By Tom Andre
I often hear from people who feel a "need" to say something about their partner's bothersome habits (we all have them!). Usually this is because they feel that it is "unhealthy" to hold back because resentment will build up and then they will "explode," so they decide that all real and perceived transgressions should be addressed, even when they don't feel very strongly about them.
Sometimes, addressing minor transgressions leads to an argument. I propose that maybe it's not always worth it to address every problem that comes up.
Think of rain falling on a garden. If the rain doesn't come too quickly, the soil can absorb it without flooding or washing away. If the layer of soil is thick, and if the garden has a robust root system, the land can absorb more rain. But if the soil is thin with little to hold it in place, even a soft drizzle will wash it away.
This garden can be a useful metaphor for relationships. If problems or bad habits are the rain showers, then the questions become: how bad is the storm? How deep and fertile is the soil of your relationship?
Most "healthy" gardens not only handle the occasional rain shower, but they need and expect them in order to grow. If your relationship is otherwise solid and can absorb the problems, then it may just be worth it to grumble to yourself, your friends and your therapist, and then move on. Take a stand when you have to, but not everything is worth fighting over, especially if the soil is thick.
The good news is that as long as it's not illegal or harmful to your physical health, then you get to be the one who defines what is healthy or unhealthy for your relationship. If your relationship can absorb it, then allowing your relationship to do so is probably not "unhealthy." We can all handle different amounts of discomfort. Do you have a sense of how much discomfort you can tolerate and still have the relationship be worth it?
If you live long enough, you will probably have a chance to experience many of the small and large humiliations and inconveniences life brings us. When we come into contact with people or entities who are more powerful, we are forced to bite our tongue for fear of bigger consequences that are not worth it.
It's a hard truth that many of us have to give up precious little pieces of ourselves in order to remain in relationships that are important to us. The reason we do this isn't complicated, nor is it unhealthy. We do it because we think it's worth it.
By Tom Andre
I am a licensed marriage and family therapist working in El Segundo and Century City (Los Angeles), California. I have experience working with a broad range of problems, and I have a special interest in the lifelong questions about identity, meaning and purpose. Additional areas of interest and experience include grief and loss, parenthood and fertility, and trauma.