QUESTION: I have been with someone for almost three years, and it's not perfect. He has cheated, I have resented, we’ve numbed, we’ve lied, violated privacy, threatened to leave, abused each other. A lot of our past issues - of abandonment, lack of self-worth, lack of trust, depression - have come up the whole time we’ve been together. I look around me at other people’s relationships and they don’t have these kinds of things going on, at least not as far as I can see. None of our friends like the other.

Sometimes, I wonder if it's worth all the trouble. But at the same time, this relationship forces me to be honest with myself and allows me to voice my feelings (really hard for me) and notice the untruths I believe about myself (like I’m really, really nice and have my shit together all the time!). The thing is, we are actually both working on our crap, and though it can be slow moving, it’s happening. The journey’s rough, but I know I’m getting better and so is he. Mistakes have been repeated, but they are losing their charge, meaning the reasons behind them become less unconscious and are more recognizable, which helps with understanding and dealing with them. But sometimes, I think I’m fooling myself and I should be in a much easier relationship where these painful things aren’t brought up and I won’t have to be working so hard.

I have been trying to figure this out for months and I wanted to get your two cents because I remember you wrote how important relationship with others is in getting to know yourself, even though at the end of the day it’s all about your relationship to yourself. That really stuck with me. But sometimes so many difficult, painful feelings come up and I can’t tell if it’s serving me or not.

ANSWER: Before we discuss your situation, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.

The first thing is to be wary of asking other people’s opinion whether a relationship should end. That is a decision that needs to come from one’s own core. That is the only clean way to end such an involved relationship. The second thing is that not knowing, when approached with the intention to know, leads to the answer. Sometimes we can rush to a decision because the anxiety of not knowing can be overwhelming - or stay in a situation too long because we have confused not knowing with a "yes" to a situation that demands closure. Lastly, do not compare your situation with other people’s (“I look around me at other people’s relationships and they don’t have these kinds of things going on, at least not as far as I can see.”). I can tell you firsthand from sitting with people intimately - day in, day out - that we are all master actors. Most times, we ourselves can not distinguish between the story we tell and the underlying reality.

On the positive side is all that you are learning and the way the charge to certain behaviors is being healed ("forces me to be honest with myself and allows me to voice my feelings", etc.). That is the function of relationships when approached from a self-realization perspective: to be a mirror as well as a refiner of the personality. And it is always about our relationship to ourselves, expect that in a relationship it is externalized and hence can be seen and examined if one is so inclined. “Painful feelings come up” is not a negative phenomenon, as long as there is healing involved.

It is not clear from what you write whether the cheating and lying is a habitual and recurring issue or something in the past. And how much healing has been done around it. Are you numbing to the pain or is there actual healing that has occurred? How committed are both of you to healing and letting the past go? And how capable are you both to do that and how realistic is it at this juncture?

It is true that relationship with certain people can be easier than others. It is also true that with deep wounding, we just change scenery by changing relationships. We keep repeating the same patterns until we have examined them fully. Only you can know which camp you fall into. I know that you are suffering and that you want relief by looking outside of yourself. This usually is a recipe for more pain. Set your intent and sit with it until you know in your bones which direction you need to go.