Rihanna was recently named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential people on the planet. She’s stated that she doesn’t want to be a role model, but … well, she’s on the list, she’s clearly “influential.” There have been continuing reports that she may be rekindling her relationship with Chris Brown despite his well-documented physical abuse of her in 2009. This has created a new round of reflection about her personal life — in particular about how she takes care of herself in her relationships — or doesn’t.
We don’t have to live our lives inside the fish bowl glare that Rihanna does. However, we can allow Rihanna’s relationship story, her influence, to serve us by allowing her story to bring attention to our own relationship choices. Why is it that we sometimes stay in (or go back to) a relationship that seems to all level-headed observers to be so very bad for us? Sometimes even our own sensible, level head is screaming at us, “run, baby, run,” and we don’t. Why not?
There are times when finding the strength and courage to get out of (or not go back to) a bad relationship is vital to our well-being. Having lived through enough relationships to know this piece of the storyline, I understand that it can be difficult to want to see that it’s time to go. That recognition is the last thing you want. Even when you begin to accept the inevitability of the end of the relationship, it can be so very difficult to actually make the transition.
Some relationships are like humpty-dumpty splattered on the ground. They just cannot be put back together. This can be so hard to see and accept. And often it takes time to see it. If your partner is acting out in a way that is untenable or unhealthy for you, and he does not want to change, then as hard as it may be, your first step will be to recognize this fact.
There are some very fundamental reasons why we want to stay connected to our intimate partners. In a relatively healthy relationship the power of attachment works like glue to help us stick it out when friction arises. Every relationship, of course has good parts and bad parts, easy times and hard times, times of harmony and times of discord. As much as we may wish to live in a world without difficulty, the very nature of existence naturally encompasses the entire range of experience.
We bond with our partners both in ways we see clearly and those we don’t consciously understand. We literally become biochemically, physically connected through our partner’s touch. From a simple functional point of view, we are bound together through our homes, and possessions, through children and/or pets (if we have them), through our finances. Then there is the mystery of the strength of the emotional and spiritual connection.
These are the strings, tendrils, bonds, links that entwine us to our intimate partners. We get all tangled up with each other. The very thought of pulling the connection apart is painful. This is something most of us tend to want to avoid. Often (actually usually, in my experience) even in a difficult, unharmonious, unsupportive relationship there is a desire for the relationship to continue — that it not be over. This is so natural. I see it and hear about it every day.
I counsel the wives and partners of men who suffer from sex and/or porn addiction. I work with my husband, George Collins, who as a recovering sex addict has an amazing capacity to help men find their way out of compulsive sexual activity. When the partner of someone who has been acting out sexually calls us they generally hope that we can help them find a way to put their relationship back together. Often we can. But we can only help the relationship if the guy who has been acting out sexually: 1) recognizes that he has a problem and 2) is willing to commit to stopping the behavior. Without these pieces in place the relationship simply will not have a solid foundation from which to rebuild.
It comes down to this. If your guy really wants to stay in the relationship, recognizes that whatever it is he’s been doing is not going to lead to intimate connection, and he’s willing to get some support to change his behavior, then there is a possibility of rebuilding the relationship.
Relationship is like a dance. Sometimes the dance is easy and sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes we step all over our partner’s toes. Choosing to stay in a relationship or to leave is not necessarily about getting away from what’s painful, it’s about recognizing when you don’t actually have a partner to dance with.
If you are in an abusive relationship, if you or your family members are in danger and you are finding it difficult to walk away, there are abuse hotlines all across the country. Call. The person on the other end of the phone will not judge you. You will get immediate help and support.
If your partner is acting in a way that you cannot accept and does not want to get help, if he does not want to find the way to greater intimacy, then I encourage you to at least tell the truth to yourself about who you are dealing with. In this sort of situation, the recognition that it’s time to go is personal. Trust yourself. Get whatever help and support you need to begin to extricate yourself from the relationship. This can be a cold, hard truth that you do not want, but from acceptance comes the beginning of your healing.
If you are partnered with someone who is actually not in relationship with you, the only way out of the suffering from this kind of connection is to walk head on into the pain of leaving. This is how you will give yourself time and space to grieve the loss and ultimately build a better life.