The problem with 'better than nothing' relationships

March 25, 1992|By Susan M. Barbieri | Susan M. Barbieri,Orlando Sentinel

Most of us have had a BTN relationship. Sounds vaguely like a sandwich, but a BTN is a "better than nothing" relationship -- the kind we put up with for lack of an alternative.

Hold the mayo, hold the courage.

Susan Page coined the term. Ms. Page is a Lutheran minister from Berkeley, Calif., and author of the book, "If I'm So Wonderful, Why Am I Still Single?"

Ms. Page, who travels around the country giving talks, says her workshops are for "involuntary singles" -- those who want, more than anything, to marry.

She offers strategies for recognizing and getting out of BTNs.

"A BTN relationship is good but not great, or a relationship that has some really wonderful things about it and some things that are really not so wonderful. And the longer you stay in it, you realize in your gut that it's not the ultimate relationship for you," Ms. Page says.

We stay in these relationships longer than we should because we're afraid to end them, Ms. Page says. We rationalize, we put it off, and we focus our attention on the problems related to staying in the relationship rather than on the obvious solution -- getting out.

BTNs are bad for you because they take you out of circulation and -- worst of all -- chip away at your self-esteem.

"You can't feel good about yourself when your partner doesn't fully love you or fully affirm you or is trying to change you. So it's really important to get out of BTN relationships," Ms. Page says.

You have to make up your mind that it is worth making changes to improve your quality of life. Ms. Page says it can be done even though change is tough.

"You're used to each other. You're afraid of the loneliness on the other side. You're afraid you'll hurt the other person's feelings. You're afraid of the pain," Ms. Page says. "The way to do it is just to make up your mind that you want to do it and find a way firmly and gently to tell the other person that you're ready to move on."

She notes that when people get out of relationships that aren't quite right, they feel "an enormous sense of freedom and satisfaction, the feeling they've really gotten their lives back."

The flip side of the BTN is commitment-phobia. Ms. Page offers tips for recognizing commitment-phobes.

"Commitment-phobes always give out two signals at the same time," she says. "Come closer, go away. Come closer, go away. They're seduce-and-abandon people. They're very seductive because they know they don't have to stick around. So it's easy to fall in love with them. But the distancing signals will always be there early on. Notice them and pay attention to them. Don't ignore them."

But if you're in love with a commitment-phobe, you ignore distancing signals because you don't want them to be there, Ms. Page says. You can usually tell by words and actions whether someone is the type who withholds emotionally.

"If you start noticing that you're hurting early on because of a remark the person made or because that person changed plans abruptly on you or something, you have to pay attention to this. And if it happens two or three times in a row, you really have to pay attention," Ms. Page says.

She advises people to take action once someone's signals begin coming in loud and clear. The more entrenched you get with a commitment-phobe, the harder it is to get out, she says.

"The other big clue to whether someone is a commitment-phobe is their relationship history. If they have a series of short-term relationships and they've never been married, it makes sense to be suspicious of that," she says.

Commitment-phobes expect you to do all the changing in the relationship and all the logistical adapting, Ms. Page notes.

When you realize you're coming up with strategies to change that person, it's time to get out, Ms. Page says.

Never delude yourself into thinking you're the one who can change him or her. These people may change for themselves, but they're never going to change for others, Ms. Page says.

The key to avoiding commitment-phobes or getting out of BTN relationships? Having the courage to walk away.

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