Just about anyone will tell you that you shouldn’t stay in a relationship where one partner is mean to the other, or hurting the other, and all that. This was clear to me from before I started dating. But no one ever really told me that there’s more to it than both sides not being jerks. It took a few relationships that went on way, way longer than they should have for me to properly figure that out.
Over time, I’ve slowly added to that list of required attributes that make a romantic relationship worth continuing. A lot of romantic advice focuses on avoiding red flags, but really, a lack of red flags should be a baseline standard for human contact. If a (potential/) romantic partner treats me with courtesy, kindness and respect, that’s not so much a “points in their favour” kind of thing. It’s a “the minimum required for me to willingly spend time with them as a person” kind of thing. There have to be green flags too, for a relationship to be worthwhile.
I think the most important thing I’ve figured out about this has to do with timescales. When I think about relationships (especially one I’m in), I think about it in terms of different times: right now, tomorrow, next week/month/year, foreseeable future, rest of my life. I guess I’m not so focused on the past, except insofar as it affects or predicts the future.
What I realized is that the closest times are the most important ones. In the past I’ve spent a long time looking at the far-off times, thinking “yeah, I can see myself making a life with this person”, without stopping to think “is this the best thing for me right now?” I wanted so much to get through to that shiny future in my head. There’s no point in planning a lifetime with someone who doesn’t make me feel brave and special and just so fucking excited every single time I think about being with them. Just because I might be able to make everything all right again given x amount of time (and SPOILERS: I can’t), doesn’t mean it’s worth it.
Which isn’t to say that things have to be perfect. But the times that I can pause, even during the rough patches, even in the middle of a fight so bad it seems like there’s no solution … when I can step back even then and say “This relationship, this person, is what I want right now. This is awful and hard and still worth it right now.” … That’s something worth keeping. It’s a lot more complicated than that, of course. But it’s a damn good start.