Some days, my relationship feels like the easiest thing in the world.
I’m not talking cheesy rom-com easy—trust me, we are not that couple. But the kind of easy where we’re in a good rhythm with each other, we’re on top of our routine and supporting one another, and there’s playfulness and laughter and pointed sarcasm (because that’s how we show our love).
At those times, I often look over at this handsome face I’ve been lucky enough to stare at for the past few years and feel at peace. He could be on his phone, totally engaged in something else, but just the fact that we’re sitting in the same room, perfectly content to be in our own worlds while sharing the same physical space makes me feel all warm inside. It’s disgusting and beautiful all at the same time.
But then there are the days when my relationship feels like work. So much damn work. Like the highest mountain I’ll ever climb.
Days when I wonder how two people who have spent so much time together can be so out of sync. Why is he constantly complaining about everything? Why does every word he says annoy me to my core? Why am I so defensive all the time? Why are we fighting about dishes or walking the dog or who said what to who when and how?
Why does this once disgustingly beautiful and easy relationship feel like such a struggle?
Even in the best relationships, these everyday challenges can sometimes make us wonder if it’s worth it to keep fighting. Not that we want to walk away or are even thinking about walking away, but we’ve hit a wall. We’re bothered and triggered and maybe unsure of how to get back to the easy part—the sitting on the couch, barely touching, but feeling closer than ever part.
And sometimes those everyday challenges snowball into bigger challenges, like communication issues or overstepping boundaries or not meeting each other’s needs.
So how do we know if the challenges in our relationship are healthy or unhealthy?
I’ll let John Kim, also known as The Angry Therapist, explain it:
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“So, besides the obvious, like an abusive relationship, healthy and unhealthy can be complicated. There is nuance, right? And so healthy is actually a moving target—it is not an island. Meaning as we change and we grow, healthy and what we think is healthy and good for us and what we want can be different, right? It’s probably different than it was say in your 20s or 30s. So how do you know if a relationship is challenging you in a good way or if it’s unhealthy?
If you are looking inward and taking in how the relationship is activating you and everything that it’s bringing up and you’re processing it and what you’re getting from it is growth and evolution and a part of you that you like, that is a good challenge. If you’re doing all that and what you’re getting is regression and it’s making you a person you don’t like, it’s probably a bad challenge.”
I love the idea that “healthy” is a moving target, meaning it can change and grow the same way that we do in relationships. But what struck me most is that it’s less about the actual challenges we’re facing and more about how those challenges are impacting us. That challenges are just another reminder that we need to check in with ourselves, to sit with our feelings and figure out what they’re trying to tell us.
If we find that our relationship struggles have become a catalyst for our growth, that we’re learning and stretching ourselves and aiming to be better, both for ourselves and for our partner, and we like this person we’re becoming, then it’s probably worth it to keep fighting—even if we’re fighting about the dishes or the dog or who said what to who when and how.
But if these challenges are turning us into someone who’s falling back into old, ugly patterns, someone who’s refusing to look inward and grow, someone we don’t recognize or even like most days, how can that be healthy for us or our partner?
Like Kim said, when it comes to what is healthy and unhealthy, there’s room for nuance in our relationships, but as with most things, sometimes the best way to figure out what’s worth it is to check in with ourselves, at our core, and be honest about how we’re feeling.
That’s how we make the mountain a little easier to climb.