Once upon a time, I was that person stuck in a miserable relationship. I knew I was unhappy — and that my partner was unhappy, too. But I also knew that relationships were work. That it wasn’t always going to be easy.
So when things got hard in my first marriage, I went to work. I hit the books, looking for new ways to communicate. New tools to try. Conversations to have.
But when I went to my ex, he wasn’t interested in trying any of that. “Take me or leave me,” he’d say. “I am the way I am.” And he’d tell me that when I expressed any unhappiness that I was telling him that I didn’t really love him. Because if I loved him, I wouldn’t want him to do anything differently.
Never mind he wasn’t happy with me either and easily expressed it.
Never mind he had a lot he said he wanted and needed to work on — but never seemed to find time to address. Not even as I made the time for him and gathered the professional help. Not even though I was willing to pay and do whatever needed to happen to make counseling happen.
No, he didn’t want to work on himself. Didn’t want to work on us. And I ended up attending those therapy sessions I arranged alone. In individual counseling.
And the more emotional work I did, the more I realized I didn’t want to be in a relationship where I was the only one who changed all the time. Where I was the only one who had to do any emotional work.
It’s Also Hard Waiting for Them to Do the Emotional Work When They’re Doing It
That relationship is long past. We’ve gone our separate ways. and we’re both better off these days.
I ended up going on to marry a good friend the second time around. Someone who really gets me in ways that I’m not using to other people getting me. And the past decade or so has been incredibly blissfully happy.
Would it always be easy? No. Several years in, we started to challenge ourselves and each other. It got difficult for a while. And it was a new kind of difficult that I’d never dealt with before.
Most of what hurt me was really a byproduct of you fighting yourself. Challenging yourself to be a better person — and always impatiently, because you’re like that. You are impatient when it comes to improving yourself. (And I am, too.)
But at the time, you didn’t know that. And I didn’t know that. I thought it was my fault. That our love was actually one-sided, that I was crazy about you and you didn’t actually return my feelings, not after the New Relationship Energy wore off.
But eventually you figured yourself out a bit better. And we emerged from this one rough patch better than we went into it.
We’re better than ever — in a way that defies my expectations. Because no one told me about this kind of love story before.
But was it hard while it was going on? Yes. Excruciating at times. Because even when someone wants to do important emotional work, it’s hard waiting for them to do it. Especially if you — like me — have a history of hoping for that to happen but finding it never does (like with my ex).
But being patient while someone works on themselves is a vital relationship skill. It would be so much easier if we could do other people’s emotional work for them, but we can’t.
Not all of it anyway. We can be there to support and help. But there’s only so much we can do. At a certain point, it’s up to other people to follow through.