Have you ever found yourself in an unsatisfying, unhealthy dating relationship and thought:
“If I can just get my significant other to [listen/be more considerate/commit to me/insert your desired change here] then I’ll finally be happy?”
- or -
“Sure, we’ve got some major issues in our relationship but we love each other…isn’t that enough to stay together?”
I got to thinking about this troublesome, yet extremely common, grasping-at-straws behavior while (of all things) taking in a recent episode of “Project Runway.”
In case you’re not familiar with it, the reality TV show follows a group of fashion designers as they compete, through weekly design challenges and a runway show, for a cash prize to help launch their own clothing line. The unabashed display of creativity, the heart-pounding eliminations and, of course, the designers’ quirky personalities have me tuning in every week. But my favorite moment of each episode is when fashion mentor Tim Gunn pops into the workroom mid-way through the design challenge to observe the designers' progress and critique their work.
At least once per episode, Gunn will fold his arms across his chest and squint through his rimless eyeglasses at a questionable garment with a look that says, "What are you THINKING?"
"Talk to me. Where are you going with this?" he'll ask the designer.
Usually, the designer won't know the answer him/herself, replying with something like, "I really wanted to do something whimsical, but I'm having trouble with the detail work on the bodice."
"Ooookay," Tim Gunn will reply, skeptically. "Well right now it's looking like a hot mess."
And then he'll say my favorite catch phrase: "MAKE IT WORK!"
And work they will: cutting, stitching, re-envisioning and reconstructing. Miraculously, the “hot mess” that once hung on their dress form is suddenly transformed into a stunning garment worthy of walking the runway at Fashion Week.
Unfortunately, dating is NOT like Project Runway.
If you’re in a hot mess of a relationship, don’t fool yourself into thinking that you have the power to transform a flawed person into someone who will meet your needs.
It doesn’t matter how resourceful, determined or creative you are. Sometimes, the person we're with just isn't the right partner for us. Here are some signs that you’d be better off cutting your losses rather than patching things up.
7 SIGNS YOU SHOULDN'T TRY TO "MAKE IT WORK"
1. YOU FUNDAMENTALLY DISAGREE ABOUT THE 3 Fs
Faith, Finances and Family. These three tricky areas will trip up even the most loving couple. If you can’t share – or at least respect – one another’s spirituality; if your approach to finances is the polar opposite of your partner’s; and if one desperately wants children and the other is opposed (or physically unable) to having a family, you’ll likely find it impossible to make your relationship work.
2. YOUR LIFE GOALS/DREAMS ARE AT ODDS
If you want to travel the world but your significant other’s idea of adventure is ordering Chinese takeout, you might have a problem. If one partner dreams of being a stay-at-home parent and the other is a struggling artist with no predictable income, this is an issue you need to look at. Your only hope for making it work is to decide, as a couple, that your relationship is your highest priority, and then follow through with some major compromises.
3. YOU DON'T FEEL SAFE.
Physical, mental, emotional, verbal –all forms of abuse are completely inexcusable. If your safety is compromised in a relationship, don’t wait and hope your significant other gets help – GET OUT.
4. THERE'S NO CHEMISTRY.
It’s completely normal and expected for physical attraction to ebb and flow in a long-term relationship. But if you feel like you’re forcing it from day one, don’t ignore this red flag. In my experience as a dating coach I’ve noticed that women, in particular, are more likely to try to overlook a complete lack of chemistry and try to make a relationship work just because they’ve finally met a “good guy” who treats them well. You do deserve the whole package, and you do need attraction to sustain a connection long-term. Don’t settle!
5. YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER IS EMOTIONALLY UNAVAILABLE OR REFUSES TO COMMIT
Your significant other is emotionally unavailable or refuses to commit. In today’s friends-with-benefits-happy society, it’s common for two people to enter a no-strings-attached relationship with very different expectations. One party (usually the man), expects that they will have fun and hook up but date whomever they please. The other (usually the woman), expects that they’ll sleep together until the man will, inevitably, fall for her and want to make her his girlfriend. Don’t get involved in a FWB situation if you want a real relationship. Be up front about what you’re looking for, and if the other person isn’t on the same page, move on to someone who is.
6. SUBSTANCE ABUSE/ADDICTION IS PRESENT.
If the person you care about it in the grips of any kind of addiction (drinking, drugs, sex/cheating/pornography, etc), it can be an uphill battle to make a relationship work with him/her. Certainly, if they are not actively working on their recovery, it’s best to end the relationship.
7. YOU FEEL YOUR PERSONAL GROWTH IS STIFLED.
You must be able to be your authentic self when you’re with your partner. You should feel free – and supported – to change and grow emotionally, mentally, intellectually and spiritually. If your significant other feels threatened by your personal growth and attempts to control you (usually a sign of insecurity and fear), it’s unlikely your relationship will ever work.
It can be frustrating and sad to recognize that you're in a dead-end relationship, but don't let the fear of starting over sabotage your potential – and your right – to have the love you deserve.
After all, it’s a lot more rewarding (and simpler) to create a new, healthy relationship with the right partner than repeatedly attempting to "make it work" with the wrong one.