A Powerful Tool To Stay Peaceful In A Bad Relationship

Some lousy relationships we just can't quit. And often we don't know where our partner begins and we end, which can create pain and chaos. If our partner criticizes or walls himself off or lies or cheats or mopes or is just generally shitastic we often think it's our fault.
06/08/2016 06:48 am ET Updated Jun 09, 2017

Some lousy relationships we just can't quit. And often we don't know where our partner begins and we end, which can create pain and chaos.

If our partner criticizes or walls himself off or lies or cheats or mopes or is just generally shitastic we often think it's our fault.

So we constantly change or modify our behavior in the hopes we can get our partner (and perhaps Asshat?) to behave the way we want him to.

This is like pushing a boulder up a hill. And you'll often find, after exerting yourself and possibly slipping a disc in your heart, that there's just another hill after this fucking hill. (By now you say "fuck" a lot.)

So this is when we need to sit down with our back against that boulder and think about letting our partner be responsible for his bullpucky and making sure we take responsibility for ours.

This is called "keeping our side of the sidewalk clean" and is:

The Powerful Tool I Used to Be at Peace in a Bad Relationship

But what does this metaphor mean? I'll give you an example from my young love life because I enjoy revisiting my pitifulness (you're welcome).

I was in a toxic relationship with a gentleman I'll call Mister Cruelly Handsome and I really wanted him to marry me.

We'd been invited to my friend's wedding. I wanted Mr. C to go and he grudgingly agreed.

However, as the date moved closer he began to hedge. On the day of the event, after I'd gotten all gussied up in a way I hoped would inspire him, I came into the living room to find him sitting in front of the TV in his sweats.

He'd decided not to go. He didn't even try to make up a good excuse as he'd done in the past. He just didn't "feel like it."

This is when I launched into my usual routine that had a lovely, predictable pattern. First I shamed him with "but, you saids" and "but, you shoulds" and "you nevers" and "you always's."

Then I cried. Then I threatened. Then I begged. Then I probably did a lot of other victim-y stuff. Then I slammed out of the house.

As I sat fuming in my car I remembered a 12-step program motto, "Keep your side of the sidewalk clean."

Sitting there I just couldn't see where any of this fell on my side of the sidewalk. So I prayed (which isn't easy for an agnostic such as I, but I decided to "act as if" I had faith in a Higher Power).

As I prayed I suddenly knew which part of this frustrating situation was mine. I felt the tension in my body seep away and my spirit soften.

I got out of the car, walked to the house and found my guy slumped where I'd left him.

Here's what I said:

"You know I want to get married. I know you don't want to get married. I wanted you to come with me to this wedding to see how happy my friend and her fiancé are.
 
"I was hoping you'd see that marriage could be a really good thing and then I hoped that would make you want to marry me.
 
"So, that was my agenda for asking you to come to the wedding. I should've been more transparent about that. I'm disappointed you're not coming, but I'm going to go anyway."

Then I stood up and left.

I accepted reality completely and enjoyed my friend's wedding. Imagine my surprise when I arrived at the reception and my guy was there waiting for me.

Writing this now I feel a great deal of love for him. He tried to step out of his comfort zone to give me what I wanted, I believe because I took responsibility for my side of the sidewalk and when we do that we're living in grace. Let's repeat that.

"When we keep our side of the sidewalk clean in a relationship we are living in grace."

He didn't marry me. We did eventually break up because I realized I couldn't accept the stuff on his side of the sidewalk.

But, when we take responsibility for what is ours, our self-esteem grows and we learn to love and take care of ourselves.

And with that comes peace.

(This tool isn't just for love partners, it is also applicable to difficult bosses, in-laws, grown children and our accountant.)

I hope this article was helpful and, if so, please share! If you want to stay in touch you can opt-in to my bi-monthly newsletter.

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