Over the course of my romantic adventures I’ve heard a number of platitudes, but none so damaging as, “relationships are work.” Those three words kept me holding onto a handful of relationships that simply were not worth holding onto. All the work I put into them left me exhausted, miserable and feeling like a failure when it ultimately didn’t pay off.
Of course there’s some truth to the idea. Life itself is work and sharing that life with someone naturally means taking on some of their work. You have to make compromises and put someone else’s needs ahead of your own from time to time. But, at what point do you decide you’re doing too much work to stay in a relationship that isn’t right?
I spent weeks in couples therapy with men I’d been with for less than a year and months before that begging them to go to therapy. I’d wonder if it made sense to put in the work to repair a relationship that had never been unbroken. I didn’t want to miss out on my opportunity to love, though, so I reminded myself that love is work. When I had screaming fights and had to apologize for mistakes I never fully understood, I reminded myself love is swallowing your pride. When I had to put my friends on the back burner because he needed more of my time, I reminded myself love is making sacrifices.
Looking back on the times when my relationships felt like the most work, there’s one commonality, I was the only one putting forth the effort. I was pushing for a relationship the other person either didn’t really want or value. It was exhausting because I was carrying the most weight. And, yet, there was always someone to point to the convenient “relationships equal work” axiom. (That someone was always his friend or family member. Shocker.)
These reminders usually kept me fighting, but now that I’m in a relationship that could obnoxiously be described as easy, I’ve come to realize relationships may be work, but if it’s that much work in the beginning, what the hell happens when you hit the really hard stuff? If you’re battling for a healthy relationship when life is uncomplicated—no kids, no mortgage, everyone’s employed—it’s going to turn into all-out warfare by the time shit gets real.
But, how do you know when the amount of fight is acceptable and when it’s the kiss of death?
In, theory, I’d like to think you could make it a few years into your relationship before it becomes laborious, but that’s not really fair. People have intense life moments happen at any given time. Moments that naturally may cause an upset in a relationship. Still, I do like to think it’s possible to weather the outside mess without turning a healthy relationship to turn to a battleground.
Working on your own chaos before you get too far into a relationship is infinitely helpful. It’s a lot easier to identify the difference between relationship efforts and all out drowning when you’ve achieved some level of self awareness and love.
Also, if the majority of the work comes as a result of something the other person did to hurt you or the way they react to you just being a person in the world, it’s probably not worth the struggle. Life is hard enough without the person you care about causing more strife than happiness. They should not actively bring you to tears on a regular basis.
If the other person seems completely indifferent to your efforts, quit while you’re ahead. They should be in it as much as you are. Granted, there will be times in your relationships when you’ll have to carry the other person (just like Jesus!), but there is no excuse for unmitigated indifference.
Outside of that, I think you just have to trust your gut. If “relationships are a lot of work” feels like a lie in your circumstances. It probably is.