Why You Should Escape The Relationship Labels Trap

What confuses me is that people are capable of staying in toxic, abusive or incompatible relationships and they’re capable of leaving potentially healthy, happy, fulfilling relationships too.

Since relationships heighten our emotions and heighten our chances of making some terrible judgments, I’m not surprised that people have poor judgment staying or leaving relationships….

….yet society seems to praise only the stayers and the leavers, but vilifies the returners: those who choose to return to a past relationship.

Here’s what real people say about getting back with an ex:

“Taking an ex back is like shopping at your own garage sale!”

“Accept the past is the past and move on things will eventually become better in time”

“They are an Ex for a good reason. I would never go back… moving forward is much better and healthier for the heart and mind.”

“Going back to my ex no way, never ex is an ex, is just a waste of time”

“Ex is ex..you can find someone else.. move on and forget that ex”

If you genuinely wanted to reconnect with your ex, these reactions are less than encouraging.

…But I thought working on relationships was a good thing?

If we were to look at comments about people who wanted to repair their marriage the reactions would look much different.

Yes, an “ex is and ex for a reason”, but a lot of those reasons are the same ones motivating couples to see marriage counselors, like if one partner:

  • Overly-controlling out of jealousy
  • Feels overwhelmed dealing with their partners recent personal issues
  • Got into a huge fight and can’t get it resolved
  • Started blaming partner for problems outside their control
  • Repeatedly puts down their partner to get them to change
  • Cheated, emotionally or physically
  • Broke an important promise

We don’t tell married couple they’re stupid for seeing marriage counselors for having these problems and we definitely don’t tell them to “just move on”. Instead, we commend them for trying to repair their marriage

So why do questions about wanting an ex back seem to have a double standard?

It comes down to the use of relationship labels. When these common issues happen under the socially-approved contract of “in a relationship” or “married” our perspective shifts. With these labels people believe there exists an underlying connection that’s worth preserving. The problem is there’s no middle ground, your connection either exists or it doesn’t based off the agreed upon labels you’ve set for yourselves.

We make the mistake that our connections with our partner is defined by a label and not by our every action.

Relationships are more fluid than black or white

With every put-down, broken promise, sarcastic remark we are stabbing the relationship and slowly killing it. On the other hand, with every sign of appreciation, display of gratitude or passing compliment we build the relationship strong and possibly heal some old stab wounds along the way.

We also make the mistake of seeking comfort and security in the established labels our relationships occupy. If we allow the label to define the relationship, the associations, sense of entitlement, and expectations the label brings, the more disconnected we’ll be from an action-oriented relationship-building approach. Then over time, partners become less attuned to one another, making it difficult to attend to each other the right way and at the right time even if they wanted to.

For those who highly value the comfort and security of the label may face another set of problems, like compromising personal values to keep the label intact.

The problem is that the current labels for relationships don’t reflect reality.

If you demote the label of your relationship to a “break up” you’ve metaphorically killed it. With that perspective, wanting to return to a dead relationship would seem foolish. But a better description of what’s happening is that a breakup caused a deep wound to the relationship, one that CAN still be healed with enough time and effort. Just like putdowns or big fights, “breakups” affect the health of the relationship to varying degrees, it doesn’t always kill it off.

The label “ex” can also be triggering because it is a label attributed to the individual, not the relationship, making people inclined to believe the ex is officially disconnected from the relationship and the one who initiates the repair is the desperate one.

The takeaway

The labels we give relationships serve a useful purpose, but the the ones today are doing us more harm than good.

When society acknowledges this problem and accepts new labels, not only will our relationships benefit but so will the support we’ll get from everyone else.

Until then, don't let the labels you've used to describe your relationship define your relationship.