Sometimes events overtake us. Whether it is an out-of-the-blue surprise like the exposing of an affair or the accumulated discontent that comes from neglecting the health of a relationship, we are suddenly facing a confrontation. Something has changed so much that one partner or the other is no longer certain he wants to be in this relationship. The relationship is in crisis.
Gay couples often don’t have a lot of support. Family and friends may be of marginal help, but too often there is the expectation that, well…breakups happen. There are often none of the legal complications that cause heterosexual couples to work for a while before dissolving their marriage. Gay couples are too often left to their own devices. That makes it imperative to get to work on the relationship as soon as possible.
Try to avoid making hasty or drastic decisions or threats. If something has happened which brings up a great deal of emotion – hurt, fear, anger – express what you are feeling without making threats. Take a few deep breaths. Stay grounded.
Arguing about blame can be tempting – particularly if one of you feels deeply wronged by the other. It is easy to get self-righteous when the other person has done something pretty awful. You are certainly entitled to your feelings, but understand that you may have to face a choice: you can prove that you are right, or you can try to resurrect your relationship. Making the latter choice may mean broadening your idea of what “winning an argument” looks like, but choosing to prove your point and punish your partner may mean letting go of a relationship that still has value to both of you. Choose wisely!
Listen to your partner. This can be difficult if you feel attacked or betrayed, but try. What do you imagine he is feeling? See if you can listen to his feelings as well as expressing your own.
What do you need right now? If you need something from your partner, see if you can make a specific request that can be translated into action. If he needs something from you, ask him to be specific, too. Avoid general complaining, replacing it with a call for doing something concrete. If you have faced a similar crisis before, what do you remember about what was helpful then – or what mistakes you would like to avoid?
Be cautious about venting your frustration and anger with friends. Friends who get the impression you are breaking up with your partner are likely to say things they will regret later. (“I never liked the jerk.”) This is ultimately not fair to your soon-to-be-former friends, nor is it helpful to you or your relationship.
If you value your relationship, you will do well to avoid these sorts of relationship emergencies if at all possible. That may mean making an agreement ahead of time (ideally, at the time that you are first making a commitment to each other) never to talk about breaking up in a moment of anger; if you have to face that possibility, you want to make the decision in a clear-headed way and not the heat of the moment.
Remember that couples often wait so long to get into counseling that relationship counselors sometimes joke among themselves that they are “love’s undertakers.” Don’t wait that long to start caring for your relationship.
John R. Ballew, M.S. an author and contributor to GAYTWOGETHER, is a licensed professional counselor in private practice in Atlanta. He specializes in issues related to coming out, sexuality, relationships and spirituality. If you have any questions or comments you can submit them directly to GAYTWOGETHER or John R. Ballew, M.S. - www.bodymindsoul.org.