man digging signIn talking to people from all walks of life about relationships, it becomes apparent that often, people can be at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to the whole concept of ‘working’ at your relationship.

At one end, you have people who think that a relationship is doomed if it has to be ‘worked’ at along with the misguided expectation that relationships that are ‘right’ should be easy and not have conflict. Then at the other end, you have sacrificial lambs who don’t recognise that not all relationships should or can be ‘worked’ at. The latter types of people continue to work at their relationship even though it flatlined long ago – I call it flogging that proverbial donkey till it collapses.

Nonetheless, relationships do require ‘work’, although not the type of work that a lot of people in dubious relationships indulge in; the key is recognising when you should work at your relationship.

If you have love habits that negatively impact on your relationship and you’ve lacked self-awareness around these, you can see how somebody else can be unaware of how counterproductive their own habits are.

A few months back, I wrote about understanding why some relationships don’t work out and this is a key part in recognising where the opportunity to work at the relationship presents itself:

“Relationships don’t always work out because we don’t always behave in the most beneficial way for the relationship. We can meet people who are actually potentially ‘right’ for us…and then screw it up. It’s often unintentional and in some cases, it can effectively be sabotage when you engage in behaviour that brings about a self-fulfilling prophecy that let’s you keep believing the worst. This is a potentially right person but unfortunately the wrong behaviours.

And then…a lot of relationships don’t work out because you’re with the wrong person. Period. It wouldn’t matter if you ran through fire, acted perfect, gave them everything they want, and cartwheeled around naked; the person is wrong for you. It’s likely to be a mix of boundary crossing, blatant red flags, a fundamental inability to meet each other’s needs (or you meet theirs but they don’t meet yours…), a lack of shared values, and being uncommitted, or being committed for the wrong reasons. You’re fundamentally incompatible.”

If you’re considering working at your relationship, you need to be in the first camp – potentially ‘right’ for one another but engaging in behaviour that is detracting from the relationship.

If you’re in the camp where you’re fundamentally incompatible, if you continue to work at the relationship, you’ll end up emotionally bankrupt and the relationship equivalent of negative equity. Not all relationships are destined for greatness. To continue will cost you a lot in time, energy, and emotions, as well as your sense of self with potential impacts to work, family, friendships, health, and even your finances.

Now before I continue, the whole ‘potentially’ right for each other thing isn’t about you seeing potential where there is no potential. It’s not about projecting your vision of things and building a relationship based on illusions because this relationship has little or no foundations and isn’t real.

Relationships require two committed parties with both of their feet in with both people prepared to work at the relationship, with reasonable foundations, and four feet firmly rooted in reality.

If one or both of you are in lala land and cannot be real, the relationship is doomed because you’re not equitable partners, you’re not in the same relationship, and you’re not working at the same relationship.

It’s also important to be under no illusions because it means that in choosing to not only be in the relationship but also to continue working at it, you’ll both be able to understand why you may have faltered and learn to overcome and work through issues.

In dubious relationships, one person is normally on a pedestal which means the relationship is chock full of illusions, plus when someone is on a pedestal, the only place to look at you is from above. It creates a massive imbalance in the relationship that is difficult to recover from, especially with people who rely on you having low self-esteem and putting them on a pedestal, effectively giving them the powerbase in the relationship.

You’re starting from a real, honest place where you are with each other, not the illusion that you may have of each other because if you don’t, you’ll be suffering with I Change Him/Her syndrome which will only end in tears and you may even end up doing ‘renovation’ work that you won’t reap the rewards of because they’ll be with someone else who appreciates them as they are.

There’s also another key reason why working at a relationship doesn’t ‘take off’: One party adopts a position where they believe that change needs to happen in the relationship but that that it’s the other party that needs to change. In the meantime they feel that they’re doing everything they can to make the relationship work.

A classic example of this is where a woman dates a Mr Unavailable and believes that what stands between the success of their relationship is his emotional unavailability and whatever issues he brings to the table because she’s working at the relationship. However, she’s working hard at a relationship that suits her own emotional unavailability and her own beliefs which means that she also needs to work on her love habits.

I believe that there are windows of opportunity in struggling relationships where both parties could be potentially ‘right’ for each. The window of opportunity in this type of relationship is where there is still enough love, care, trust, respect, and faith in one another’s tanks that if you both acknowledge the issues and deal with them, you can likely work through the issues and overcome them. You will both believe that one another is capable of action and change.

I’ve, for instance, spoken with a couple where there was a long stretch in their relationship where if they had seized the opportunity, they would likely still be together. But instead, that opportunity passed and distrust and fatigue set in because any trust and faith that one party had in the other that things could be different and would be different, got totally decimated. After this period of time, when one attempted to discuss change, the other was resistant and their lack of trust meant that it was quite disheartening to the other party. They also suffered with Women (and men) Who Talk and Think Too Much so there was too much discussing, arguing, and thinking and not enough constructive action.

Why does the window of opportunity pass? Because no matter how many sandcastles you build in the sky with your illusions, betting on potential, and projecting your ideas, eventually when you see that someone has consistently behaved in a particular way and effectively underdelivered, it becomes hard to trust that they can be a different person. The window of opportunity also passes because when it becomes apparent that both parties need to work at the relationship which may involve changing behaviours, the person who thought it was just the other person that needed to change becomes scared and clings even harder to their position which means they effectively end up stonewalling any real change.

You’re not an island (or perfect) and even when someone does do something inappropriate in the relationship, if you allow it to continue and mushroom, you still need to adapt your behaviour.

Because there are two people in the relationship, two people need to adapt and work together to resolve issues otherwise it becomes like one person assuming that what they bring to the table is ‘better’ and isn’t in need of change. However, if we have accepted behaviour that undermines the relationship, we have to look at ourselves and ask what is our contribution.

You also need to recognise that even when your partner does something that really disrupts the relationship such as a breaching your trust (eg cheating) or being disrespectful (eg taking advantage), you still have to work with them to get past the issue and make yourself a part of resolving the issue. That’s not to assume blame or responsibility but recognising that working at the relationship will mean if you stay with them after serious breaches, you have to learn to trust, forgive, and to move past the issue.

Over the next few posts I’ll be talking more on the subject of working at your relationship and that includes a crash course in recognising that fundamental incompatibility, but here is some food for thought:

In being accountable for where you are in relationships and changing your love habits, by changing you, you change the people you attract, the people you’re attracted to, and who you’ll pursue a relationship with.

If you’re in a relationship, if you change you (and stick to it), you’ll change the relationship you’re in. If you’re with someone who is potentially ‘right’ for you, by adapting your behaviour, they’ll adapt theirs and work with you. If you’re with someone who is fundamentally incompatible for you, by adapting your behaviour, that incompatibility will only become even more apparent and you’ll recognise that it’s time to fold.

Back in part two where I’ll explain key signs that your relationship can be worked on.

Your thoughts? Do you believe that relationships shouldn’t take work? Or do you try to work at all your relationships? If you have questions you’d like answered on this subject, leave them in the comments or use the contact me page.


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8 Responses to Knowing When To Work at Your Relationship Part One

  1. Lina says:

    It’s like you’ve read my mind or something – I’ve been thinking about whether we should try to make a go of our relationship but this confirms what I already know – that there’s no ‘we’ and it’s just ‘me’. He doesn’t see his issues or the relationship in the same way I do so how can we work at this? I wish we were the first type of relationship you mentioned but sadly I already know that we’re “fundamentally incompatible”. I’m trying to go where many women have gone before me. I thought he just needed the ‘right’ woman but he doesn’t see me or ANY woman in that way and he’s happy as he is. I’m not happy though. Thanks for all that you do as I needed to read this.

  2. Cathy J says:

    Wow – the commitment comment about if you are not both committed that you are working on two different relationships is so true.

    Usually the woman falls harder first while the man is still working out if she is the one … so she behaves committed, he does not profess that she is his…is this ringing any bells?

    Working on relationships vs perfect for each other… Did anyone see the Secrets to Love ABC documentary? It was so inspiring to see relationships explained from science and social science perspectives – especially about working on the relationship. Why would anyone think we don’t need to when everything else in life requires work???

    Thanks Natalie – am looking forward to the next part!
    .-= Cathy J´s last blog ..Find True Love: What if He’s Not Interested? =-.

  3. Vanna says:

    There is a question that goes: “How do you knock some sense in to people who need to change?” The answer is: “You don’t. you knock some sense in to yourself.”Some relationships could be worked at while others, there is absolutely no point.

  4. Heather G says:

    I believe that ALL relationships even friendships should take work, I always have believed that and when someone doesn’t step up to the plate, I usually have a word with them and then if they continue the trend I distance myself … I have failed on a few occasions though, hence why I am here on this site.

  5. shattered says:

    I’ve been seeing my eum for 9 months. he’s taken me out twice to dinner but said he preferred to stay in. I now realise I was just a booty call. He has a harem of women friends and is now taking out a 20 year old (he’s 64, never married), despite ‘preferring to stay in’. He says she’s just a friend but seems obsessed with her. I’ve decided to call it a day. So why do I feel so upset and rejected? I sent him a text to end it but he hasn’t even bothered to reply. I was a fashion model when I was younger and men seem to still find me attractive, so why am I so bothered about this guy? He said he loved me, then said he didn’t want to get close to anyone, yet is seeing this new girl almost daily, as well as his harem, who he texts regularly. Why am I so angry and upset? I know I’m well rid of him.

    • MaryC says:

      @shattered….You have every right to be angry and upset but by keeping NC and being aware of these red flags in the future you’ll do fine. Its only natural to feel bad about how he treated you and the sting of rejection takes time to heal from. From what you told us you’re so much better off and so much better than that. Like NML has said time and time again….Don’t ever be someone’s option. Hang in there you’re not alone.

      Really a 20yr old going out with a 64yr old, she needs to be on this site. Can’t imagine where she’ll be in 5yrs.

      • shattered says:

        Thanks Mary. You’re right I know. I just wish he’d even bothered to reply to my text (his only way of communicating) then I might feel less totally ignored – as if I never mattered at all. That’s what I’m finding difficult.

  6. Kissie says:

    I think all relationships take work. Life is about work. Working on yourself or working at your job, but you gotta work. Nothing gets done without some effort being put into it. Like Natalie, I agree that we have to change ourselves and our perceptions about men and love and relationships in order to find the knd of committed love we want. We have to value ourselves enough to know when to work at a relationship and when to pack it in. If you’re dealing with a man and although not “perfect” in what you’ve programmed yourself to believe is “perfection”, but he does what he says he’s going to do for the most part, he’s pretty reliable, he’s respectful towards you but dosen’t always agree with you on everything, you enjoy each other’s comapnay and conversation, he has your back and genuinely cares about you, that’s a relationship I think you can work on, because yo have someone who is willing to work on the relationship with you. If he’s a complete douche and we all know one when we’ve been around them long enough, we have to have the couage to leave, we have to value ourselves enough to go.

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Tired of dealing with family drama or waiting for them to spontaneously combust in to changed people? Need to find ways to step back and take proactive steps to redefine the relationship from your end? This 30-Day project will help you do just that.