When you’re flirting with a potential love interest, you’re dazzled by why relationships are wonderful, not cautioned by why relationships are hard. So what if floating on air and talking all night aren’t sustainable behaviors? Your brain is taking a nice long bubble bath in love hormones, and you couldn’t get out if you tried.
By the time you do drag your shriveled self from the water, you may find yourself sworn to a new relationship. And by the time you drain the now bubbleless water, it may dawn on you that your fairy godmother wasn’t totally forthcoming.
Not even the most empirically minded person is immune to the Dopamine-&-Co. spell once there is mutual intrigue. It’s how nature keeps us propagating (and addicted to things like chocolate).
But anyone who has been in love (or learned the hard way) knows that this amorous intoxication doesn’t last forever. There are predictable stages in relationships, and that reality is one of the reasons why relationships are hard. They take work.
Sadly, too many couples give up on their relationship before the real work of love begins. It’s as if no one has ever mentioned that an Atlantic-to-Pacific drive doesn’t stop-over in Akron. It’s just getting started at that point, and there’s a lot of geography to cover before taking in that worth-it-all sunset view.
If you are unhappy in your relationship, you may be more aware of how relationships are hard than why relationships are hard. And this is where the choice in your thinking can determine the tenacity of your commitment.
Relationships Are Hard
Read through these characteristics of the difficult side of relationships and ask yourself if they describe you, your partner or your relationship.
- You feel bored. You can’t believe you were ever fascinated by your partner’s droning-on stories. And you almost can’t stand coming home to the same routine anymore.
- You feel irritated by little things you never noticed when you were dating. Does he seriously have no table manners? Does she really baby-talk to the dog?
- You crave time alone. You may not even get up to say goodbye before your partner leaves for a week-long business trip. Aaahh, personal space!
- You feel lonely, even when you are together — perhaps especially when you are together.
- Sex isn’t what it used to be. You may not even enjoy or want it.
- You don’t feel appreciated.
- You bicker about everything and fight a lot.
- You wonder how you were ever attracted to someone so different than you.
- You wonder why relationships are so hard and if you made a bad decision with this one.
- You think about leaving. You just can’t stand feeling so captive and stuck.
Reasons Why Relationships Are Hard
Chances are, if you recognize one of these relationship characteristics, you recognize several. And that’s OK! These are all normal experiences after the falling-in love phase.
So, if this is what it looks like when relationships are hard, what are some reasons why relationships are hard? Here are five:
1. Intimacy is difficult
Romantic relationships are the most intimate of all forms of love. They demand physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual closeness. Any one of those areas can tax the energy between two people. But put them all together, and it’s obvious how the task can feel too big at times.
2. One word: expectations
It’s only natural to have a vision of how you want things to be. You’re taught your whole life to envision and set goals, so why should relationships be exempt?
One of the biggest reasons why relationships are hard and take so much work is that they inevitably go from fairy tale to reality. They just do. And that leaves you holding your beautiful vision of the future while staring at a pumpkin that’s your ride home.
Add to that perplexity the fact that everyone on TV and social media has a perfect life, and you can quickly assume yours is a failure.
The problem with having a vision for your relationship is that it is all too easy to project responsibility for its success onto your partner. And your partner, remember, comes with his or her own vision.
3. Making one person responsible for all your emotional needs
No matter how close you are to someone, no one person can be responsible for all your emotional needs. You have to maintain your sense of self and accept responsibility for your own happiness, even in the context of a relationship. How you go about defining and creating happiness is part of the fulfilling work of relationship.
4. Everyone comes with baggage
Surprise, surprise! That person who magically entered your life, able to complete your thoughts and sentences, passionate about all your passions? What may seem like another “you” just packaged differently is actually a one-of-a-kind story with a unique history and emotional expression.
And both of you will be bringing your own stories – along with your interpretations of and responses to them — to the table.
There will be unresolved issues, unhealed wounds and unprofessed fears. And the trickery of relationships is that they don’t fix any of these things — they reveal them. You become mirrors to one another, inevitably projecting pain from the past and triggering pain in the present.
This is perhaps the most challenging of the reasons why relationships are hard, and many couples can’t navigate it alone. Many run away when these issues from the past bleed into their relationship. And many who stay need professional guidance and support to get to the heart of the emotional triggers and clear the way for healing to take place.
This process of mirroring, struggling and healing isn’t a flaw of relationships; it’s the reason for relationships.
If you feel stuck in this area, there are therapies such as EMDR and Neurofeedback that can help.
5. Taking things for granted
When the natural excitement of early lust and attraction fizzle, as it always does, so does the perception of romance. The hormones that brought you together hand off the baton to hormones designed for the long haul, causing a shift in how you perceive love.
If you cling to the initial fairy tale as your step-by-step guide for romance, you will be sorely disappointed. You will expect roses that don’t come and might miss the sustaining “little things” that do. What once made you swoon because it was so sweet and thoughtful may not even register anymore.
It’s important to remember that the little things don’t stop being special just because you stop appreciating them. Recognition and gratitude go both ways. And grateful people are happier people.
Why Relationships Are Hard: Putting Your Partner First
Answering to why relationships are hard really comes down to one uncompromising truth: they require hard work and commitment. And who spends their time thinking about getting through the unpleasantries of relationship before a relationship even begins?
If we were all completely truthful, we would have to admit to a certain amount of selfishness. Our dreams of relationship have more to do with getting our own needs met than with meeting someone else’s needs. We want to feel a certain way, live a certain way, have and accomplish certain things.
But relationships require compromise…and a commitment to stick it out when it’s our turn to bend. And that compromise is about far greater things than who gets to choose the movie this week. It’s about caring for the highest good of the other person and acting on their behalf, even at the cost of personal convenience and comfort.
When relationships are viewed in that context, they redefine the fantasy that we have allowed society to impose. (After all, we are co-authors as much as readers.) Love goes from being a feeling to a choice. And buried in that choice is the key to true joy.
If you are trying to get a handle on your own patterns and how they manifest in your relationships, and you think I can help, please feel free to leave me a confidential voice mail message at 310-314-6933 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.