Should Relationships Really Be Hard Work?

If I had a nickle for every time I heard the phrase, “Relationships are hard work,” I’d have… well… a lot of nickles. It seems to be the catch-all for every relationship complaint. It’s used in the way that it’s become an excuse for staying in a relationship that isn’t good for one or both parties.

I, myself, have lived by that motto before, and only now as I’m in a relationship that isn’t hard work do I realize how miserable it made me. It was like a contest, how much can I endure to prove that I’m dedicated, that I’m a hard worker? We never stop to think, why are we doing this to ourselves?

Is it fear? Fear we’ll be alone, fear that no one other than the person we’re with will want to be with us? Fear that all the good ones are taken? Fear that we might be actually leaving the person? Fear that it might get better and we gave up too soon?

Is it laziness? Not having the motivation to do something about it? Not wanting to go through all the trouble to meet someone again? Maybe something more along the lines of, you have so much else going on you don’t really care too much about the relationship you’re in?

Maybe you have a drive to prove that you’re worth that person changing. All you heard from everyone was what a horrible person they were, but you are different. You are the one they’re going to change for, to be a better person, to stop cheating, to stop being abusive. You are special.

There are too many reasons to list why we stay in those relationships. The ones I highlighted are ones that I’ve gone through myself. After my divorce I was petrified to break up with any guy who wanted to date me, because who, other than this tool, wants to date me? A single mom-waitress-student? I had stretch marks, my boobs had stopped being perky years back, and I was perpetually exhausted from running from class to waiting tables until midnight. My son was autistic, my daughters were young and loud. Who would want to take on that responsibility?

Once the relationship reached a certain point where I wasn’t petrified that the person was going to leave me, and even though I knew the relationship wasn’t a good one, I stayed. Why? Because I had about three hours in the day where I wasn’t in school or working, and honestly those three hours were better spent in peace, getting to see my kids. I didn’t want to put forth the emotional effort of breaking up and trying to restructure the routine I was already so comfortable in.

And did I think I was special? A single mom with a pretty pathetic dating record? I wanted to be, so badly. I was a good girlfriend, and I thought to myself, some day he’s going to recognize what a good, loyal, amazing person I am and he’s going to stop cheating. He’s going to realize what a catch I am and he’s going to change who he is. For me.

Did he?

Like that old, tired saying, a tiger doesn’t change his stripes. By nature, humans don’t like to change. We evolve and adapt to our surroundings and environment, but the core of who we are stays pretty in line for most of our lives.

Once a cheater always a cheater? It may or may not be true. It depends on the circumstances of the relationship, but I can tell you this, no matter how hard you try, you won’t ever be able to totally trust them again. You can tell yourself you do, but you don’t. You start dogging their every step. You don’t let them leave the house without you, and if they are somewhere that you can’t watch their every move, you find yourself calling them and texting them every few minutes.

They might not cheat on the next person they’re with, but the truth is, they did not respect you or love you enough to be loyal. Even if the relationship was ending, and they were ready to leave, they never respected you enough in any point of the relationship if they couldn’t walk away before sticking it in someone else.

Did that sound bitter? I’ve been through it more than once. If you think the fear and distrust doesn’t carry over to the next relationship, you’d be dead wrong. You find yourself looking for all the signs, all the ones you didn’t see in the relationship before, and it’s a vicious circle.

So how, then, are relationships not hard work? You have all this baggage and fear left over from years of disappointing, painful relationships. You have an encyclopedia of “signs” in your brain, and your eyes are trained to see even the tiniest red flag waving in the distance.

I’ll let you in on my secret, because it’s a doozy. Really, it is. It sounds so simple and so stupid, yet it works. However, there is a trick to it, because you can’t just decide to do it. This is where the necessity of all these bad, ugly, painful relationships come in.

You have to be okay with being alone for the rest of your life.

Yep, that’s it. You have to be, honest-to-God, okay with being alone for the rest of your life. You have to reach that point of utter, “I’m SO done,” that you’d rather choose a life of solitary confinement over dating someone who is anything like those of your past, again.

I’m sure there have been times in your life where you feel that you are ready, and the next thing you know you’re dating that stupid, beer drinking, philandering, cheating loser again. A carbon copy of your last ex, but you thought this one was different because reasons X, Y, and Z.

Believe me, I thought I was ready at least three times before I really was ready to spend my life alone. You know you’re ready when one of those guys uses that line, “I’m different than most guys,” but he smells like Old Spice and he’s smoking a pack of cigarettes as he’s talking to you, and he’s got three kids he’s not allowed to see (but it’s HER fault, of course, SHE’S keeping him from the kids). Before, that line, I’m different than most guys would have made you think, maybe he is. Maybe he’s the exception.

This time you laugh, shake your head and leave. You go home, pour yourself a stiff drink, call your friend and laugh for an hour about, “How stupid do I look?”

That’s when you know. It doesn’t mean at that point you stop looking. It means at that point you will not settle for less than perfection. I don’t mean perfection in the sense that there is someone out there who is perfect by everyone’s standards. I mean there is someone out there who is perfect by yours.

And there is. Believe me. It might not happen in a week, either. It might not happen in a year. But being in a happy, comfortable, easy relationship is possible. When you meet this person, you’ll be searching for those red flags and those signs, but they won’t be there.

Don’t be surprised if you’re constantly doubting yourself, thinking, “There’s GOT to be something wrong with them.” Yet the more you search the more you find that everything you’ve always wanted in a person is standing right in front of you.

How will you know if it’s truly right? That one is easy enough. They’ll feel exactly the same way about you as you feel about them. Honestly, how could it be the perfect one for you if you’re not the perfect one for them?

At that point, there really isn’t hard work. How is that possible, you ask? Well here’s the fun part; all of the things that were hard, if not impossible work in your former relationships, no longer are. You find yourself able to communicate with ease.

Remember these explosive arguments?

“I’m upset because of this,” you would say.

“I’m upset because you’re this,” they respond in a nasty tone.

Feelings are now hurt. “Well I think you’re a dumb THIS.”

“Well I think you’re a fat THIS.”

And it escalates into pain, name calling, tears, anger, and vicious behavior that will lead you to days of regret and doubt in the relationship.

Those arguments become more along these lines.

“I’m upset about this,” you say.

“Okay, what about this is making you upset?” they ask. Wait, what’s that? They’re not immediately taking it personal?

“Well,” and you hesitate a little, waiting for the explosion, “this makes me feel this way.”

“Okay. I see your point. Let’s find a way to fix it.”

If I didn’t experience this sort of disagreement, if you even want to call it that, every time I had an issue, I would think it was a joke, or fairy tale. I wouldn’t believe this kind of “argument” exists. Don’t get me wrong, our arguments get a little deeper than that, sometimes. Sometimes I’m frustrated and I’m crying, but they always, and I mean always, end in the two of us detailing out the problem and finding a way together to fix whatever it is that’s upsetting the other person.

That’s what I meant by relationships are actually not hard work, not the good ones, anyway. Communication, kindness, listening, empathy, love, compromise. Those things should never be effort. Reserve your effort for the big things, like financial troubles, being good parents, dealing with family, and all of the other big stresses in life.

It’s just hard to live in the relationship I’m in and take serious someone who claims to have true love with someone they break up with every four or six months. Like I said, you have to go through those bad relationships so you will know and be ready for the good one, but never let go of that thought that someday there will be that person who is as perfect to you as you are to them.

(A quick note: Being a female, I’ve written this from a female perspective, however I just want everyone to remember this goes both ways. Men and women are equally capable of being all of these things.)

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