Allowing a relationship with a friend to ‘fall away’

‘We do not realise that poor quality relationships use our time and energy, denying us the chance of better’

Should I stay or should I go?

Should I stay or should I go?

 

The most important question in relationships is – why bother? They either enhance our lives in some way or we should drop them.

So begins an email from a reader, prompted by my recent column on repairing long-term relationships.

I decided a while back not to stay stuck in all my relationships, just to see what would happen if I went with my gut feelings. Four formerly “important” relationships have fallen away. I left a long-term relationship – my partner was happy in it – but I had endlessly been repairing. The vacuum left more room for me, and ultimately for a different partner, one where “repairing” is a constant feature for both of us and it works well.

I’m not for dropping friends or partners easily; but a little space can tell a lot. For me, a journal reflection, written from stream of consciousness over a period of months revealed the undeniable fact that my partner did not suit me.

We fear the vacuum too much. We do not realise that poor quality relationships use our time and energy, denying us the chance of better.”

I rarely get emails advocating that people drop relationships that no longer fulfil them.

Yet, how often have you and I heard it said in conversation that such and such a person “would be better off getting out of there”?

Usually, “there” is a marriage in which one partner is abusing or totally neglecting the other.

So it’s abuse or neglect rather than a lack of fulfilment that we’re usually talking about when we advocate that friends or relatives get out.

Yet, I suspect that most breakups arise not from abuse or neglect but from one or both partners getting too little from the relationship. This is followed by conflict, things get worse and separation follows.

I was struck by the fact that my reader, following a gut instinct, actually allowed four relationships (in addition to the relationship with the partner) to “fall away”. No regrets seem to have followed this pruning.

I don’t know what went on in these situations. However, I’m sure anybody who read the recent Irish Times coverage on bullying within families will have cheered on the decision by many to end the relationship with the family member or members involved.

Of course, it isn’t as simple as deciding that this relationship is no longer good for you and to drop it. Consider adult children caring for parents who are emotionally abusive. Here a sense of obligation can be so strong that it leads the carer to put up with surprising levels of emotional mistreatment. It doesn’t help that, like anybody leaving a relationship, they could be seen by the outside world as uncaring. Anybody who knew the full story might not see it that way, but how often do we know the full story?

Similarly, the bullying and abuse of parents by adult children makes those who see it wonder why the “child” is not shown the door. It can be due to a fear of retaliation or of the guilt that that might follow expulsion. But often, I suspect, it’s down to an unexamined belief that certain relationships should not ever be disrupted. That belief allows the parents to be victimised, for instance to support a drink or drug habit.

I am hopeful that most troubled relationships can be repaired with goodwill on both sides. And sometimes we have built up obligations to people that we should meet even if they’ve got cranky and annoying.

But I also wouldn’t dismiss my reader’s approach out of hand.

Some of us “fear the vacuum too much” to quote my reader. A pattern of cutting and running too easily would make for a poor general approach to relationships – but many could benefit from pondering the idea that maybe you don’t have to stay in every one of those relationships, come hell or high water, to the very bitter end.

Padraig O’Morain (pomorain@yahoo.com) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is “Mindfulness for Worriers”. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email.

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