It's an unenviable position. If you decide at some point in your life to join with someone on a pretty damn serious basis, you want to believe that it's forever. And perhaps you do what you can to make it work. You may give the other person in your life more leeway than you would give to anyone else, you make compromises, you change things about yourself in the name of making the relationship work.
But at what point does it become too much? At what point do those compromises that you make become damaging to your sense of self? At what point does it become broken beyond repair?
That's a really hard question, because there is no answer. There is no one point at which you can say "okay, now this relationship¹ is broken beyond redemption, therefore I shall move on".
People change. Relationships change. What may have been perfect five years ago doesn't fit anymore. Should you stay in the relationship and try and fix it, or should you walk away? And what about your partner, what do they want?
For a relationship to work, everyone that's involved in it needs to want it to continue. And that is something that can change over time, it's not something that you can just decide once and it stays etched in stone forever. If that part is broken, all the effort in the world won't make it work. It's the Humpty Dumpty Effect.
But okay, say that your partner² at least says that they want to work things out. What do you do?
This is where the first word out of my mouth is "communicate". Have you made it clear to your partner what your needs are? Is your partner hearing you? Are they making clear to you what their needs are? Are you hearing them?
The second word is "compromise". When you decide to join in a relationship, you do end up having to make certain sacrifices. The hard part is figuring out whether those sacrifices are too much to bear.
This is tough, because it's such a personal judgement call. My test is whether it violates my personal integrity, but even then it's a weighting issue between how much of my personal integrity I'm willing to give up to be in the relationship. My choices haven't always been the best in this regard, and there is a world of difference between talking about it from an intellectual distance and having to decide it when you're in the middle of it. But in the end, if the relationship makes you compromise yourself out of existence, you really ought to reconsider whether it's worth keeping.
What if you're the only one that's compromising in the relationship? Or if the compromises are really unbalanced?
Third word: "counseling".
If you're having problems this far, it really helps getting a third party involved that can be impartial and professional. First, it forces everyone in the relationship to admit that there is a problem, or at least enough of a problem that it deserves action.
You may find that even counseling doesn't work. Or maybe your partner doesn't want to try counseling. And then it's probably time to
Word four: "Call it quits".
(Yeah, okay, it's three words. It's tough to be alliterative all the time.)
This can take many forms including trial separation, divorce, or beating someone's head in with a shovel. That last one is pretty drastic, and I don't recommend it, but at this point you've probably hit the end of your frustration tolerance. You need to be apart for a while at a minimum. Maybe never having to deal with each other again.
Dealing with Fear:
Fear is the mind-killer. It is probably the single biggest issue that keeps us from getting out of relationships that are holding us back.
What if I never find anyone else ever again and I'm alone for the rest of my life?
First, not gonna happen. When was the last time you met someone that became a friend? Didn't expect it, it just happened, right? Settle down.
Second, assume for a moment that it does happen, that you never again ever hook up with anyone else ever again. Is it preferable to be stuck in a relationship that frustrates you to the point where you wanna bash someone's head in with a shovel?
What if this is THE ONE, my SOULMATE, the PERFECT PERSON FOR ME, and I fuck it up by being so selfish?
Ever lost a job? You found a new one. Ever had a pet die? You mourn, but maybe you find a new pet. Ever lost a friend? You get over it. It takes time, and you never forget, but it gets easier.
There is no one person for everybody. There is no soulmate. Sure, it sucks and it's painful, but you will survive. And you will never have a love like that one again, because each and every love is unique. Say it with me.
It's okay to hurt. If it didn't hurt, it probably wasn't worth much in the first place.
What if the only people that I find are lame-ass losers because all the good ones are taken, and I end up having to settle with a series of lame-ass losers and always be disappointed until I am dry and dead?
Wow, you are really pushing it here, aren't you?
Never settle. Simple as that. Understand what you need, and don't accept anything less. Not all of the "good ones" are taken, many of them are in the same boat and find themselves alone and wondering the same thing.
Oh, God, what if I'm a loser? What if I'm one of those lame-ass losers and one of the "good ones" sees me and dumps me because I'm such a lame ass loser?
Huh. You got me. Except that really, if you're reading this, you probably have some redeeming quality buried somewhere inside you. I pretty much don't hang with losers.
You don't NEED to be in a relationship, except the one with yourself. Yes, it's nice to not be lonely, yes it's nice to feel special to someone, but you don't need to be involved with someone to have those things. That's why you have friends. And true friends are the best thing in the world for you right now.
Now pour me another drink goddamit, I'm gettin' sloshed.
1.) Relationship in this case is meant to suggest a long-term committed "romantic" relationship. It could be a marriage, a handfasting, a living together, or what have you. It can also reflect a polyamorous relationship. You get the context, go with it.
2.) The use of the term "partner" in this case is not meant to go into specifics of marriage, or even a monogamous relationship. It does reflect a personal bias toward a couple rather than a trine or poly configuration, since that's what I'm primarily familiar with. However, I think the principles are applicable to a lot of different configurations.