Before I met Crystal, my romantic life mostly consisted of a series of bad relationships. Some were brief, some were longer, but few of them were healthy or fulfilling. In many cases, I found myself financially and emotionally supporting someone who did not return that support. I wish I could say that only happened once, but the reality is that it had to happen several times before I really began to understand what was happening and how to prevent it.
It sounds like something that should be easy to avoid. You tell yourself “Never again!” and try to scrutinize your latest partner a little closer, but human relationships are incredibly complex, and emotions like loneliness, boredom, and desire are powerful forces that can override our own sense of self-protection. It’s very easy to end up loving or living with someone who doesn’t support you, even if you’ve been there before and tried very hard to avoid ending up in that kind of situation again.
Support Comes In Many Forms
Every person is unique. We all have certain aptitudes and benefits and strengths to bring to a relationship; we have certain pains and conflicts and weaknesses to bring as well. Generally speaking, though, a good partner possesses certain qualities that help foster a healthy relationship:
- A good partner makes financial decisions from a position of Us, not a position of Me. They recognize that sometimes their own desires need to be put on the backburner in order to do what’s best for both of you.
- A good partner accepts your goals and future aspirations and they put time and effort into enabling you to achieve those goals.
- A good partner recognizes their own failings. If they are unable to give you something you need, they work to better themselves so they canprovide it, or they look for other options in order to ensure you get what you need.
- A good partner disagrees with you when you make bad decisions, but they don’t abuse you for them; instead, they try to find out what you’re trying to achieve and together, try to find a better way to get it.
- A good partner pulls their own weight. They see how hard you’re working, and they want to put in just as much hard work (even if it’s a different kind of work) to achieve something better for the both of you.
- A good partner listens to you and asks questions so they can understand why you value the things you do. Likewise, they try to articulate their own values and make sure you understand where they’re coming from.
Of course, it’s not all black and white. Miscommunications and misinterpretations happen, usually around the subjective parts of those statements like “what’s best for both of you.” One person’s idea of what’s best for the couple may differ significantly from what their partner thinks is the best course of action, which is why that last quality — communication — is such a vital one.
Mitigating factors can also get in the way and make it difficult to exhibit some of these qualities — if your past relationships have been abusive ones where expressing your goals to your partner was punished swiftly, it can be hard to see it as a healthy thing to do. Even in the best circumstances, it doesn’t always work. Remember: human relationships are incredibly complex. Two people can independently have the qualities of good partners, but not be good partners for each other, simply because their unique wiring makes them incompatible with each other. Hard work and understand can overcome that, sometimes.
Still, a healthy relationship is one where both partners support each otherto the best of their ability. If there’s an imbalance — if one partner isn’t supporting the other, the entire structure of the relationship fractures.
It’s like trying to carry a heavy pane of glass — it’s too big of a job for just one person. If your partner stops helping you, if they put down their side, you might be able to drag it along on your own, but it’s going to be excruciatingly hard work, and no matter how hard you try, it’s probably going to accumulate scratches and cracks and dings. It might even accumulate enough of them that the whole thing shatters. Your partner, meanwhile, is just walking along beside you, but they won’t reach out a hand to help you carry that big pane of glass.
That’s a recipe for a poisoned relationship.
Partners Meet Each Other Halfway
Support needs to be given and it needs to be received.
Emotionally, we need our partner to listen to us. We need them to understand, or try to understand, our feelings and values. We need them to take an interest in our goals and aspirations. This was so important in our own relationship — when we first started dating, Crystal understood and accepted my desire to write, and pushed me to do great things with my writing. When she told me she wanted to pursue her MBA, there was no question: I was going to do everything I could to make sure she got it.
We also need our partner to give us the things we need to feel loved, whether it be physical affection or space or praise; if they can’t give that to us, we need them to change and learn how. That’s such a tricky thing, isn’t it? Asking your partner to change? It seems like a taboo, but relationships are inherently about change. You can’t be in a healthy relationship with someone and not be changed by them. I’m totally not the same person I was before Crystal and I got together, and I know she’s not the same person either. My past relationships made it difficult for me to open up and communicate my feelings to Crystal; she had to ask me to change that and let her in. I have a strong need for personal space and alone time. When we first started dating, Crystal didn’t understand that. I had to ask her to change and accept that space was something I needed.
In a practical sense, meeting your partner halfway means that when two people are living together, it’s vital that each one contributes their share of work to the household. Exactly what kind of work each partner is doing will differ depending on the couple’s unique circumstances. If you’re a dual-income family, it could mean each partner has a financial obligation, where each person’s income is responsible for a share of the bills, or maybe one income handles the bills and the other funds savings and investments.
In a single-income family, it means that one partner is the primary earner while the other takes on a support role. This is our situation right now. Crystal is working and studying for her MBA. She’s doing a lot of hard work for our future. Until I can find steady work (transforming us into a dual-income household), my major role, the work I contribute to the household, circles around finding ways to support her work and studies. When we’re both working, we’ll reevaluate and find a different system that works for us.
In every household, the dishes need to be done, the laundry needs doing, the pets or children need caring for, shopping needs to be done. In a dual-income family, those chores may need to be split between both partners (and done after work, cutting into any free time) or a third-party might even be hired to tend to them, but in a single-income family, the non-working partner has the benefit of flexibility — they can be anywhere the working partner needs them to be. They can leverage their time in a way that makes the working partner’s work that much more effective.
Here’s a recent example: I normally do all the grocery shopping in our house, but yesterday, I asked Crystal to go with me, because I had a very complicated set of coupons to use at three different stores. We came home with about $200worth of groceries, but because of my couponing, we only paid about $50 for it. While Crystal was at work, I spent four hours setting that shopping trip up — I found and printed and clipped coupons, I paired them with sales at different stores, I organized them logically and figured out which stores we needed to visit and in what order. Four hours is substantially longer than it usually takes me to do my weekly couponing, but this was an unusually large shopping trip with some great deals we normally don’t find, so it took a lot longer to plan it out.
The end result? Those four hours of work didn’t bring any extra income into our family, but they made every dollar that Crystal earned four times more effective. Those four hours of work took the $50 that Crystal earned and transformed it into $200 purchasing power. My work and her work came together and did so much better for us than either of us could have done on our own.
Does Your Partner Support You?
If you’re dating or living with someone or even married, do you feel like your partner supports you?
When they make financial decisions, do they consider your needs and wellbeing? If you’re both working, does your partner’s income contribute to the household and your future together, or do they go rogue and blow it all on personal things? I don’t mean small gifts that they buy you, even expensive ones. I mean day to day needs, like rent and groceries and utilities. If you’re financially struggling and they know that, is your partner concerned and doing something to help you?
If you’re working and they’re not, do they contribute to the household in other ways? What are they doing with their time?
Do they listen to you when you talk about your goals? Do they get enthusiastic about it and start looking for ways to help you achieve them? If they ignore you or belittle you for your goals, they definitely aren’t supporting you.
Do they communicate with you? Do they make an effort to understand the parts of you that confuse them?
You Can’t Fix People; They Fix Themselves
If your partner doesn’t support you, does that mean they can’t start? Well, no, not necessarily. They may not understand what support you need. They may feel they are unable to support you, whether because you require more than they feel equipped to give or because they are too wrapped up in their own issues to be able to offer support for someone else. They may have priorities that are more important to them than you, even if they do not realize it — or even if they DO realize it, but feel too guilty about it to tell you the truth. (Human relationships are complex, remember?)
But here’s a nugget of truth: you can’t force someone to start supporting you. You can’t make them love you. You can tell them what support you need, you can ask them to start supporting you, you can work hard to boost their confidence, but they have to make the decision to be a good partner to you. They have to decide to change. If they’re unable or unwilling to do that, you may need to consider ending the relationship.
Why It’s So Difficult To Leave Someone Who Does Not Support Us
Even when we recognize a bad relationship, it’s not always easy to get out. We’re often very good at finding reasons we shouldn’t leave a relationship even if it’s a poisonous one.
Sometimes we tell ourselves loneliness is scarier and more miserable, that even a bad relationship is better than no relationship at all. I believed this for a long time. If I was in a relationship, even a bad one, it meant that I was at least marginally desired or wanted. That was dangerously toxic — I was trading one misery for another, and I didn’t realize that I could come to terms with my loneliness. I could be alone and not be miserable; I could be single and it did not mean that I was unwanted.
Sometimes we convince ourselves that our partner’s lack of support comes from us, that it is somehow our fault. We convince ourselves that we’re not good enough to love them adequately, and if we just tried harder or asked less of them or didn’t need so much, they would come around and start supporting us. It’s funny how this one comes about — when we reach out and tell our partner what we need and they refuse to give it, we can fool ourselves into thinking we need too much. We never consider that our needs are normal, but that our partner does not care enough about us to give us what we need.
Sometimes, we let our partner’s past experiences excuse their present behavior. We tell ourselves it’s reasonable that our partner isn’t communicating with us about their feelings, because they were hurt badly in a past relationship. But does your partner recognize that they need to heal those wounds and overcome them? Are they working to overcome their instinctual reactions and treat you independently from their past? Do they value their past hurts more than they value you?
Sometimes we tell ourselves that if we left them, they wouldn’t be able to get by. This is especially true if our partner is primarily reliant on us for shelter, food, etc. If we kicked them out, they’d have to find another place to live and how would they ever be able to do that? We tell ourselves that we’d feel guilty for putting that hardship on them, but we’re completely overlooking one very important fact about the world: The wellbeing of every person is ultimately their own responsibility. They will find a way to get by; a lack of options on their part is not a reason to allow them to continue taking advantage of you.
A Bad Partner Is A Weight Shackled Around Your Neck
It’s very difficult to make financial headway when the most important person in your life isn’t helping. How can you get out of debt if the person you love goes rogue and makes purchases that hurt your financial future? How can you pursue a better career for yourself if the person you love scoffs at your aspirations or won’t lift a finger to help you achieve them? How can you do better for yourself and your family if your partner prioritizes things like a drug habit or laziness over helping you reach financial security and a stable life?
In every case, the answer is the same. You can’t. You’re pouring time and effort and energy into trying to keep a bad relationship afloat instead of pouring time and effort and energy into your future.