Here’s my ‘hot take’ - relationships aren’t that hard. The popular image of relationships as struggle and a desert or an ocean that you’d cross for or with someone(s) gets used (and overused) to cover a lot of misbehavior and toxicity in relationships.
Yes, you need to figure out what you want and need for yourself in relationships, and communicate with your partners, and yes, that’s an ongoing process. So relationships take ongoing work. You don’t press a button and walk away like a crock pot before a day at the office. But the work shouldn’t feel like a horrific slog for months and years at a time. If it does, this probably indicates a larger underlying incompatibility. At the very least, it indicates that only one person (the person feeling the slog) is putting in this work.
If a conflict, or a relationship issue that is creating recurring pain for one or more partners, is ongoing for many months and not seeing even incremental progress (because once your communication starts to bear fruit in terms of progress, this idea is not directed at you), if you have tried seeing a professional mediator (or one is not available to you - sadly, in many places therapy is not affordable or accessible), it is time to start pulling the issue to pieces and making sure there isn’t something underneath it that is causing the pain in this dynamic.
I know people who had a relationship end not just over a series of arguments they had been having about whether would text good night daily or not, but rather because that series of arguments revealed that they didn’t share a sense of importance about whether or not to have a deliberate daily acknowledgement of one another once our relationship had existed for a certain amount of time. The messages were not actually the point at all - but they were the vehicle for one partner’s expectations of the relationship to be expressed and the other partner continuing to find those expectations unreasonable because of differing values felt like a personal rejection rather than a value difference or an incompatibility. It sucked for them to realize that wasn’t going to work out, and they both tried to say “oh this isn’t going to be a big deal let’s just make this work” for nearly a year longer - while this difference in expectations, polyamorous style, and values slowly cropped up in other places and they eventually broke up.
Sometimes, listening to our arguments and struggles is valuable and a form of maintaining our boundaries and self-care. Instead of taking the cultural “relationships are supposed to be work and you’re in it now” sunk cost idea, look at your needs and wants. Are you meeting your needs in combination of on your own and through your relationships? Are you listening to your partners’ expressions of their needs and helping meet them where you can within your own boundaries? Then you’re all good.
People do change and grow in long term relationships and we will too. This can be really beautiful and mean that we’re in relationships with all new versions of people we’ve loved for a very long time - but it requires significant effort to not grow apart, and that’s a kind of work that people mean by that adage that’s absolutely true and not toxic if done kindly and sensitively. Supporting your partners in their growth and having them support you so that you remain close in each others’ lives is beautiful. Never squash anyone or try to keep them “the same as when you met” - because they won’t be, unless your relationship is of short duration.
Relationships certainly have moments that are hard and that are work. They are part of life, and just as we wouldn’t appreciate the joyful parts of life without the negative parts, the best parts of our relationships are stronger for having made it over some bumps - but if something truly hurts, or if it rubs you the wrong way for an extended period, or if your partner is really trying to keep you in a box sized for when they met you, you may not be compatible any longer, and looking that in the face as an option shouldn’t be so scary. (Logistically, it may be a bit of a nightmare - I know, I’ve been in the logistical nightmare at the end of a relationship.) But really - relationships are life enhancing, and positive, and bring more joy than sadness most years of your life. Even though there are bumps in the road, relationships shouldn’t be that hard.
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