I've been with my boyfriend for two years. We spend 75% of our time fighting about stupid things, but the other quarter of the time, he's so charming, considerate, and funny — & I think about marriage. Is it worth it to stay with him if I'm only happy some of the time? I'm afraid I might be giving up too easily.
Amanda Rausch, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
In many relationships (especially long-term ones), it can be really tough to know when to keep trying and when to call it quits. Research has shown that successful, long term relationships have at least an 8:2 ratio, meaning that for every two negative interactions, there needs to be at least eight positive ones. This doesn’t mean you are doomed, it just means it might be time to step up the positive.
To diminish fighting, realize that you two will either have to let go of the stupid things — or let go of each other. That’s the bottom line: Look at what really matters. If you did break up, would your level of happiness increase or decrease? And, not just in the immediate aftermath (because that part will suck no matter what), but in the years to come that will be full of ups and downs: Will you be better off? Giving yourself an honest answer may help you decide if it is worth it.
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It is important that you meet each other halfway. Do your part to make the other person feel happy, loved and appreciated? However, don't be the only one putting in the effort! If one person does too much in a relationship, the other person may do less, resulting in a nasty little cycle called “Over and Under Functioning.” You don’t want to give up before giving it your all, but for this to be “worth it” as you say, you’d need him to give it his all as well.
If someone were to ask you what ingredients you’d need to create a healthy and happy relationship recipe, what would be on your shopping list? Likely, you’d head straight to the couples’ aisle for some basics. Mutual love, respect, passion, partnership and understanding to name a few. But what if I asked you to purchase a carton of conflict? To pick up a box full of fight? What if I told you these ingredients were essential to creating a healthy relationship recipe?
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Wait a minute...a couple’s therapist who is pro-conflict and pro-fight? Isn’t the goal of decreasing couples conflict typically why clients come to counseling in the first place? Supporting couples in addressing and moving through conflict in a healthy and helpful manner is part of the work. But, the goal is not to eliminate conflict all together, but rather, to get to the deeper meaning of what the conflict represents and means for each partner and support them in moving through conflict more effectively.
The good news is that you and your boyfriend aren’t afraid of conflict. The not-so-good news is that the way you are approaching conflict isn’t working. My recommendation would be for both of you to begin to dig deeper into the meaning of the arguing. To move beyond the surface content of the fights to exploring what each of you is really trying to communicate about your feelings, needs and worries through the fighting. Likely, the consistency of conflict you’re experiencing is your relationship sending out an SOS that there are some underlying issues that need to be brought out into the open. Heed the signal and make the decision to dive in.