7 signs

I’ll admit it.  I’m a silly girl, sometimes, who reads things like Hello Giggles. (It may have something to do with my Zoey Deschanel girl crush).

This morning, while recovering from yesterday’s crazy packing extravaganza and eating early birthday cake, I found myself reading this.  (I know).  Surprisingly, it got me thinking about relationships–and especially about the latest one that I’m straddling–especially now that the relationship I’m sorta in, but not in has gone international.

So, the article goes into the 7 signs that indicate you’re just not meant to be with someone.  Given that my sorta-someone is an ex–and that some of these scenarios applied to him and caused our original break-up, it got the wheels turning.  The title of the article annoys me as being meant to be implies that we have no control over what happens in our long-term relationship prospects when it’s actually quite the opposite.  I think most relationships come down to one thing: are both parties willing to do the necessary hard work that goes with making things work?  Of course, I’m of the school that relationships should be challenging, in that there are issues to deal with and bumps to smooth out while you learn to live with someone.  But the loving part–the commitment part–shouldn’t be hard work.  If you can turn your back on someone and determine it’s not worth it, chances are–IMHO–that you probably were never all that committed or actually in love with them.  You probably liked them or were in lust.  But walking away and shutting them out isn’t compatible with that.  Unless you’re suffering from major issues yourself–where you’re unable to really commit to people.  I’ve been on both sides of this equation, for the record.

Anyway, without further ado…the 7 signs are:

You have different approaches to fighting.

The author of the article basically says you have to have similar approaches to fighting.  I’m kind of in the middle here.  I think you have to have approaches that are not grating to the other person, but are also challenging enough that it sparks forward momentum and resolution.  For instance, my last ex and I are very similar in terms of our conflict styles.  We both are pretty introverted and respectful.  My ex is so nice and polite, it’s ridiculous.  When we would have conflict, we both avoided it.  I tended to be the one who would not bring up small things that annoyed me because I didn’t want to deal with it and it wasn’t offensive enough to be a big issue.  He was like this as well, but would actively avoid situations that would put him in a position to be annoyed.  Eventually, it piled up–and my resentment of his avoidance grew.  I also got really angry about the things that annoyed me–which was sort of unfair given I never said a word about it and never gave him the opportunity to change.  I’ve been in another relationship where I was the one in this situation and the other person said nothing to me.  When it ended, I felt incredibly blindsided–which resulted in a lot of anger because I was never given a chance to even defend myself.  I felt like I had been in a totally different relationship than my ex.  Withholding is a big deal to me, for that reason.  My two major relationships soured because the other person basically shut down and excluded me from their feelings.  It’s a way of holding the relationship hostage and stops any intimacy.

I’ve had other relationships where my partner was explosive in his anger–though that mostly came about after we broke up–as we learned to continue living together without killing each other (awkward).  It was an anger that physically scared me and intimidated me to the point where I would not open up because I didn’t want to trigger it.  There was a constant barrage of criticism that never seemed to stop.  It was abusive, flat out.  In those situations, one person eventually gives up because they feel really bullied–and huge waves of resentment well up.  The big problem is that it’s actually not safe to express that resentment, so it erodes everything to the point where even friendship is difficult–no matter how fond you are of the person involved.  In my case, this person is still in my life, and it’s–by far–the most difficult relationship I have.  We’ve both worked hard to change things and have an uneasy peace that is fragile.  For the most part, I don’t feel unsafe around him anymore.  But the damage is irreversible, and I will never fully trust him.  I’ve learned to be strategic about how I express things he may not want to hear–and often we have loud arguments.  I don’t have this kind of relationship with *anyone* else and I often wonder how long I’ll be able to be his friend.  And vice versa.  This person is important to me, though, so I continue to try to make it work.  But we will never ever be as close as we were before.

So, bottom line, fighting styles–for me–have to be rooted in respect and trust.  Above all.  You really can’t have any intimacy or vulnerability if you feel unsafe or fundamentally devalued.  There also has to be a firm commitment to vulnerability and honesty.  You have to share what you’re feeling, even if it sucks, and you also have to own your shit.  For me, people need to play fair.  You can’t expect change when you don’t express it’s needed.  Being fair also means not being mean.  Sure–maybe the person you’re with annoys the Hell out of you.  But is bringing the same issue up 40 times a day constructive?  The person knows it’s a problem and, if they won’t change (or can’t change), that’s maybe a bigger issue that needs therapy or mediation.  But being aggressive in reminding them of it is just sort of mean and eventually wears them down.  I’ve learned it’s a form of verbal abuse and a way to cut someone down.  Being fair means being a grown-up–playing by rules of diplomacy.  If you wouldn’t say it to your mother, your child, or your boss, don’t say it to your partner.  If you can’t do that, leave for a while and try later.  And that brings me to my last point.  Both people have to be committed to making it work.  If you’re halfway out the door, you’ll never resolve conflict.

You’re too different (or similar).

I’m on the fence with this one, too.  I think you have to have some things in common.  A common view of life.  Common goals.  Common values.  Those things matter.  If one of you doesn’t want kids, and the other does, that’s a big problem.  But the differences can make life interesting.  As long as they don’t violate something you really believe in.  If you’re a big hunter, it’s probably unreasonable to expect a PETA activist to join you in your hobby.  I’ve softened my stance on this recently.  One of the reasons I broke up with an ex was because we had similar challenging things when it came to communication and conflict.  But we were polar opposites in terms of interests.  He’s a big car guy.  I know nothing about cars and find them boring.  He loves metal music.  I can’t stand most of it.  Now that we’re sorta seeing where things go, I’m starting to see that we’re actually very compatible in a lot of ways.  And the differences make our relationship healthy.  We don’t need the other one to entertain us.  And while we might love something, we don’t expect the other person to–at least not anymore.  That expectation that you’re going to share everything is a big problem.  It can lead to a lot of just mean fights (at least it did for me).  You like what you like.  You don’t have to be twins.  And heck, you may learn something.

For me, the key here is being similar in terms of what’s important to you–as a couple.  It’s also important that the person is open-minded.  So, maybe they don’t really like your music.  But will they at least listen to a song?  I never gave my ex credit for this before.  I introduced him to many different artists–some of which he now actively listens to.  He was surprised he liked them, but listened because it was important to me.  So–if someone tries when it matters–that’s a great thing.

You don’t get along with family, or your SO won’t defend you.

This is huge for me.  Probably a total dealbreaker, and it extends to friends.  Most of the people I was involved with had great family and friends that I connected with.  So much so, that part of the grief I felt when I broke up was losing that circle of support.  It was just painful and weird to not feel okay talking to them anymore.  One of the reasons I broke up with an ex was because I just couldn’t stand his friends–to the point that I honestly started questioning his character.  It caused problems because I didn’t want to hang out with them because they were just so offensive and awful.  Clearly, we didn’t value the same things.  I have also had people not defend me when it mattered or actually tell their friends/family things that were untrue to get them to back them up when we fought.  It was just nasty and unfair.  Loyalty, to me, is probably the thing I value most in friends, family, and boyfriends.  I’m as loyal as they come–almost maddeningly so–even when a relationship is over.  I still defend people who did really shitty things to me.  It’s really unattractive when someone doesn’t have my back and eventually erodes trust.

There’s never anything to talk about.

I think this is really an intimacy and trust issue, usually covered up by different interests and probably an avoidant conflict style.  It was definitely an issue with my last ex.  He’s pretty introverted to begin with, as am I, but I often felt like I was doing all the heavy lifting of talking.  Since talking again, we’ve had  to work out that aspect of our relationship.  He is a man of few words.  It doesn’t mean he’s bored and I have to fill up the gaps.  It just means he maybe listens more.  It also means I have to do more to pull things out of him.  I’ve found him to be a great conversationalist if I just give a little extra effort.  Before, I took it personally, or blamed our different tastes in everything.  But really, it was a communication issue.  I think it helps that we’ve been through a lot of bumpy roads and now have a lot more trust that we won’t offend each other if we just say–“Yea. I’m bored.  Change the subject.”  At the same time, he has some political beliefs that I won’t ever agree with.  These beliefs don’t mean much to our relationship.  They’re just thoughts.  Not everything needs to be shared.

You dislike the other person’s interests.

Sort of similar to earlier stuff…but basically, I feel like this isn’t a big deal unless people insist on your being involved.  If you don’t like something, you don’t like it.  That’s their deal.  You can do other things and share other things.

S/he talks down to you/blatantly disrespects you.

This happened a lot with the aggressive guy I was with.  It’s odd.  If something like this happened in the business world, I would probably walk out or quit.  Hell, I HAVE done that.  With friends and boyfriends, I tend to put up with it.  I have my own issues with that–which I’m working on.  You have to have boundaries.  As much as I can say the person talking down to you is crappy for doing it (and he is), it’s also about teaching people to treat you well.  If you accept it once, it will continue unless you put the brakes on it.  After that, if it continues: BUH-BYE.  In my case, I’ve been involved with a boatload of narcissists.  Part of my process of ridding this toxicity from my life is figuring out why I attract them and why I allow them to treat me this way.

S/he doesn’t take your profession seriously.

Well, a lot of this one depends on you.  Do you take your profession seriously?  If you do–huge problem.  If not, maybe it’s not so bad.  On the other hand, they may not respect your boss or career.  But they have to respect your work ethic and the sacrifices you make to be in that career.  Otherwise, it’s just disrespect.

I think a big danger with all of these bulletpoints is that they are built under the assumption that people don’t–or can’t–change.  That would be a mistake in my experience–for better or worse.  Again, it comes down to the cost of trying to make things work.

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