There is a line from the movie “The Break Up” starring Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn, in which the frustrated character of Jennifer asks her passive and unappreciative long term boyfriend, played by Vaughn to help with the dishes.
“I don’t want you to just do the dishes, I want you to want to do the dishes.”
The fact is, every non marital relationship you have ever entered into, has ended. The sadder fact is that even lots of marital relationships end. We all get to a point in every relationship where one party feels unappreciated or neglected and the other party is usually completely unaware of the damage they are causing the person they claim to love the most, while they are also feeling damaged by their lover just as much.
Arguments become more frequent and the subject matter of said arguments becomes more and more ridiculous. You start fighting about who does more laundry, who ate the last of the cheese, who threw away the bottle of soda or who left the scissors in the wrong drawer. These arguments turn ugly fast. You start character assassinating and pointing fingers at one another. You take hits at their self esteem and confidence with a metaphorical baseball bat. Your words cut them so deeply, that they never actually recover from the argument. This leads to resentments that are stored in the forefront of your mind, leading you to realize eventually that you aren’t just fighting about a lost pair of scissors. What you are actually fighting about is much more serious, sometimes you even start to question your love for this person. You start to wonder how you ever fell in love with them in the first place. They seemed to have changed so much since then. You start asking yourself why you have stuck around for so long. All you see in them now is a vast range of qualities and bad habits that have you continually banging your head against a wall.
When you enter into a relationship, Its because you found the qualities of the other person to be attractive, endearing, lovable, fun and special. You want nothing more than to be with them all the time. You love the sound of their voice, the way they sing in the car, they way they laugh, the way they help you put your jacket on and the way they make your coffee…perfectly, always just the right amount of milk and sugar. After a while though, all those amazing things that you saw in them start to vanish, and are replaced with major annoyances. They take too long in the shower. They never stop singing. They refuse to go to your brothers friends birthday party with you. You feel unhappy, unsatisfied. Eventually, you realize that they are entirely too talkative, selfish, pushy, possessive or aloof. Coming to this conclusion may be easy, but it begs the question: Are they really? Or is it within the realm of possibilities that perhaps, you have changed also?
The longer a relationship lasts, the higher the level of comfort you achieve within that relationship. Their refusal to go to that birthday party may make them seem anti-social now, that’s true. It is also true though, that when you first met them, you were attracted to their “too cool for school, don’t need validation from anyone” type of personality. You liked that. You wished you had that quality. Now, however, that quality has become annoying and sad. They appear differently to you now. You have reached the stage in the relationship where you have finally taken off the rose colored glasses you had been wearing all this time. Its a shame, really.
Now you face a choice. Do you walk away from this relationship, cut your losses and go out looking for that “better” person you know is out there just waiting for you to find them, or do you continue to try and make it work? Usually our generation goes with the first option. We have been raised in a culture of instant gratification. We get what we want quickly, and therefore, we have to make our decisions just as quickly. The reason many of our parents and grandparents were able to maintain long, healthy and loving relationships were because they were willing to actually fix the problems. They wanted to work on the relationship. They wanted to be with that person, in spite of how much they had seemed to “change” over the years. They too experienced feelings of overwhelming anger, sadness and resentments towards their significant other at times, but they felt overwhelming amounts of love for them also, and that was enough for them.
We, however, live in a world where it is easier to give up, than to keeping trying. Not only is it easy to give up on a relationship, it’s expected. How many times have you complained to a friend about a significant other while out to lunch? Probably a lot. And what was their typical response?: “If you’re unhappy, you should just leave.” They say those words with a grain of salt, as if its easy to just go home, pack your bags and tell the person you love that you no longer love them enough to stay anymore. The problem is, you ARE unhappy, but the question you need to ask yourself is whether or not you have contributed to that unhappiness. Have you kept your mouth shut when you should have spoken up? Have you brought up things during a fight that were completely irrelevant purely out of anger, and ended up confusing your partner? Most importantly, ask yourself this: “If I walked away now, would I miss them?”
Most of us do not ask these questions when we should. We walk away and then find ourselves asking them weeks or even months down the road. We start thinking about how we should have said certain things, said them differently or been more patient. We realize that maybe we should have expressed our feelings more openly. We should have tried a little harder for a little bit longer. You feel like your walking backwards because you haven’t found that “better” person yet. All you have found are less interesting people with similar flaws that don’t even come close to comparing to the one you walked away from. You start to realize that you miss them, and there’s nothing you can do.
So now I ask you, if you could go back in time and do things differently, would you have helped them do the dishes? I think you would have. As a matter of fact, I bet you’d love nothing more than to help them do anything, just to be able to spend even ten more minutes with them. The point is, in the moment, the dishes didn’t matter. The lost scissors didn’t matter. The way they made your coffee so perfectly didn’t even matter anymore because in your fit of rage, you couldn’t see anything other than what you wanted to.
But now those things matter and they matter a lot.