“Close the exits.” When you hear that phrase in reference to your marriage, what does it make you think about? Do you imagine someone getting a divorce? Having an affair?
While those are certainly good examples of ways that people can “exit” a relationship, they’re just scratching the surface. Essentially, a marriage “exit” is anything that allows you to back away from dealing with an issue in your relationship.
Maybe it’s that best friend you tell everything to rather than talking things out with your partner. Or how your office hours suddenly get a lot longer when things aren’t going well at home. Or substances you use to “check out” and smooth over rough patches.
Exits can even be thoughts you have about other potential partners or what your life would be like if you left your relationship.
If you’re like a lot of people, you’re probably thinking that some of those things seem a lot worse than others. And a number of them don’t really seem all that bad at all.
While some exits can certainly be a lot worse, the truth is all exits are potentially bad and should be closed if you want your relationship to survive and thrive.
First, let’s be clear about something. An “exit” is not the same thing as having other interests. Individuals in a relationship can and should have outside interests.
Everyone can and should have outside friendships and relationships. In other words, both you and your partner deserve a life that doesn’t revolve solely around each other.
“Exits,” on the other hand, are a bit different. In the examples above, you can see they are specific ways that people “escape” from relationship trouble rather than addressing it.
Having a movie night with a friend is not an exit. Calling a friend up to go to the movies to avoid a potential relationship argument — that’s an exit.
Why is one scenario fine while the other is bad?
Because having an “exit” essentially allows someone to not fully invest in the relationship. To run away when things get tough.
Think about that for a moment. Imagine being in a relationship with someone who abandons their partner the moment things get hard? How could the partner depend on that person? How could they trust them?
The simple answer is that they couldn’t. Not really. Not fully. Because it always seems like the other person has one foot out the door.
Sure, they may talk a good game about being there for their partner. They might even say they want to work to make things better. But the proof is in their actions.
The simple truth is that nothing will ever get better in a relationship as long as one person or the other has an exit or two at their disposal.
The first step is to want to. Exits, quite honestly, can be quite attractive. Especially for someone who has trouble opening themselves up to another person and being vulnerable.
This is usually because if someone doesn’t have a ready escape hatch, the only thing preventing them from getting hurt is the goodwill of their partner, and let’s be honest, that can be terrifying! For a long term relationship to work, however, it has to be done.
Step two is to identify any exits. This can be tricky, but even seemingly “minor” things like imagining a “better” partner after a fight can be problematic.
Once all exits have been identified, the next step is to stop engaging in them. Don’t suddenly have more late nights at the office. Don’t decide to take a weekend alone at the cabin. Put a stop to any thoughts about finding someone better or easier.
Finally, it’s time to actually deal with each other. Regardless of where you are in this process, as long as you know you want your relationship to last, there’s hope.
Struggling to close the exits in your relationship? Perhaps you simply aren’t sure where to go from here. Reach out to my office for help! No one is saying it will be easy, but so many of my clients are surprised by how much better things actually get when they finally commit to closing their exits.