how much to work on a relationship

Signs That a Relationship is Too Much Work

how much to work on a relationshipWe’ve all heard that every relationship takes work. Care, time and attention are necessary – that is indeed how we maintain good relationships. But at some point, you may find yourself asking, is this relationship too much work?

Often, people can mistake working really hard for being in a good relationship.

Working hard in a partnership is not enough by itself to create a relationship that is healthy and satisfying emotionally for both people. It’s the quality of your connection that counts.

Signs That One Partner Is Working Too Hard in the Relationship

How can you tell if the work you are doing is feeding a good relationship — or not so much?

The relationship may not be healthy for one or both of you when one partner is doing much more than the other out of concern for the relationship. People in this situation may tell themselves, “This is just what I have to do.”

It’s often hard for the overworking person to see that their partnership can be much more than a one-sided effort to make everything all right.

A partner who works too hard might be thinking:

  • The way this relationship feels — the emotional quality of this relationship — is my responsibility.
  • If I am having negative feelings about this relationship then I need to work on managing those. It is not my partner’s job to help me deal with this.
  • If my partner is angry or upset it is my responsibility to do something so that my partner feels better.

Emotional signs that your partnership may be ‘too much work’:

  • You’re constantly on edge or looking out for how the relationship is faring.
  • You worry about your partner’s reactions; you’re vigilant.
  • You’re exhausted – it takes a lot out of you to be always on the lookout for what may upset your partner.

Having a one-sided sense of responsibility is a common problem, but it’s not the only sign that your happiness and well-being are at risk. Sometimes both people are struggling in a relationship that still feels difficult. Very little about their interaction feels rewarding or positive. They are both working hard but not able to see things getting better.

The Biggest Sign that You’re Working Too Hard

One of the biggest warning signs that a couple is working too hard is that they don’t regularly enjoy the good times.

All relationships take intention and effort — that’s true. You do have to do work and take time to maintain a good relationship. But that is balanced out by how much fun you have together — how much joy you are able to share with each other.

When you are working so hard and yet you are not reaping the benefits — that is, when you are not feeling good together most of the time — you have a clear sign of a real problem.

Deeper emotional connection is the reward and the benefit of the care you give to your partnership.

What the Healthy Work of Connection Looks Like

In our culture today, sometimes we don’t see the value of speaking from an emotional place — opening up about what we truly feel. It takes a conscious effort in our relationship to bring up our softer, more vulnerable feelings, and create a safe place for our partner to open up.

Many of us are not used to revealing our worries and fears, and deepest wants. But it’s part of what makes an intimate relationship so special. You feel safe showing parts of yourself that you don’t share with other people.

Healthy work on a relationship means personally making sure we are in touch with those more vulnerable parts of ourselves so we can share them with our partner. And our partner, too, needs to do work on helping create a safe environment for that connection to happen.

Creating A Safe Environment For Connection

A relationship can be rich and intimate when each person feels their partner wants to hear their innermost wants and fears, thoughts and feelings, so they can better understand and be there for each other.

Creating a relationship that feels safe for emotional connection means:

  • Being open to hearing another person’s perspective
  • Understanding that your views can be both different and valid — and each point of view deserves respect
  • Both people know that the feelings underneath the views are most important

What does a relationship look like when partners are attending to their relationship in a healthy way?

Healthy Ways to Check In When There’s a Problem

When healthy partners are working together as a team, both people know what it takes to foster that connection for them. And as they go about their day, they prioritize connection.

Let’s look at a couple tackling their weekend to-do list. They both want to make sure they get all their chores done. But they also want to see how their partner is doing.

Let’s say at some point, one partner is getting upset with the work. One is feeling resentful or put upon, is tired and not willing to do this chore. It is healthy to share that with the partner instead of holding it in and letting it fester.

How can partners tell each other when there is a problem, without making it into an issue they fight over?

In this situation both partners have some work to do. The one who feels put out or resentful needs to ask themselves “How can I phrase this so my partner will be able to hear what is really going on for me?”

And the partner on the receiving end of this news needs to ask, “How can I be open to what my partner is feeling when my first instinct may be to get defensive or shut down instead of listen?”

Speaking Up for Healthy Emotional Connection: Some Examples

The over-stretched partner in our scenario might open up in any number of ways:

“I’m really happy we are getting to our to-do list together. But I am so tired. I feel like too much is falling on me. This is more work than I wanted to do.”

or

“Is it important to you that we do these chores 50-50 today? I need to stop — and I also really appreciate all you’re doing.”

or

“I’m sorry, this isn’t working for me. How could we do this differently?”

As couples problem-solve it’s very helpful for each person to own their own feelings.   Checking in with the goal of understanding helps the relationship remain close even when there is a problem.

Changing From the All-Work Approach to a Connected Approach

There is so much more to a healthy relationship than just keeping your feelings to yourself, and trying to make your partner’s path as smooth and trouble-free as possible.

It can feel so lonely to leave so much of your inner world out of the relationship. And it can feel scary to open up if you don’t know how to listen to, as well as share, the emotions between you, so that your understanding brings you closer.

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is an important method that we use in our counseling practice with couples because it is so effective.

EFT gives people a way of working together that forms the emotional connections that we need as human beings. (Though we can only touch on it here, we recommend these resources to learn more about EFT.)

There is Hope for Repair and Reconnection

It may not be necessary to give up on your relationship, even if you recognize it isn’t providing the comfort and closeness you want. Learning about the ways to share what you truly want and need, or what you’re worried about under all the frustration, is so important to healthy work.

Whether you work with a therapist (especially one trained in EFT), or not, the important work is to learn about your deepest needs. The work that feeds love is about understanding your own emotions, and sharing them in a softer way that fosters connection.

This healthy work of connection does the opposite of wear you down   It helps enrich and strengthen your bond. It helps make your relationship a welcoming and wonderful haven where you feel fully accepted and loved.

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