Love Smarter Podcast with Todd Zemek

Why Should I Stay in This Relationship? - Todd Zemek

JAN 17, 2023

Todd Zemek

"Why should I stay in this relationship?" Is a question typically asked when you're hurting and fearful about ongoing disappointment and pain without a clear path forward. Doubting your relationship and whether you should have entered it at all is not uncommon. In fact, some people say the real relationship doesn't fully start until you're asking these types of questions! In this episode Todd shares how you can embrace these doubts and grow through this.

So why should I stay in this relationship? This is a question that my patients ask a lot often when they’re really, really hurt and they’re threatening to leave, which is not uncommon. And as we learn to fight fair a little bit later, um, and people in relationships are more secure, they’re less likely to threaten pulling the rip cord and ending the relationship. The vast majority of my patients want to fight for their relationship. They want to fight for the promise that was either made or implied that we would grow together over time. And the greatest fear that I find is that if the relationship survives, I don’t want to be alone in it. And so, you might have heard me say this before, but I regularly ask people, have you ever been close to anybody? And it’s amazing how many people don’t understand the question. They don’t understand the question because they don’t have any frame of reference for closeness.
And so there’s something very sad in the assumption that I’ve never learnt to be close with anybody. I developed a relationship, I stayed or even married this person. And I was assuming that over time that we would just continue to get closer and crawl closer, and that I would learn how to do that automatically. And this is one of the most important points that we can, we can be conscious of, is that more often than not, it doesn’t happen automatically. Especially com, if you’re coming from a base of nothing, because adult relationships raising a family or just contending with everyday life, throw so many intense challenges at you that it’s going to require more skills than you’ve taken from a, a base of nothing. So my patients don’t ask, should I stay or should I go? So often they’re asking, “Why should I stay?’ And the reason that we stay in relationships is that hope that we will grow together.
And what you’ll find is it doesn’t matter how much you read, how much you train, how many courses you do, we need other people in one form or another in order to learn how to be close, to learn how to be close under pressure. But equally, how to be close when we’re not under pressure, when we are calm, when we’re in a state where there isn’t a challenge, there isn’t a mountain to climb, there isn’t a fight. How do we come home and chill , how do we come home and learn to be with one another in what, I guess in a way is a more feminine space in that it it’s undefined and unfolding. And how do we, whether we’re male or female, how do we sit into that space, be conscious of ourselves and each other, and, and just see what unfolds? And really, if there’s one thing I teach couples, I’m, I’m coaching them in how to do that, how to slow down, how to make eye contact, how to tune in with themselves, and then how to share a little bit more detail.
So why should I stay in this relationship? Because I need to learn how to give and receive in terms of closeness so I can soothe myself and take part in the satisfaction of being able to soothe someone else. And to do this as part of a team. We cannot take this for granted. It, it is not granted because we don’t know how to do it. And as a couple, we haven’t figured out how to do it under these circumstances at this stage of our life and with whatever the next phase or challenge, um, is ahead of us. So a very common story I’ll see is there, there’s gender differences here, and it switches a lot, but I, I, I just talk about what I see in my practice. And so a very common pattern is that the woman will be very hurt through neglect of the partner.
And typically that neglect is not a lack of love and caring or compassion. It’s a lack of skill because men so often have not experienced closeness and care. So they don’t how to give it. They certainly don’t get it from each other. And often generation generationally that hasn’t been received either. So from that space of feeling, um, the pain of neglect, the woman will, will say, look, I, I can’t do this anymore. So she may have, she’s been traumatized. She may inter couples counselling and have very little to say, because there’s fear of being disappointed or worth still of being attacked. However, another thing that happens is that she will almost drop the male partner off at couple’s work and basically throw her hands up and say, I c I can’t do this anymore. He, you know, he’s yours, you fix yourself, but I can’t do this.
And what’s amazing is that these cavemen or these Neanderthals, these guys who’ve been painted as so cold and so, um, so incompetent, not making any excuses for some of their behaviour, and some of their behaviour is poor. But the devotion and the commitment shown from these guys to turn up in therapy and to learn to reflect on themselves, to, to brave enough to feel things and to heal is, is really amazing. Very different from what we see of, of guys being painted as so incapable if given the opportunity. Guys are incredibly capable. But what happens then is that there, as there was an asymmetry in the relationship given with, there’s another asymmetry starting to evolve, that this guide can go to greater depth now, but his partner may not be able to receive it yet. So the guy learns, how do I love my partner from a distance and starts to see a lot of her struggles, and this is the dawning of a new relationship and a new type of love and a new, more mature masculine presence coming through in the relationship.
And so he might start to learn that actually she has a lot of obsessive anxiety that’s never been addressed and supported. It’s a very tough place, an embarrassing place for people to be when they’re feeling that anxious might be that she’s actually quite aggressive when it comes to closeness. She might have been really smothered in the past. She might have been injured herself, and she learned that the only way to survive was hands up and to start throwing punches, um, metaphorically or physically. Um, and so we start to teach him the nuances of how she protects herself and how to endure when they’re not close. How does he learn to sustain himself, even if he’s getting no positive indications that he’s doing anything right? So once that’s been achieved, often we’ve got a very different relationship that’s starting to evolve. The power dynamics are, are changing in terms of compassion and in terms of competence.
And then we’ve got an opportunity, whether it be in couple’s work or sometimes it will just be loving from a distance and, and learning to support where support was not available before. And so we’re really looking at what are, what are our needs and what, what are the needs of each person? And often the needs are for reassurance around our fears. I find that for so many women, the greatest fear is that I’m not special enough after everything I’ve given, don’t I deserve? Isn’t this the least I deserve and yet I get nothing? So there’s a very genuine fear that I don’t have value in terms of my specialness for men. There’s the fear of incompetence and that I’m not providing enough. So these needs for human reassurance need to be met both individually and within the relationship. Now, if the relationship isn’t at a stage where it can be nourishing and reassuring like that, then we have to meet these needs outside first.
That’s what’s going to give us the endurance to stick with deeper levels of relating. So where do we do that? We do this in therapy, is going to be the most express focused direct path, but we start to do that with friends. We start to do that with community. And in terms of resources of time, that can be a great struggle and a challenge, but requires some formality to say, well, where am I going to meet these needs for reassurance before I’m able to come back and endure these fears so I can be closer with my partner? Certainly, in terms of my own life, um, closeness that I experienced in my early life came at a price as is often the case. Um, and the closeness really meant pretending, closeness meant, um, receiving, uh, unpredictable attacks out of the blue. It meant, uh, a a lot of it was let’s fantasize that there’s no problem here and just pretend.
So to me, it either felt unsafe, it felt like I was going to fail, um, or it felt fake, like there was no integrity. So closeness almost physically felt wrong. So I could engage with people, but at a pretty low level, and I couldn’t sustain deeper relationships for, for very long. So I would engage with women, I would have relationships that I, I cared about, but I would find myself breaking up because I, I just didn’t feel safe in there. There was no way for me to be reassured about that. And at a younger age, I had no idea, um, that I didn’t feel safe. I hadn’t processed my trauma, and I had no one in my world that could reflect this back to me. So this is where definitely having therapy and someone to care for you and teach you how to be cared for is a very, very important prerequisite, but something that it needs to be sustained in order to continue a relationship.
So we need a therapist, a community or friends around us to reassure us throughout the entire journey of the relationship with. Without that, is it surprising that individuals are going to falter? Is it surprising that they’re going to say that this relationship isn’t working? And is it surprising that they blame their partners because I’m not feeling safe? And they will, they’ll come up with any number of reasons to validate why this isn’t working. Such an interesting thing that the mind and the body work together. And if, uh, if we’re not feeling safe, physiologically, the mind will plug in the gap and it will find a narrative to prove that this is why, um, this isn’t working, and we should step away. So why we should stay is that we need each other. We heal each other, we grow and we learn to develop strategies for new connections.
But we do that in a way that our culture’s not accustomed to. We do it quietly, we do it slowly. We do it tenderly without knowing where the hell we’re going. I really like the work of Stan Takin in this area. And one of the things that he teaches is this three minute hug. So the welcome home hug. And by holding that hug for somewhere around three minutes, we’re challenged to drop the rolls. We’re challenged to drop the, so the, the the pat on the back. Yeah, see you later. So sort of hug and we’re challenged to allow our, our body and our breath to slow down. Initially. There can be some anxiety about this, but that’s a, a really powerful thing, that three minute hug when you come home and find each other when you leave for the day. The other is eye contact.
And one of the most preliminary things in sex therapy for people who really struggle, is just turning to each other and massaging each other’s hands. , it sounds so simple. Um, but there is a tenderness and a, uh, an intensity to that which is an important thing to practice. Other things that can be of assistance and take a bit of planning date nights, if not a date night, some method of connecting throughout the course of the day to hear some information about what’s happened internally for each of you. So when we ask, why am I staying in this relationship? Why should I stay? It’s so that we can engage with the, the nourishment, the reassurance, the beauty, and that the human connection that is sustaining and such a necessity for all of us. But the reason it’s such a challenge is that we’re drinking so much coffee.
We’re so busy, and we have no models either as individuals, but we have no models as couples. You’re not going to see this in reality tv and you won’t see this in the movies because there’s not sufficient drama and jeopardy. No one wants to stay with space. Once the, the dragon is slayed in the movie, or you know, the couple has gone through all this thing, and then they get married in the final scene and sail off into the sunset, we don’t stay with them and experience any of the safe, subtle, deeper connection. As you grow in your ability to do that, you’re much more likely to be able to go even deeper. So you’re going to have these, by the way, experiences. It’s like, oh, actually I didn’t mention this. And these come out when it’s safe enough to do so. This is a principle that happens in individual therapy when we’re, um, starting to, so the protective parts of us, we start to feel safe.
Then the, the presenting problem is what the patient comes forth with in the, in the beginning. Um, but once they’re safe, then it’s like, well, here’s this little thing that’s not a big deal, but more likely than not, it’s the, the core issue that’s holding you back and the core opportunity for more closeness. So this is why we stay in relationships so we can learn how to grow closer. We don’t learn how to do that ourselves. If you’re lucky, your relationship will have some intuitive natural rhythm to it where you can grow in some directions. But the thought that you should be able to grow in all directions all the time and soothe each other’s needs, stimulate each other, uh, in every way for an entire lifetime, no matter what comes your way. That’s a fantasy. It’s an absolute fantasy. So you will need the resources of a tribe.
Many of us don’t have families that can contribute much in this area because they come from generations that didn’t know how to be close in any direct fashion. So reach out, whether it’s in therapy, whether it’s reaching out to me, whether it’s with me, or I could recommend someone that might be a good fit for you. Um, groups can be very helpful. Friendship groups change over time. Some people might be at this level, some people might not, but be discerning with your friends and see who’s capable and who’s not. Um, for anyone who is not feeling safe, and I want to give credit to the brave people that I do work with who put the time in to value themselves, to learn how to gain support. And it’s not just a question of strategies around leaving. It’s a whole raft of skills in terms of caring for ourselves and sometimes that that takes a considerable amount of work.
But if you are not safe, um, 1-800-RESPECT is a great, um, number to call, um, or any similar, um, services in your country or your area. Um, but engaging with confidential phone counselling is a tremendous place to start gaining some, um, information through reading. But, um, having someone with you knowing that you, uh, can create that safety in yourself before you create a plan to leave is, um, is so essential for so many people. And I, if, if you are in that predicament or you know someone that is, um, definitely I want to, you know, extend all of my respect and, um, invite you to reach out, um, no matter how small. Um, so we keep that nice and safe. So why do I stay in this relationship? Cause it’s what we need in order to survive evolutionarily, in order to feel alive rather than we are just surviving.
Is it worth it? I in general, don’t throw the baby out with the bath, bath, water, breathe, and then invest horizontally, which means going broad. People who do this in a poor fashion are people who go and have a lot of affairs. The most tragic situations are sex addicts and they’re amongst some of the most unhappy people in the world. What we’re looking to do is go broad in terms of supports so that more of your needs are being met, endure any of the guilt and blame. As a result of you feeling fuller, more sustained, you are going be able to tolerate more in your relationship and you’re more likely to actually be available for something that’s got the capacity to grow. If you’ve got any questions, of course, reach out. You can follow me on Instagram if you like for help with reaching your relationship goals. And, I look forward to talking to you soon.
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