Carolyn Hax: What’s ‘normal’ in a relationship’s cycles?

Columnist May 25, 2014

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

Do relationships go through cycles? Like where they’re good and then they go to okay, and then they go back to good? I’ve been in a relationship with a guy for three years and I’m beginning to notice this pattern. We’re good for a while, weeks, months, whatever span of time, and then we have a bigger-than-normal fight, and then we’re not so good for a while, but never more than a couple of weeks. Usually we’re a little distant for about a week or less. We do have arguments like any other normal couple.

I have noticed that our bigger-than-normal fights usually coincide with other life stressors (school, work, psycho family). After a bigger-than-normal argument recently, I told my mom about this cycling. She told me it’s not normal. But I guess seeing how a lot of other things go through cycles, I doubted her judgment and wanted to see what you think.

Cycles

(Nick Galifianakis/The Washington Post)

Cycles, normal, yes — but extreme ones, no. Responding to stress by erupting into a fight big enough to disrupt your rhythm for days or weeks at a time? That’s normal, too, to a degree, but not in a good way and not out of necessity.

Add in the “psycho family,” and it sounds as if both of you could use some thought and hard work on the way you communicate, and manage and respond to stress. Deal?

Plus, it’s possible you get along well on the surface but have some incompatibilities you ignore, then can’t ignore but leave unresolved, then go back to ignoring.

I’m also not a big fan of discounting what Mom says, unless you know she’s unreliable or underinformed.

Dear Carolyn:

Feeling super lousy because my ex, the one I adored so much that I waited around for two years AFTER he said he wasn’t sure if he ever wanted to get married, is marrying someone else this weekend (thanks, Facebook!). I know the best plan is to distract myself, but any distraction would feel like a poor consolation prize right now. Is it okay to wallow a little bit? Is there a form of wallowing that’s actually productive? I’m seeing someone, but I’m afraid spending the weekend with him might remind me we’re nowhere near where I was with the ex (who’s now in that same place with someone else).

Ex

Yes, wallow, and watch “When Harry Met Sally . . .,” which has a satisfying take on the he-balked-at-marrying-and-now-he’s-marrying-someone-else phenomenon.

And — you don’t want to be “[any]where near where I was with the ex,” because it didn’t take you anywhere good.

Hang in there. He wasn’t the guy.

I’m partial to Häagen-Dazs vanilla Swiss almond.

Re: Ex:

I had a bottle of red wine and half-pound of chocolate truffles for dinner while watching “Project Runway,” but to each his own.

Sometimes wallowing is productive. It’s taking the time you need to handle something painful. If you think you have a tendency to go overboard, set a time limit. (“I’m going to wallow tonight, but tomorrow I will go to the gym no matter how bad I feel . . .” or whatever you do.)

Anonymous

Well argued, thanks. And nothing beats a good argument for a half-pound of truffles.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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