Further Thoughts of a Relationship Contrarian

(See also parts one and two).

A couple of things.

First, I don’t mean to suggest that all relationships should stay together forever. I don’t believe that. What I do believe is this. If you are undergoing relationship difficulties, some of your friends will simply be supportive and not take sides. And some will tell you, encouragingly, that: “If I were in your shoes, I would have kicked him to the curb long ago”. However, unless you are an active member of a traditionalist religious community, you will have few if any friends advising you to simply stick with it on principle. I figure that position could use another advocate.

Second. I am not saying that you should not validate your friends in their distress. But there is a difference between validation and justification.

Validation says:

Person in Need: This hurts so much. I don’t think I can take this much longer.
Friend: You must feel awfully in that position. I’m so sorry you two are going through this.

Justification says:

Person in Need: This hurts so much. I don’t think I can take this much longer.
Friend: You’ve tried as hard as you can. No one could blame you for cutting your losses.

And the thing is, in many cases the justification is perfectly legitimate. Here’s a list of some of the negative conditions that have existed in my own marriage:

  • Verbal abuse
  • Emotional abandonment
  • Physical abuse
  • Insisting the other is crazy
  • Wildly differing life goals
  • Neglect
  • Suicidal depression
  • Indifference

I could go on. You might thing that some or all of those conditions was justification for a separation. And I’d even agree with you. The point is that justification is cheap and not hard to come by. But what would this world be like if we took every justifiable course of action available to us?

When I used to go to friends for support and advice, part of me was asking them for justification. I wanted to hear “If I were you, I would have kicked her to the curb long ago”. Because it would have been justification for the emotional abandonment I was already practicing, as well as the physical abandonment I was contemplating. And when I say they told me what I wanted to hear, I mean that they heard that unspoken plea for justification, for absolution, and responded.

Relationships can be like a hand-pump. Have you ever used the old-fashioned kind of hand pump? They ordinarily have a jug of water sitting next to them. The jug isn’t for drinking; if you do, you’ll deprive yourself and all who come later of the product of the pump. Instead, you have to dump that water liberally down the pipe, while pumping vigorously, in order to prime the pump. And if you’re lucky and the pump is in working order, water will come gushing back up. Sometimes you have to try for a long time. Sometimes the pump is broken, and nothing comes up. You have to gamble the only water you have, and hope for the best.

Relationships need priming too sometimes. You have to put down your guns and walk out to meet that other person half-way without the slightest confirmation that they will meet you there. Sometimes you have to do it over and over again before you get a positive response. And sometimes that response never comes. But you’re the only person who can take that step – your feet are the only two you control.

It’s not fair to you. It’s not justified. But it’s the only way to break out of a negative relationship spiral. And it may be that your partner’s reaction is irrelevant. It may be that the simple choice to take that step is the vital step that you need to take in your personal growth in order to facilitate a change in your own attitudes and perceptions. It might not be about them at all.

The fact is that in relationships, I don’t think the question of justification is ever very useful or productive.

We live in an unjust world, and thank goodness for that.

View All


  1. lots of stuff to say…

    .. but a few things here.. before I go back to the last post..

    I’m with you on this post to a great extent except for your last sentence.

    Perhaps I don’t understand why you would be thankful for an unjust world..

    I think a just world would be better, overall, than an unjust world.

    This does not mean that I believe such a “just world” is actually possible given human nature…. nor that I would ever–given dictatorial power–enforce such a world.. but I’m not sure I understand why an “unjust” world is better than a just world theoretically… That strikes me as saying..”Thank goodness there is misery and cruelty in the world.”

    I think I have the feel of what you are saying.. but I’m not entirely sure I grok intellectually what you are getting at with that last sentence..

    1. Re: lots of stuff to say…

      I meant it in the sense that human relationships do not respond well to perfect justice… it is the myriad acts of withholding justice – justified action, that is – that enable us to break negative cycles.

      1. gotcha..

        .. and I agree..

        I might note that in such things like Myers-Briggs tests– one of the contrasts is Justice/Mercy–it’s a T/F thinger… and I also find it to be a difficult trade off..

        I will readily agree that in any close relationship–perfect, cold, hard, justice–will kill that relationship dead.

        It contains no forgiveness or tolerance–and leaves no mistake for errors–and we, as humans, are prone to errors and need mercy.

        Justice–or “perfect justice” is also, in my view, less prone to take a long-term view.. it has very little memory–but focuses on the Here/Now–and demands an answer/resolution… and while that is a good thing to have as a tool in our dealings with the world.. it can also destroy a lot of potential good if it is carried out without thought–and without a perception of the future possibilities offered by mercy…

        At least.. that’s what popped into my head with your response..

        more later..

      2. man…

        I was swamped today…

        I’ll see if I can get some response up tonight.. but I think tomorrow morn is more likely..

    2. Re: lots of stuff to say…

      Apropos of nothing..

      I ♥ the icon!!

Comments are closed.