Friday reFResh - "But I Love Him" | Should You Stay or Should You Go?
I hope everyone has been well :) I wanted to start off this July 4th weekend with a topic that I think a lot of people may have experienced, or heard of friends who had experienced this: the dreaded "but I love him" excuse. What is this excuse, you ask? It's when someone is in a relationship that is toxic; nothing but complaints are happening, but any time someone suggests walking away from the unfulfilling, joyless, lackluster, toxic, painful relationship, the excuse is: "But I love him." Speaking from personal experience, neither positions are fun - being the one to use "but I love him" as an excuse to stay in a relationship is a horribly painful place to be. Being a witness to a friend spiraling downwards and unable to leave an unhealthy relationship is arguably just as painful. *I use "him" because I mostly hear this coming from my friends complaining about men, including myself. However, this is always interchangeable with other pronouns. Sometimes girls are the horrible people ;)
Why do we love such toxic people? The answer is complex - it's comfortable. It's nice knowing we have someone by our side, even if it's not always the most encouraging presence. It's nice not having to figure out what hot guy to hire to be your +1 to an ex's wedding. It's nice being in a place where we no longer have to seek a relationship, because we're with who we love...right?
The idea of comfort and fearing change are very valid reasons why we stay in relationships, and honestly speaking, some of us end up settling. We settle because we are comfortable enough, and whatever problems that are in the relationship are inferior, because love conquers all. There isn't anything really wrong with that if the relationship is functional, and the issues are minor and don't really affect daily life. However, what happens when we are in a relationship that is toxic?
If I pray HARD ENOUGH, he will change.
This outlook is very optimistic, and it's always great and commendable to have faith in the relationship and God's hand in the relationship. However, there are issues with this line of thought: toxic relationships don't always mean someone is "bad", for lack of other adjectives. Bad relationships can happen between two great people who are simply not compatible. We all have different flaws, but these flaws in themselves do not make us horrible partners. Ultimately, none of us are perfect lovers, but through God, we learn in relationships how to compromise and become better versions of people - we should trust God to shape us individually and together. However, incompatibility is a real phenomenon. God can work through our differences and build up a relationship, but only if we allow Him to. The keyword here is "relationship".
Relationships should not require only one person to change. It's honourable to pray for the other person to grow in Christ, but the issue comes when it takes away your own responsibility to also compromise and sacrifice for the relationship.
"Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." - John 15:13
Without having this mindset in sacrificing yourself and dying to yourself for the sake of this relationship and only seeking change in the other person, you do not love them. You love what you believe they can become.
Then maybe the problem is me.
Maybe. But if the reason is you, then shouldn't you seek to better yourself, rather than complain about the relationship? We can all have a complaining heart at times - I myself complain at times about the silliest things, such as the wrong coloured roses, but ultimately they don't make me miserable in the relationship. The thing about relationships is that they're a two way street. There are "one way" problems, such as someone cheating, gambling away all your money, being verbally/mentally/physically/sexually abusive, etc., but ultimately, many problems in regular relationships that end up in toxic cycles are a manifestation of both individuals. The problem isn't necessarily in any which person, but neither - and yet both, for not being willing to work towards compromise and understanding each other and change.
Change and improvement isn't just "I will hold my tongue", or "I'll stop myself". It has to be an internal, complete change in mindset. A relationship between two lovers can be seen as parallel to our relationship with God - it's not enough for us to say that we will abstain from sin. Abstaining from sin is something all humans strive for, in their own way. Most people do not strive to do evil things, even in our brokenness, we want to do good. In a relationship with God, there has to first and foremost be a complete change in mindset and perspective in that God is Good and Sovereign, and worthy of our worship, praise, and offering. "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." - Romans 12:2 As Paul states, turning from sin is to be transformed through renewal of the mind. Likewise, changing your actions without changing your heart and mind towards the issues does not solve anything. It just causes mental break downs and explosive fights down the road. But again - in a relationship, this isn't a one-way street. Both parties have to be willing to surrender to one another and allow God to make changes. Maybe that begins with you leading by example. But ultimately, if your significant other doesn't follow, you may still be left in a disproportionate relationship.
It sounds like you're just saying one or both of us are selfish.
Well, in part, yes. We're all selfish, and it's part of the human condition, unfortunately. As I mentioned previously, we all fall short of God's love - Christ's example of perfect love. Relationships are hard - they're a combination of two different lifestyles, two different manifestations of sin, two different backgrounds (social, economic, political, etc.), and two different upbringings. But some relationships can be easier; not because the people in them are any "better", but simply because their backgrounds and personalities mesh better. We have that with friends too, don't we? Friends that we get along great with, but would never live with as a roommate. We can be super attracted to someone, only to later recognize our lifestyles and love languages and everything in between don't mesh well in a romantic setting. And that's fine. God can work through these issues. I used to really not understand when people said, "If you're both Christian, the relationship should work." But in learning more about myself and my sins, and repenting, reflecting, and praying about these sins - I've come to realize that in theory, it is true. If we are both perfect Christians, willing to surrender all of ourselves to God, and love on each other despite everything, because we are satisfied in the love we received from Christ, then yes. All Christian relationships should work, and no temptation should ever come between us in fights or misunderstanding. But unfortunately, the world doesn't work that way. If it did, church members would just be paired off randomly to create a family.* However, that negates the entire narrative that we are not perfect human beings. We are susceptible to sin. We do turn to our emotions before God. We do idolize ourselves above each other. These are sins that I myself struggle with, and I know many of my friends have admitted to such as well. As we take action to leave these sins behind, we must also leave room for grace that our flesh is imperfect - that's why we need Christ.
*Acknowledgement: Arranged marriages still happen in the church, and some people in the church do try to matchmake young'ns.
But does that mean we have to break up? Why would God lead me to this relationship if we're not meant to be?
No one can tell you that you have to break up. God is a God of reconciliation, and He can lead you and your significant other to healing this brokenness, together. You can seek Him together and build up the relationship with God in the center. You can also have a heart to heart talk, and pray for discernment together and recognize maybe you're better off loving one another as friends - brother and sister in Christ. No one can tell you how to lead your relationship - that's between you and God.
Relationships with fellow humans can come and go, but God is faithful in His relationship with us. Nothing in this world lasts forever, and sometimes they don't even last this lifetime. We are called to be in certain situations, certain places, certain relationships, at specific times for a reason, but that reason does not necessarily have to be that we were called to spend the rest of our lives together. We learn from each other, and grow with one another, and encourage or challenge each other. The reason why marriages were not meant to break is because a marriage should be between three people: you, your significant other, and God. God is the one who ties that relationship together until "death do you part", not you or your significant other.
So where do we go from here? I do love him.
Learn to love yourself. Jesus' commandment is, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself". You can't love your significant other until you've learned to love yourself. Only God knows the next steps of your relationship, but you can improve your love by strengthening your relationship with yourself and with God. Pray about your identity in Christ. Learn what your flaws are, and embrace them. Learn what your sins are - repent. Understand that God created you with your own unique gifts, and that He has a plan for your life. So much so, that He gave his One and Only Son to die on the cross for you, so that you can return to Him. In recognizing your own value and improving yourself for the sake of your relationship with Christ, you can gain better clarity on what love is, and gauge how you can better love on your significant other.
But I'm not a believer...
If you're not a believer, that's fine, this post can still be applicable to you. I've certainly found myself using the "but I love him" excuse even before I became a believer, so this isn't exclusive to Christians. I hope that from reading through this blogpost, you're encouraged to learn to love yourself better, and in turn letting that begin to change the dynamic in your relationship. It isn't about gaining the confidence to insult the other person, ie: "I am so great, I deserve so much better than you", but about gaining the insight about what needs to change in the relationship, and whether or not it is doable. It's about learning to see the conversations that need to happen between you and your partner, and being okay with whatever outcome may result - ultimately, if you're in a toxic relationship and remaining in these toxic cycles, you aren't taking care of yourself. If your needs and desires are not being taken care of, or at the very least, communicated in a healthy way within your relationship, how can you expect to grow the relationship and learn to fully love your significant other? Your love will always be tethered to the dissatisfaction of the relationship, held together by an excuse to avoid change. I know that might sound extremely scary, but staying in an unhealthy relationship without any prospect of change is even scarier - it holds you back from becoming the person that you were meant to be, and limits you from better possibilities and opportunities. "Be the change you want to see" applies even to this - if you want to feel more loved in the relationship, then give yourself that love, and allow that change to transform your perspective and the relationship.