Your Three Options in Every Relationship

Couple holding hands and discussing something over coffee

When this story publishes, my wife and I will be cozied up in an island bungalow off the Caribbean coast of Panama. She’s really good at planning travel, vacations, events, and pretty much anything. My skill set is more in line with absolutely winging shit and figuring it out as we go, haha. It’s like her job is to make sure everything goes smoothly, and my job is to make sure we still have fun (or at least survive) when it doesn’t. I think we make a good team!

However, I can see how our fundamental differences could absolutely destroy us if we didn’t know how to manage them. Our love languages literally rank in reverse order (except for gift-giving). She needs certainty, and I need freedom. I wake up stoked, and she needs about an hour to consider the benefits of human interaction. Even on vacation, she’ll wanna cook a healthy dinner together while I have my sights set on abject caloric debauchery.

I think a lot of people hope to one day find a partner who’s a perfect match so they never have to figure out healthy communication, boundaries, and conflict resolution. And I can certainly see the appeal.

But how’s all that “perfect match” shit workin out for ya’s?

Your Three Options

Although I often take on single folk as coaching clients, I’m currently working with a stack of partnered people for whatever reason. And, as fate would have it, none of them have found a perfect match! (Can you hardly believe it?) So, this concept has come up a lot lately. And when that happens, I usually write an article about it.

The three options you always have in your relationship (unless it’s a hostage crisis) are as follows:

  1. Abandon your self
  2. Abandon your partner
  3. Communicate your needs and find a win/win solution (or no deal)

Pretty straightforward, no? Obviously, the first two options are dog shit, but they’re options nonetheless. In fact, anxiously attached people tend to automatically choose self-abandonment, while avoidants reflexively abandon the other. And those with a disorganized attachment style will do one of the two, depending on the day.

But to be fair, a trauma response isn’t something you do; it’s something that happens to you. So perhaps calling these “options” is misleading to those with unresolved trauma. Maybe it’s best to say these are the three possible outcomes.

Either you will abandon yourself if that’s how you’ve learned to maintain relationships; you will abandon your partner if that’s your maladaptive coping mechanism for self-protection; or… if you’re a whole, integrated, mature functioning adult with self-awareness and compassion, along with the skills and resources to regulate your nervous system and communicate nonviolently, then you’ve got a shot at improving your relationship every time there’s a disagreement.

How to Choose Option #3

If the first two options are virtually all you’ve ever done and option #3 sounds utterly absurd or impossible, there’s a strong chance you’ve got some emotional baggage you’ll need to unpack with a mental health professional. Could be some grief, trauma, shame, codependency, or all kinds of shit gurgling down there in your subconscious. And until you get that sorted out, you might continue to believe you have “relationship problems” when that’s really just an excuse for never facing your own demons.

If this is you, I’d like you to put down the blame-thrower, back away slowly, and get your ass into therapy posthaste.

However, if option #3 sounds reasonable and within your grasp, but you just need a little more guidance to stick the landing, obviously, you can ask for help from a coach or therapist as well. Alternatively, you can study Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg, which is literally a whole book about option #3. Or, if you’d prefer to spend zero dollars and go full DIY, I recommend digging into the following articles:

Executing Option #3

Ultimately, your option #3 discussion will take the form of, “I need ABC in order to feel good about our relationship, to not throw myself under the bus, and to be the best partner I can be. Absent ABC, I’ll be resentful, unsatisfied, and no good to either one of us. I also care very much about your needs and would like to find a way where you can get your XYZ, I can get my ABC, and nobody feels left out. Will you help me find a solution that works for both of us?”

Emotionally challenging conversation ensues, trying really hard not to interpret the lack of prompt concession as a threat warranting immediate lizard-brain shit-show defensiveness. Ya gotta keep your eyes on the prize and be willing to work through a dozen bad ideas before you find one that suits you both.

The greatest difficulty most people face here is actually knowing what their needs are, as opposed to the particular strategy for how they think their partner “should” meet their needs. Humans more or less all have the same needs. But the ways we satisfy them usually differ greatly. Thus, all conflict tends to occur at the level of strategy. If you’d like to understand this more — seriously, read Nonviolent Communication.

And if your relationship requires a winner and a loser, it may simply be that you’re wildly incompatible or ill-equipped for a relationship together. In which case, the real win/win solution may be to stop torturing yourselves by trying to make this thing work when it clearly does not.

What to Do About Your Relationship

For those who just realized that they’re responsible for 50% of their so-called relationship problems and there’s virtually nothing you can do to “fix” the relationship outside of doing your own healing work, you may be asking yourself, “Do I stay in this relationship, bail, take a break, or what?” Well, if your relationship isn’t putting you in any immediate danger (if it is, get out now), my recommendation is to shift your focus away from trying to blame, shame, fix, or change your partner and funnel all that energy into healing and working on yourself.

If you’re not ready for the win/win or no deal conversation, tell your significant other, “Hey, I’m gonna stop blaming our problems on you and work on myself for a little while and see what happens. I’m not giving up on us — I just need to try something different.” Then, make it a point not to file any more grievances or fan the flames of seething resentment. Just treat your partner like someone you respect and care about, and stop ruminating about how much better your life would be if only they got their shit together.

You will most likely discover that the healthier you get, the healthier your relationship gets. Because obviously, your relationship can never be healthier than you are.

In other words, your mental health may be the glass ceiling on your relationship.

And that’s definitely not your partner’s fault.


The truth that hurts is the same truth that sets you free.

The truth that hurts is the same truth that sets you free.

The truth that hurts is the same truth that sets you free.

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*This article contains Amazon affiliate links to the books mentioned

Published by Adam

Mentor, coach, speaker and educator for over 12 years. I have recovered from and triumphed over many obstacles and afflictions. It brings me tremendous joy to help others overcome similar circumstances so they can live their best lives.

4 thoughts on “Your Three Options in Every Relationship

  1. I laughed out loud at, “if you’d prefer to spend zero dollars and go full DIY.” Fantastic as always! Great tips.

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