Don’t vent to your partner like you would your best friend
You should have regular quality time to maintain bonding with your partner
Don’t smother your partner with your neediness
You and your partner should work together as a team
You must be capable of independence
Your partner should make you happy/ bring you joy
You should be able to make yourself happy
People don’t try hard enough to fix problems in relationships anymore
If you’re not happy, move on – there are plenty of fish in the sea
Art by Adam Martinakis
If you made it through the gauntlet without somehow forming a toxic or codependent relationship, it’s possible you ended up with essentially a roommate you sometimes have sex with. But nowhere can one find any study or proof that that is actually a bad thing, despite being simply unsatisfying (which then one could argue you just need more hobbies or ‘you’ time). Even if your relationship doesn’t fit anyone else’s boxed definition, if it works for you that should be good enough right? How many compromises before one basically goes halfsies on their core personality?
At no point do the references to resignation include any form of abuse, of course, that is always unacceptable.
Years ago it was all about asking: What is Your Love Language? Which, simplified, just means recognizing how an individual perceives acts of love. Some people feel valued through compliments, others through touch, some through physical gifts, etc. The idea is to nail down what your partner’s love language was so that you may better facilitate their feeling loved and valued, whilst communicating to them what your preferred language was so they could do the same.
Lately, the newest question is: What is Your Attachment Style? The main options being Secure (stable and self confident), Anxious (those who come off a bit clingy or perhaps base a bit too much of their worth on their partner’s opinions) or Avoidant (those who are not overly affectionate and need copious amounts of space to avoid feeling smothered). The running thought is that your childhood experiences set you up as one of these styles for adulthood, however with sufficient work they can be adjusted.
As to be expected the Secure attach-ers attract other Secures, and Avoidants predominately attract those Anxiously attached – decidedly the worst choice for them of course. An Anxious style will want to always be close to and be sharing with their partner, and the Avoidant style will continuously slowly back away from this kind of approach: feeling overwhelmed while their partner feels lonely. What keeps these obviously non functioning relationships together the majority of the time is what happens when they finally reach a separation point. The Anxious partner will eventually get fed up, realize that this isn’t enough for them and move to end things. The impending threat and fear of being alone is enough to override the Avoidant partner’s fear of being smothered and they will begin to dole out affection in heaps, to the bliss of their love starved partner who then reconsiders leaving. Once the threat is gone, things slowly go back to the way they were before. This has the potential to cycle an infinite number of times, becoming more and more damaging each pass.
While all of these observations don’t necessarily answer any questions, maybe they can bring up some better ones. In my opinion one of the best ones is this:
What are our expectations of our relationship, current or future?
Most things in life will be met with a make or break moment based on our personal expectations. It’s what causes us to become frustrated with a partner who didn’t do the dishes, because we expected them to know they should. It’s what lulls us into thinking our wants and needs are known because they’re so obvious, we expect our partners to know and understand them without proper explanations. Then we get upset when they do not in fact understand, and we expect them to know why we’re so upset. Even when we know we are guilty of doing so, we still struggle to correct our ways. What peculiar creatures we are.
However, I have also been told that once one finds the right relationship then everything makes perfect sense as to why the others didn’t work. All the lovely pieces fall into place and you’ll just effortlessly want to fix your flaws and become a better person for them. Which, beautifully, contradicts the other common statement that relationships take work to maintain and when we forget to do so is when they start to falter.
Which statements are true remain to be seen, until then I shall just assume I’m crazy.