When should you stop trying to make it work with a partner who is seemingly uninterested in self-improvement?
What do you do when the love between you and your partner is no longer enough?
How can you keep yourself from falling back into old roles within your family of origin when visiting home, especially if you’ve grown and changed?
And when is it time to consider moving into independent living when you are a full-time caregiver for your spouse?
I answer all of these questions in this Q&A episode, which is all about relationship dynamics. Let’s dive in.
Prefer the audio? Listen here.
Question #1: How Can I Stop Over-Functioning When Visiting Family?
Our first question comes from a people-pleaser who has difficulty speaking up for their needs and puts everyone else’s needs first. “After visiting my parents and brothers, I am exhausted and often resentful. Help!”
When we “go home” to the scene of the crime (so to speak), it is easy to slip back into old behaviors. You might even feel pressured to do so.
Let’s say you were the over-functioner or high-functioning codependent in your family of origin. You used to do everything for everyone without being asked. Over the past few years, you’ve worked hard to change and grow, and no longer want to over-function.
The expectations your parents and brothers have of you may stuff you back into the over-functioner role, which no longer fits.
My advice: get crystal clear about what happened the last time you went home. Whose needs did you put above your own? What did you do? How did you get sucked back into this old behavior?
Gaining clarity helps in two ways:
1) It helps you take responsibility for putting everyone else’s needs above your own. Nobody made you put their needs first. You decided to. Why?
Trust me, I understand the situation all too well, but we are 50% of every relationship we have. What is your 50% in this dynamic?
2) Gaining clarity on your resentment helps you create a plan for your next visit, and proactive boundaries are crucial to your success.
Do you need to spend less time visiting? Do you need to stay in a hotel, rather than the family domicile?
Do what you need to do to ensure you put your needs first and don’t feel resentful afterward.
Question #2: When Should I Give Up on My Relationship?
Another person wrote in to say, “My relationship gives new meaning to one step forward, two steps back. I have set some boundaries and experienced some success, but my partner is seemingly unaffected when I practice distance and detachment (as per Harriet Lerner). Who wants a husband who doesn’t care if you leave the house without saying anything?
I understand I cannot change him, and I strongly believe his personal growth should be on his side of the street. Could I have been this wrong in my choice of partner, which might cost me my family? It is clear I need to set my biggest boundary yet: get help, grow, and join me…or I will leave the marriage. Can this be true?”
Yes, it can be true.
It sounds like you have really tried to make this work. Some people spend their whole lives attached to this cycle of dissatisfaction. It does not sound like you want to do that.
I want to focus on your question, “Could I have been this wrong in my choice of partner?”
Here is the thing about when we get partnered and who we are now: we may be very different people.
Most young adults have not done a lot of internal work. When we fall in love at a young age (which could be the case here), it is normal to unconsciously repeat modeled behavior from our family of origin, which is often unhealthy.
I suggest answering the three Qs to see if you are repeating anything from the past. I would not be surprised if this way of interacting is somehow familiar to you.
Here are the three Qs to ask yourself:
- Who does this person remind me of?
- Where have I felt like this before?
- How is the way I am interacting with this person familiar to me?
The push/pull, chase/beg dynamic – how is it familiar to you? Did you witness it between the adults in your life? Did you experience it with an ambivalent caregiver?
This pattern may have originated in many different places, and answering these questions might reveal something valuable for you.
But do not beat yourself up about the partner you chose. If you have children together, you were meant to have those kids. Forget the coulds, woulds, and shoulds. You are here now. What is the most productive thing you can do to get closer to what you want in life now?
Imago Therapy, created by Harville Hendricks and his wife, Helen, is all about effective communication and may be a good option for you both. You can even buy a book about it and see if your husband will read it with you.
While you can invite him in, there has to be a point where you are done inviting and he has to want to do it.
I am sure some people would be horrified by the idea of giving your husband an ultimatum, but I do not believe ultimatums are a terrible thing.
Sometimes we give people ultimatums because we can no longer tolerate being treated a particular way. It is not about control, it is about deciding where our non-negotiable boundary is. Essentially, it is letting your husband know how serious this is.
It may take you leaving. If you do, maybe you will reconcile. But you have to do what is necessary to eventually create the life you want and you deserve to feel seen, heard, and known.
(By the way, the guide for this episode contains the 3 Qs exercise as well as the secondary gain tool I talk about below. Download it here for access to these transformative tools!)
Question #3: How Do I Tell My Partner Their Love Is Not Enough?
Our next question comes from someone mourning changes in their life: “I am having difficulties in my relationship. We have a lot of things tied together financially and familial. We do not have kids, but we live together and do almost everything together. How am I supposed to say I am unhappy when he is giving me everything he can, but I want more? How do you tell someone you love intensely that the love there is not enough?”
Well, you are not your partner. You do not know if he is giving everything he can. It is possible he is acting in good faith, but you are making an assumption here.
You were not clear on what the exact issue is here. Do you love your partner in a family way, and no longer love him in a passionate way? Do you want to try to get the passion back? Or have you fallen out of love with him completely?
Your question focuses on how to break the news to him, but have you tried to make it better? If you love this person as intensely as you say, have you tried couple’s therapy? Are you clear about what is missing for you? What do you mean when you say you want “more”?
Being more specific may give this relationship some hope.
But if this is your truth and you are concerned about telling them…it is going to suck. No matter how masterful you are at communicating, the conversation will be painful because you are hurting someone you love, and you will feel hurt, too.
However, I would be a little less concerned about how to tell your partner their love is not enough and perhaps dig in to see if there is anything you can change or shift in your relationship first.
Question #4: “How Many Chances Should I Give Someone?”
Another person wrote in to ask about giving chances. “In the past, people broke up with me or ghosted me without telling me why. I did not get a chance to make things better. After years of therapy, any time I start a new relationship and I see something incompatible, I try to let the person know and see if they make a move to change.
Every time I raise a concern, regardless of how gently I do it, they feel threatened, like I am trying to ‘fix’ them. Eventually, I see no way out other than to break up with them. I am tired of being lonely. Is there a limit to giving people chances? Should I let go sooner?”
This feels like an original injury because you are seeing the same thing over and over. Repeating patterns are typically based on unresolved issues from the past.
I think it is valuable to ask the secondary gain question, which is: What do you get to not face, not feel, or not experience by continually being in relationships with people whom you think need improvement?
For example, you might get to avoid intimacy, even though you say you want it.
When we repeatedly find ourselves in the same unwanted situations, there is something there for us we are unaware of. It is the unobvious thing we gain by staying stuck.
Whether you repeatedly blow all of your money, get into relationships with unavailable people, or avoid working out (despite getting a gym membership), the secondary gain tool can help you access what might be happening under the surface and get out of self-sabotage.
Getting back to the present- being clear about how you feel and what you want is okay. It is also okay to point out, “Hey, you said you would call on Friday, but you didn’t. I would appreciate it if you did what you said you would do because I’m busy, too.”
Someone disliking this boundary is okay, too. But drawing people in who continually do insensitive or morally suspect things says something, and I think your answers to the secondary gain questions will reveal a lot.
Question #5: “When Should We Consider Independent Living?”
Our last question comes from a 74-year-old full-time caregiver for her 82-year-old husband. She writes, “My husband had a second stroke in 2016, which dramatically changed our lives. He is in a wheelchair and has some memory loss. We are considering independent living to take some of the caregiver responsibilities off my shoulders. Do you have any advice on how to look at this decision process?”
It sounds like you are ambivalent about moving, and this decision is really about how burnt out you are from being a full-time primary caregiver.
What exactly is the need? Do you need to make the move right now, or could it wait until next year?
Only you can answer. I would start researching to see what is available and affordable in your area. Visit the facilities to get a good idea of what places are like.
For those wondering what the difference is between assisted and independent living: assisted living is for those who have difficulty with daily activities at home. People come in and help you do those activities. Independent living is more for folks who can still live independently but want access to assistance when needed.
Independent living typically gives you access to dining, medical care, entertainment, and more. Someone helps you manage the bigger things in life, and in this situation, the writer’s husband would be closer to the medical care he needs, too.
That’s it for this Q&A! Remember to download the guide for a transcript of these Q&As to keep my answers in your back pocket.
If you enjoyed the Q&A format, let me know! Many of you said you wanted more after the first one, but I love to hear from you.
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Thank you so much for spending time with me and as always, take care of you.