Have you ever gone to a friend or family member for relationship advice and had them advise you to leave your relationship and find another partner instead?
I often do… and as much as I value their perspective, I usually don’t take their advice. Here’s why.
About 6 months into my relationship, it hit the Power Struggle stage (a natural developmental stage in relationships where both lovers fight to achieve shared power and autonomy within their partnership).
From the outside peering in, it appeared that we were mismatched. When I went to my close friends for relationship advice, many of them blatantly told me that they didn’t think my partner was “the one” and that I should keep looking.
It’s not hard to understand why they thought our relationship was doomed, because in the space of weeks we had gone from being the “happy newly-in-love couple” to the “constantly tense and stressed-out-couple.”
What my family and friends (some of them relationship experts themselves) didn’t understand was that my partner and I had just entered the Power Struggle stage of our relationship and that fighting was a perfectly appropriate and necessary response to this developmental stage.
HOW SOCIETY BRAINWASHES US TO LOVE
In our Western society, we’re taught (mostly by Hollywood and romance novels) that:
LOVE = ROMANCE and that a healthy relationship is a happy relationship.
We are NOT taught that:
LOVE = ROMANCE, then POWER STRUGGLE, then MATURE LOVE*
When our relationship leaves the Romance Stage and enters the Power Struggle stage, it can look anything but happy at times, and so our natural response is to incorrectly assume that something is wrong with our partner, our relationship or ourselves.
Now, because our family and friends love us, want us to be happy and don’t know about the Power Struggle stage, it is perfectly understandable that they are going to advise us to “Get the hell outta that relationship!”
Love is not always easy
Because they love you and want you to be happy, they may tell you things like:
- Love should not be this hard. Move on and find someone more compatible.
- If your relationship is making you unhappy, you should move on and find a better match.
- You can do better than him/her. You’re selling yourself short.
…and sometimes they might be right and that would be good relationship advice (especially when your relationship is physically or emotionally abusive).
However, if you are in love with your partner and are beginning to disagree, argue or fight… think twice before acting on that sort of advice – you’re probably just working through your baggage together.
Chances are their well-meaning advice is under-informed, and all that is happening is that
your perfectly great relationship has left the Romance Stage and hit the Power Struggle stage.
If that’s the case, not is NOT the time to break up. Now is the time to buckle yourself in and as your relationship flies through turbulence.
My friend, David DeAngelo (famous for his online dating advice for men),
teaches that fighting at the beginning of a relationship is an indication of true love.
HOW MY PARTNER AND I BROKE UP 3 TIMES BEFORE WE GRADUATED FROM THE POWER STRUGGLE STAGE
In my own relationship it took my partner and I had 3 false starts before we found our feet together. We hit the Power Struggle about 6 months in and she broke up with me for the first time.
Our first breakup lasted 4 months and forced us to reveal some secrets we had been hiding from each other and deal with them. The love we had grown (and my knowledge of the Power Struggle stage being normal) kept me fighting for the relationship, even when my partner was pushing me away.
Our second breakup forced us to deal with issues of independence (the Romance Stage often involves dependent behavior) and how we were going to live together. My partner needed to prove to herself that I would be OK if she wanted to pursue her dreams and career in New York, even though I have no desire to live in a big city and live a nomadic life between the Caribbean and Africa.
When we got back together we co-created a 1 year long distance relationship (seeing each other 1 week a month) involving her in New York and me in the Caribbean. It worked out great and was one of the best years of my life until (drum-roll please)…
Our third breakup was the last battle of our Power Struggle. It forced us to deal with issues we had not completely ironed out before, namely what commitment meant to us, trust, boundaries, how to meeting each other’s needs and joint decision making.
At the time, these areas of our relationship were not yet rock solid and we were unable to proceed until these issues had been resolved.
She then resolved that any further issues we face will be dealt with INSIDE our relationship, not by her walking out.
Throughout each of these breakups, our friends were concerned that we were not good for each other – that love should not be such hard work.
If she’s amazing, she won’t be easy
If she’s easy, she won’t be amazing
If she’s worth it, you won’t give up
If you give up, you’re not worthy
Truth is, everybody is going to hurt you;
You’ve just got to find the ones worth suffering for
- BOB MARLEY
HAD WE LISTENED TO RELATIONSHIP ADVICE FROM OUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY, WE WOULD NEVER HAVE THE LOVE WE HAVE TODAY.
Instead, we sought out professional relationship advice from a relationship coach, who helped us work out our differences and create strategies for meeting our needs.
And that’s exactly what I suggest you do if you and your partner love each other,
but are struggling to connect or are facing issues you’re unable to resolve alone.
So, if you recognize that your relationship is leaving the Romance Stage, think twice before you listen to your family and friend’s relationship advice. Get help from someone who can teach you how to successfully navigate the terrain of the Power Struggle.
May your love last.
It you’re ready to work out your differences and make love work, it would be my privilege to support you in this worthy and noble cause. Just get in touch with me here to see if we’re a fit for relationship coaching together.
P.S. I’m by no means suggesting that you stay in a dysfunctional relationship. If yours is abusive, leave. I’m suggesting you TRANSFORM your relationship by dealing with your issues and fall in love with each other all over again.
* These 5 developmental stages of relationship come from Dr. Susan Campbell’s research of hundreds of couples in her book The Relationship Journey.