Monday, December 11, 2017

Reconsider the Break-up: The Value of Staying in a Relationship

A low-stakes healthy relationship is good practice. Don't leave too soon!

Published on The Good Men Project

“If a person really just isn’t that into you, then why waste your time?”
In Mark Manson’s article addressing this topic, he asks this crucial question about being in a relationship. This critical advice has hopefully saved a lot of heartache for those who have held on to relationship hope past the expiration date.
Recently, however, a different slice of the same pie was delivered to a friend. Beth had been casually dating Greg when he had a complete meltdown – something about her roommate. Riddled with anxiety, he completely broke down, and the two had a brief conversation about what was going on. My husband talked to her the next day, and the two agreed that the relationship between Beth and Greg seemed like more trouble than it was worth. After all, it was the early days, yet. Wasn’t this supposed to be the easy times? Beth decided that it was too much for her and broke it off. She decided she wasn’t so into Greg that she wanted to invest any time in the relationship.
My opinion about the matter differed. I saw total value in staying in the relationship long enough to talk about what had happened, using this as a practice run. Let me explain. Beth and Greg had little invested in the relationship as it was so new. Because of this, I felt it could be helpful for Beth to gain some relationship experience (she was very inexperienced) by having a more difficult conversation with Greg. She could have listened to his fears and revealed some of her own. She could have told him about her turn-off. She could have had a potentially crunchy conversation in a very low-stakes relationship. This would mean practicing her communication and transparency skills, so when she was in a high-stakes relationship, she’d have more skills. It means that if it didn’t go well and the relationship ended, then she wouldn’t be crushed. Hopefully, she’d reflect, learn, and move on. And if it did go well, then she might see if the relationship was truly workable, and perhaps it might evolve into a high-stakes relationship.
First things first: What is the difference between a low-stakes relationship and a high-stakes relationship? A low-stakes relationship—unlike a casual relationship—still has a level of commitment. It might mean seeing the person every two weeks, once a month, or once a year. It means you value the relationship; it’s not disposable or expendable or fast food. You nourish it even if you think it might only last a short time.
A high-stakes relationship has a higher level of commitment. Think life partner, long-term, family relationships. These have weight (sometimes baggage) and are deep in our hearts. These are the ones that often need the most work. This is where low-stakes healthy relationships can help. (Note: It’s always worthwhile checking in about whether or not you’re in a healthy or toxic relationship. Toxic relationships clearly aren’t worth your time or energy!)
In staying in such a low stakes relationship, it’s not about whether the relationship is right or wrong for you, it’s whether both of you can actually learn something from being in the relationship. Now, if there’s not enough connection from the get-go, then by all mean, don’t stay in. If, as Mark Manson says, the person just isn’t that into you, then leave. But if you seem to share values and enjoy one another’s company, then why let one upset upheave the whole thing? What can you learn by staying in? Lots, I’d say, but only if you really want to do the work.
You might ask yourself, Do I have a lot of healthy relationship experience? Have I learned how to communicate in a relationship? Do I know what it’s like to be transparent about my needs? Have I learned how to apologize when my words and actions have had a negative impact (seen or unforeseen)? How can this current low-stakes relationship teach both of us these skills?
If your answers are, “Yes, I can learn more; yes, I want to be able to weather the storms of an intimate relationship—maybe not with this person for long-term, but for right now,” then do it. Step into the storm. See what you can learn about connecting with this person. See how you can stretch and grow. See what it means to be messy, human, and compassionate. It’s not “why stay?” It’s “why not stay? I have everything to gain and so does my partner.”
A version of this post was originally published on and is republished here with permission from the author.

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