When Quitting is Not an Option

by Bob Beaudry & Sande Greene

Having worked with many couples over the years, in addition to dealing with our own relationship issues, we have found several elements that underlie successful and joyous relationships.

Of these, the number one ingredient for success is the “C” word: Commitment. Lots of folks say they are committed as long as their partner shapes up; they keep one foot out the back door and an eye out for someone who might better fulfill their needs. And, of course, this is part of the original problem: wanting someone to fulfill their needs. Or waiting for their partner to meet them halfway (it will never seem to be halfway!). Success in relationship means a 100% commitment; 50-50 means neither partner is whole within themselves and expects the other to complete them. This will never happen!

We see commitment as meaning that quitting is not an option. In other words, however bad the other person may look to us at any given time, we have agreed not to leave the relationship. That does not mean that we won’t take some space apart, a breather, to calm down so that we can see things more clearly, but it does mean we won’t quit. There have even been times when we have threatened to quit (a bad idea), but have withdrawn the threat once we regained our sanity. For the most part, this agreement makes sense in all but the worst situations, such as physical abuse.

Through trial and error in numerous past relationships, we have seen that no matter who we hook up with, we are always there, bringing whatever is unhealed in us to the relationship and having it reflected back by our partner. Jung said that whatever we’re unwilling to face in ourselves, we’ll be forced to confront in the outer world, such as our partners.

What we’ve learned is that there are basically three stages to a developing relationship. Stage 1 is the honeymoon or fantasy stage where everything is wonderful, we have found the fulfillment of our dreams, our soul mate, our other half. Sex is great, communication wonderful, we are high on love and life.

Then, gradually, Stage 2 sets in. Perhaps we made a mistake. We are seeing some flaws in the other person. As a matter of fact those flaws are considerable: She doesn’t agree with me, he doesn’t understand me, he/she wants sex too much/too little, they’re mean, angry, we don’t deserve to be treated this way, why do I have to hold the relationship together, why don’t they do their part, why isn’t he ever home, why doesn’t she allow me freedom, etc. This is the stage where most relationships either fall apart or move into hopeless resignation.

Is it possible to move past this stage? Is there really a Stage 3? You bet! If you’re willing to do the work. Strangely, this is not about pointing out all the flaws you see in your partner so they can heal themselves. It’s about seeing that the healing which needs to take place is your own. And when you are really willing to see this and acknowledge it, you move into Stage 3. At this stage, dreams of happily ever after really do begin to come true-not as a fantasy, but as a deepening connection and love for your partner. A friend recently made a sarcastic comment about something being “as exciting as marital sex.” Obviously, someone who has never experienced Stage 3! This was true for us through all our other relationships up until this one. We had never made it past Stage 2.

Finally, we figured out that it made no sense to keep changing partners when things got tough, but rather to use the relationship as a mirror of ourselves, both the beautiful and the ugly. By seeing and reclaiming the shadow we have projected onto our partner, we can heal that part of us that wants to keep running away out of fear. In order to do this, we must acknowledge to ourselves and to our partner that this business of relationship is truly sacred, or, as Stephen Levine says, the most powerful yoga there is.

And, of course, along the way, we have needed help, an uninvolved third party to help us gain clarity and re-own our projections. We have finally learned that counseling is neither as painful nor as expensive as divorce or separation. Now, when one of us is really off the wall, the last thing that person usually wants to do is seek help, so we have another agreement: If one partner requests counseling, the other agrees to go no matter what reasons they may find for not going.

So, if you are in Stage 1 or 2, don’t despair if things begin to feel like they’re falling apart. Be willing to stay the course and the rewards are beyond anything you can imagine. Remember, besides the joy and pleasure our partners bring to us, they are also experts at pushing our buttons so that the aspects of our lives triggered by those buttons may be healed.

May you be blessed with a master button-pusher who refuses to leave. And may you do the same for them.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness… …The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.” W.H. Murray.