We’ve all been in situations where you can see that things are starting to go south, and yet you are not really sure what to do to stop the downward spiral. Well, really it is very simple, because you only have 3 choices:
1. Do Nothing. Not a great option if you want things to improve. If you want the relationship to last, you can’t just stand there hoping beyond hope that a miracle or act of God will just make things better. That rarely happens, and instead the outcome that is pretty much guaranteed is that things will just get worse.
2. Get Out. This is relatively easy to do in business relationships and with acquaintances, but not so easy when you are talking about a close family member or a life partner. If you don’t live with that individual you can unilaterally decide to build up your boundaries and change the closeness of the relationship without completely severing ties, but this is much harder to do when you are in the same house and have joint obligations. Establishing a separate residence and/or divorcing has severe financial and emotional consequences that need to be carefully considered before pursuing this option.
3. Repair Work. I know it is not easy, and it does require effort on both sides to want to fix things, but there is so much to be gained by maintaining a loving relationship that withstands the test of time. Although this is not my area of expertise, I do actually spend a lot of time reading the research in this field, and it is no secret that Dr. Gottman is my favorite relatinship expert. In addition to his famous book “Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work,” I encourage everyone to read “What Makes Love Last?” While it would be impossible to do justice to his work in just one blog, I will tell you that the greatest piece of advice I have gleaned from all his writing is this: you need to avoid the nasty box. He calls it the roach motel– once you check in, you can’t check out.
We have all been in the roach motel at some point in our lives– and we can all agree that it is a horrible, dark place to be that should be avoided like the plague. But the fact is, no one ever winds up in the roach motel overnight. We are all guilty of allowing the downward spiral to occur, and the key message here is that when we realize what is happening, we have to be honest about the choices before us as stated above.
When faced with what Gottman calls “sliding glass door moments” the choices we make truly define the path our love will take. Hopefully you can turn toward your partner, not away from him/her, and by fostering compassion and empathy together you can avoid checking into that dreaded roach motel.
By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.