Dealing with a Relationship Crisis: How a Little Distance Can Bring You Closer

Break Up

“Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to go forward.” ~C.S. Lewis

When you’re in the middle of any sort of relationship crisis, the very last thing you want to do is let go. Conflict with someone you love often makes you want to do the very opposite, especially when the other person is already doubting the future of the relationship.

When we’re feeling threated by the loss of someone we love, we act from a place of fear. Our stress hormones sky rocket as we react with our fight or flight instinct. Suddenly we hold tighter, talk more, do more, and think of nothing else.

However, with a little space and hindsight, it is easy to see this sort of intensity around a negative situation only works to amplify the anger and resentment that both parties being feel.

When you are mid-crisis and fighting though, it is very hard to see that the very thing you are doing to try and resolve the situation is actually making everything far worse.

When I packed my toddler in the car and drove away from my husband six months ago, I fully believed I would not be returning. I honestly thought that if it had become so bad that we had to separate, that we would not ever reconcile our problems.

To my surprise, it was the act of letting go that allowed us both some space to re-evaluate our relationship, and helped us to finally realize that none of our disagreements were worth losing our family for.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that any of it was easy. It was ugly and dark and messy. It took us both to rock bottom, and to a place we never thought we’d come back from.

But it was this very darkness that forced us to focus on our own thoughts and actions rather than our external conflict with each other. Looking at ourselves was exactly what we needed to start viewing our arguments from each other’s perspective so we could finally move past them.

For me, the process of grieving the loss of what we had in our relationship shone a light on all of the things I had done to contribute to us falling apart.

At first, this was in an angry and disparaging way, but as I realized I had to start looking after myself in order to move forward, I saw the need to own my own part in what had happened, without negative judgement.

Realizing what I had done wrong was empowering. It gave me the opportunity to approach my partner in a new way. And it was clear from his response that he had been doing some very similar soul searching in the time he spent on his own.

When we started to reconnect, we came from a place of understanding and love, rather than resentment and hurt. As you can imagine, this drastically changed our interactions. And rather than spiralling into our past negative cycle, we were able to create new positive experiences to share.

Even now, this mindset is one that requires conscious effort to maintain. It’s too easy to get caught up in the negative annoyances that pop up when you are so close to someone, so we have to work hard to make sure we don’t allow ourselves to get stuck in that cycle again.

Especially when we’ve both hurt each other badly in the past, it would be all too easy to keep dragging that up with each petty argument that arises.

But we’ve both been to that dark place, and the feeling of losing something that we value so much remains a reminder of why we work so hard to maintain what we have. Why it is important to always speak from a place of love, not a place of hurt, annoyance, anger, or, the amplifier of all, exhaustion.

While the drastic step of separation is exactly what helped us reconnect, it didn’t need to go that far.

If only we’d had the awareness to step back from each other and view our relationship from a place of love, rather than fear, we may have been able to save ourselves the incredibly painful experience of letting go.

Instead of grasping, fighting, and reacting (all fear based responses) and focusing on our own pain, we might have been able to use love to see and understand the hurt that the other person was feeling.

Rather than continuing on our negative spiral of conflict, focusing only the wrongs that had been done to us, we needed to step back and be honest with ourselves about our own roles in the relationship conflict.

We both needed to realize that our own behavior is the only thing we can control, and it was our own actions that needed to change to move us to a better place.

Hindsight is a beautiful thing, isn’t it?

So, if you have been fighting and reacting from a place of fear in your relationship, try stepping back and giving yourself some space to look at the real issues.

Give yourself the distance you need to view the conflict from a place of love and give yourselves the chance to find your way back to each other, without having to let go.

Divided couple image via Shutterstock

About Bettina Rae

Bettina Rae is a yoga teacher, Mama, creative and writer at Little Old Souls, a blog about Motherhood, Creativity, Wellbeing and finding that elusive balance. She also collaborates at The Kindred Collective, a community of and for Mothers.

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  • Hugh

    Wow. This was a great post for me. It is me. Thank you so much for being a voice to challenge me and not another article about how I should quit because of the toxicity. I wanted a divorce and approached my dad on the subject last week because he is still happily married to my mom. He said I can’t be the first person to give up and that gave me the strength to focus on the hand I’ve been playing. Now I’m focusing on being mindful and compassionate for the first real time. It will be a week without arguments this Thursday. Wish me luck!

  • Hugh, that’s so good to hear. I think sometimes we really need to hear “hang in there” not just “it’s up to you”. Which of course it is, but it isn’t really helpful. Best of luck to you.

  • Banu Sekendur- Intuitive Coach

    Wonderful piece! I couldn’t agree more when you say, “Rather than continuing on our negative spiral of conflict, focusing only the wrongs that had been done to us, we needed to step back and be honest with ourselves about our own roles in the relationship conflict”. Unless we recognize our own roles, we can’t avoid making the same mistakes and going through the same pain. Nice work!

  • Mel

    Hi, I have just come out of a long term relationship where we were both close to moving to marriage when I realised that he didn’t want to get married. His reasons were he didn’t want to move to the current city I’m working at despite promising me he would before I moved over which lead to more arguments between us. He also said he had an extremely unhappy childhood with his parents marriage because they fought all the time. The last few weeks coming up to the break up he has been binge drinking and doing things that were extremely hurtful to me which was why I decided to break up. Now I’m finally feeling better about myself and the situation I’m in. I’m grateful for the darkness I have been through in the past months as it has given me different perspectives in life. He has been trying to contact me after 3 months and I know he still cares a lot for me but he hasn’t got the courage to talk to me about the relationship. It’d be appreciated if you could give me some advice on this. Thank you.

  • Hugh

    Thanks – I actually felt pretty weak today on the “wanting to have an argument” spectrum. Instead I sent a loving text and though I don’t expect anything back it made me almost weep so I know that I’m doing my heart’s work as opposed to listening to my head which is in a fight/flightmode. Patience is a super tough lesson for someone in my situation.

  • Teri

    Hugh, I think you’re doing a fantastic job there. I think you should also share this article with your wife to enlighten her. When people are in the situation, they are too guided by their head and their sense of what’s right for ‘me’ instead of ‘us’. Keep it up and I think you’re making great progression there.

  • emily

    Dear Mel,
    What about you? Would you like to be with him even if it means that you wont marry him? You need to evaluate how important marriage for you is. If your relationship was great then maybe living with him without getting married will work out well for you. Remember that he is dealing with past trauma and fear, he doesnt want to hurt you. Good luck and follow your heart 🙂

  • Veronica Atmadja

    Me and my boyfriend really love each other. And we also make a promise to get married, soon, after he graduate and success (he is 2 years younger than me). But because of some problems, he said we need to breakup, and I can’t accept that kind of truth. He said it because he need to focus on his study, so when he success, he can show that to my mom. I can’t accept our breakup. I’m begging him to keep our relationship and I want us to try together. But he said that he’ll promise to success first than go back with me again and we will together until our marriage. I don’t know what to do because I really can’t accept it. I was affraid of losing him. I know that we’re arguing sometimes, but let him go is the last thing that I’m gonna do. I love him, too much, I really can’t let him go. What shall I do now?

  • Thank you. Yes it’s harder to look at our own mistakes but we learn more if we do.

  • I think you need to look after you Veronica. If the relationship is meant to be, it will. Have faith in yourself and keep living your life.

  • Michael Beckett

    This article has been the only meaningful progression to understanding what I haven’t been before. I am currently after celebrating my 4 years with my darling girlfriend since the first of January. We met in college and ever since we’ve had an instant connection that I feel never faded even if we encountered some problems along the way. The crazy thing is we might annoy each other alot lately due to we used to live together a couple months back, but now we are stuck going from each others family homes and this has progressively just knocked us back a bit from the commitments and happiness we once had. We are in our mid 20s, and all of a sudden my girlfriend is taking the decision to take a break, a real one and I say this because we literally have spent all of our off time and me time together. To a stage its not been going healthy, with not enough room to almost breath that I see now thinking for myself about myself for once rather than my woman of dreams that I am always over caring for.. no matter how perfect or imperfect she is. Weve been through so so much together. Even so much it scares me to even think of letting her go. Now I initially never wanted a break not if its said and done in a real hurtful break up/ sick of me way. But after a few days even though shes wanted this space which I obv feel now space is good but not when having doubts on our future as she has been saying. Im happy and shes unhappy lately I want us to take time to rekindle but trying to not think negatively about this just because for once its about her and I individually and not us. Which is painful and confusing. This passage I linked onto her that she has read and enjoyed has given me hope, that space is good and that this reminds her to know this without ruining the special connection we have, when no matter what shes doubting that we can get past it somehow. We can actually step back and gather our thoughts independently and see the problems for what they are. Thanks for the read.

  • 6_Complete

    I am glad I read this. I am currently going through the same situation. Reading this has open my eyes to the importance of giving space. I am very scared of the outcome in giving space so I kept fighting but I am too tired to fight with him anymore. A lot of mean things have been said on both parties. I realized I need to work on me. I pray everyday we can work on things and grow old together. We have been married for 12 years and almost 18 years total together. I love him so much and like the article says being scared is why we hold on. I am very afraid but I no longer want to be in this place. So I hope space and time brings us back to one and helps us grown stronger than ever! Thank you for this!

  • Donna Mae Baral Torrecampo

    Hi. It was a great article. 🙂 I have a boyfriend, and we are in a long distance relationship. We are both Filipino but he’s pursuing military career in US. He just come back, I mean our communication had just resumed a week ago after his boot camp. And he is still busy with his schooling. We are fighting on our communication status. Since we are of different time zones, we have less time to communicate plus he’s busy. I know itis wrong to demand more time from him. But we fought on how he just seen my chat, without any reply. How can I lessen my demand for his time? How can we resolve this? He’s not the kind of guy who talks a lot, who tells about his day or how difficult their camp was, not unless I ask him. And I hate that because its just our way to be connected. What can you say about this? Thank you.

  • Sabrina

    This article helped me a lot. My boyfriend/ fiancé have been together for 6 years now (2 of those years were long distance) Once we moved in together we haven’t had much time to ourselves. We always stayed close to each other, & this past year we moved back in with my parents after we had our son. This has been a rough year on us & with a busy work schedule I’m pretty sure he just cracked under pressure of it all. We broke up not to long ago after he told me that he wouldn’t change his mind. I was so hurt & felt betrayed because I was there for him through it all & I was hurt that he would just give up so easily. Before we broke up we were taking a “break” but I was so scared of it that I never really gave him the break. Now that we are no longer together it hurts me so much to remember his words to me. I want to still work things out because deep in my heart I know we still love each other more then petty arguments that led to this. Everyone tells me to work on myself & our son & if it’s meant to be it’ll come back. I’m scared of the fact that it might. This article gave me hope that it could, despite all that has been said. Thank you.

  • Thomas Purkiss

    I’m dealing with a space issue at the moment. Before she left to visit family, I discovered she was developing a romantic interest in someone else, like the day before she left. She proceeded to tell me that during this trip away she wanted space, to contemplate what she wants. I’m gripped by a paralyzing fear that even though I’ve given her space, and taken the time to step back and work on myself for the past week, that she is going to come back and she will end up leaving. We’ve been together for 8 and a half years, and I love this woman more than anything. Just the fact that I know I can’t call her and talk to her is physically painful, is this normal? How do I console myself when I’m gripped by the overwhelming terror that she’s talking to this guy and snubbing me, getting closer to him and leaving me in the lurch?

  • Elizabeth

    Love this, exactly what I needed to hear to clarify what’s needed in my relationship. The knowledge was all there, just needed someone to help me piece it together.

  • A1

    So you’re still in it, still wanting and trying to fight for him?

  • S L

    This is a lovely article, thank you for sharing. I am not sure how “to view the conflict from a place of love”….as it is easy to focus on the bad based on the types of creatures that we are (fight or flight instinct)….I would like to be able to get more insight on this. I find it difficult at the moment.