Do I Stay or Do I Go?

Most people in relationships will eventually ask this question at some point.  After all, intimate relationships are almost ordained to eventually produce conflict as discussed previously*.  So if conflict is inevitable, then how do you know whether to call it quits?

Gooood question.  I wish I knew the answer.

Though I have no answer, I do have some thoughts on the matter, which should not be a surprise to those of you who are regular readers of this blog.  After all, what else are blogs for?

  • If you are being physically abused, leave.  If you are laying your hands on your partner in an unloving way, get to a therapist immediately.
  • If you are only staying because you’re afraid of being alone, consider healing yourself and learning to enjoy your own company instead.  Invest that energy in bettering yourself rather than making due with a sub-standard situation. Once you are more whole, you’ll be in a better position to create a better relationship.
  • I don’t believe the “soul mate” notion.  Relationship theory says there are many people who would be a love match.  However, that doesn’t mean you can make it work with every one of them.
  • It takes two to make it work.  If only one of you is interested in trying, you have to decide whether you can live with that person exactly as s/he is.  Also consider the possibility your partner is trying, even if it’s difficult for you to recognize their efforts.
  • Assuming s/he is trying, is change happening in a meaningful way?  If s/he is not going to change, does his/her behavior violate your minimum standards? If so, have you clearly and consistently communicated those standards?   This is an important step.  It’s worth investing in a therapist to make sure this message is clearly delivered.   If you have done so and the behavior is still occurring without sign of improvement, ask yourself why you’re with someone who doesn’t respect what you need.
  • If s/he is changing, but slowly, then know that change can be difficult.  Consider what your role is in that change process.  Are you changing too? Sometimes we unwittingly make it more difficult for our partners to change by ourselves refusing to change or improve.  Remember, it takes two.
  • If you are married and/or have children, I feel that marital therapy is a must before you, in good conscience, should consider dissolving the marriage.  Yes, it can be expensive, but it’s cheap compared to a divorce, especially if you consider the potentially unnecessary emotional toll on the children.

Do not make the mistake of believing that only one of you has to change. Relationship expert Harville Hendricks believes that our emotional wounds dictate who we fall in love with.  Our love interest somehow replicates the wounds we received when we were children, and our subconscious belief is that our new love is the self-actualized/improved/healed version of our primary caregiver.  Trouble happens when we find that in actuality, they continue to replicate the hurtful behavior from our childhood and push our hot buttons.  Therefore, the role of marriage and relationships is to provide the forum for us to grow by providing what our partner needs.  In other words, by giving my partner what he needs, I will heal the places in me that are incomplete while simultaneously providing a salve for my partner’s emotional wounds so he has a better chance of healing them.

Beautiful, isn’t it?

The “downside” is that you have to face your own wounds and take ownership of them.  Scary stuff.  But the prize is opening up and healing that scared kernel/grapefruit in the pit of your stomach while simultaneously improving yourself and your relationship.  It’s kind of like going to the dentist:  it’s not as bad or as hard as you had feared.  Your fear itself is much worse than the actual treatment.  Most of our phobias and fears are just devilish constructs of our left brain – you WILL survive after facing your demons.  You will probably be a happier and healthier person afterwards too.

If you don’t heal those childhood wounds, you’re setting yourself up to face the same problem with your next partner.   Like the budget deficit, you’ll just be kicking that can down the road to the next relationship.  If you’re not ready to deal with it now, perhaps that will be your choice.

So, are you and your partner (both collectively and individually) worth drumming up the courage to deal with this now?  I’m curious.  Talk to me.

*Additional Reading – Blessings of a Dysfunctional Marriage, Single Again After Twenty-Two Years, What Every Couple Should Know Before Getting Married, Who Do You Love?, A Workability quiz