We Leave Our Relationships For the Reasons We Leave Our Home Countries
I've been reading a ton about romantic relationships, as I prepare to facilitate a therapeutic dating group.
Many relationship gurus promote the notion that societal standards for partnerships need to move from "exceptional" to "good enough." And that one might consider remaining with his/her partner and doing the work of love (because it is work), rather than seeking something, or someone, better elsewhere. The underlying tenet here is that as soon as we begin to "know" someone, they disappoint us. The fantasy is interrupted, reality sets in, and fantasy and reality are often misaligned. Therefore, to follow an imaginative belief that we won't be let down by the next person, is a futile and hopeless effort.
This theory lies in two assumptions: that the measure of a good relationship is longevity AND that people leave their marriages for the sole reason that they believe there is something "better" out there in the wild world.
To expand on these assumptions, I think it's useful to explore various possibilities for the many forces that can instigate an individual to leave. For comparison, let's turn to research on why people leave their home countries:
Not every country in the world is on equal footing in terms of economic power and technological development. Many immigrants leave their countries in the hopes they will find higher-paying jobs, better schools and safer homes than they had access to in their home country. These families are often motivated by providing their children with a better place to live and better career potential than what they could have found if they did not move.
If we align the seeking of "better opportunity" with a relational pursuit, we confirm that some people do, in fact, leave for a person that offers them "more:" the promise of unmet needs to be met, the promise of patience and understanding, the promise of a deeper and more soul-fulfilling companionship. What we must be mindful of, is this is just a promise. Just as an immigrant who arrived from a developing nation to Ellis Island experienced upon settling in a ghetto in the Bronx: some things are infinitely better than they were in the former home, and some things are undoubtedly lost. Some of the treasured elements of our original "home countries," or first partners for the sake of analogy, are given up. The scents, tastes, sights, sensations are all different, even if they are more varied or abundant in the new place. The work of resettlement must be done in order to ensure that the promise of better, is in actuality better. Abundance is yours for the taking.
Political and religious persecution still runs rampant in some parts of the world. In certain areas, those who practice a particular religion may be demonized or targeted by local politicians and may even face imprisonment or threats against their lives. Immigrants often choose to leave an environment of persecution for a place in which they can practice their religion in peace and safety. This is also true of women, who may be unable to get jobs or hold political office in their home country and leave in the hopes of finding better treatment abroad.
In relationships, some of us are running from condemnation. From being told that we are not good enough, that we are bad, that we are disappointing. We exist amidst feelings of repression and constriction, until we decide we don't want to tolerate it anymore. We leave not for the promise of a better other, but because we value ourselves. It is worth noting that in order to sustain a relationship, we should go easy on one another. Humans are incredibly fragile. We only pretend to be strong as a means of protecting against our interior vulnerability and softness. Sometimes the best way to show another that we love her, is simply to let her be. To not impose your-self on to her-self. Free to be you and me.
Some immigrants simply leave their countries because they prefer to live someplace else. This is sometimes seen in military families stationed in foreign countries who grow accustomed to the lifestyle and the culture, one that feels more suitable.
Ok, so you found something that tastes a little better. It is your right to chase and devour a preferential flavor. However, in this case, you are likely to get sick of this flavor, too, and chase another thereafter. More begets more. Different begets different, in that it starts to feel the same after awhile. The wise words of Alain de Botton, in a recent interview, stay with me: "There are legitimate reasons to leave a relationship. But if, when you’re really being honest, if you ask yourself, “Why am I in pain?” and you can’t necessarily attribute all the sorrows that you’re feeling to your lover, if you recognize that some of those things are perhaps endemic to existence, or endemic to all human beings, or something within yourself, then what you’re doing is encountering the pain of life with another person but not necessarily because of another person." In essence, leaving because you prefer to feel less pain, may not in reality, give you less pain.
One of the most devastating causes of immigration is forced removal. This occurs when a nation’s government attempts to round up people of a certain race or religion and force them to move out of the country, or any other time people are moved against their will. Theft of humans from Africa to be used in the United States slave trade is one example, while the forceful resettlement of peasants by the Soviets is another. Forced removal is often violent and can result in casualties.
The ugly truth is that some of us leave a relationship, because we are asked to or pushed out. This can be devastating. There may be many legitimate reasons that led to being "asked to leave," but nevertheless, having no choice in the writing of the ending is painful. This is very sad for the one who asks the other leave, and for there person who feels forced out. The hope lies in the indisputable fact that both parties will have opportunity in a new home.
There is such a thing as a "match." A place and a person that feels like "home," simply because we can sprawl out there and just be. And in this place, this home, we must practice a participatory action in order to ensure it continues to feel like home. Love is a skill we have to learn. Love is a verb. It requires forbearance, generosity and imagination. True love can be blissfully joyful. But true love is not conflict-free. It is not smooth, but rather rocky and bumpy even at its best.
There is such a thing as a "match."
A place and a person that feels like "home," simply because we can sprawl out there and just be. And in this place, this home, we must practice a participatory action in order to ensure it continues to feel like home. Love is a skill we have to learn. Love is a verb. It requires forbearance, generosity and imagination.
True love can be blissfully joyful. But true love is not conflict-free. It is not smooth, but rather rocky and bumpy even at its best.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lia Love Avellino is a therapist and writer based in New York City. She supports people in untangling the complex challenges related to relationships, sex, and reproductive health so they can experience aliveness in mind, body and soul. Lia is a practicing psychotherapist with Rennicke & Associates, the Director of Head & Heart at The Well in NYC, support group leader at The Wing, curriculum creator for The American Journal of Sexual Education, and project director for President Obama’s Teen Pregnancy Initiative.
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