Staying or leaving ? How to decide
To stay or leave it is an ultimate question that each of us being in a long-term relationship will think of at least once. Find out how to decide.
You will find a lot of information on youtube, google,…with the checklist to help you decide whether to stay or leave. The checklist would include mostly the following items:
- emotional closeness and connection;
- the ability to change;
- reality vs. potential of the relationship;
- the communication patterns;
- conflicts management;
- overall ambiance at home;
- common projects, goals, and dreams.
But it is not the ultimate checklist we miss. We don’t cumulate the points; it is not a quiz. We know more or less our partner, we know the difficulties of our relationship, we have maybe tried a couple therapy, or individual therapy, we know it doesn’t feel good, but WE CANNOT DECIDE whether to stay or leave. So how do we know we have crossed some limits of a healthy relationship? How do we know this will never get better? When is the moment to give up?
How do we know we will never regret it?
First of all, no one is going to tell you. The decision will always remain with you.
There were moments in my life I wished someone told me. Many of my clients wish I could tell them. But the decision remains exclusively with each of us. We know ourselves the best and we know what is the best for us. Each story is different and the decision we are making is 100% tailor-made.
The reality is that very often we need guidance throughout the decision-making process. Many of my clients are successful women and take decisions every day. Decision-making competence in business is not the same competence as life decision-making and this is for the following reasons:
- brain and heart, logic and feelings, are equally involved in this decision-making;
- stake is high, there is a lot to lose and a lot to win, and these assets are very often intangible so difficult to measure;
- we speak about responsible decision-making because the consequences of our decision will impact more people than just ourselves – our partner, children, respective families, friend;
- we don’t have the same distance with our own life as we have when making a decision for someone else;
- finally, we are scared to make such a decision; we are scared to be lonely and we are scared of hurting ourselves, feeling pain.
When I start working with my clients they feel exhausted by the constant thinking, they experience a lack of energy and they complain about fatigue. When we finish they feel peaceful and in line with themselves again. They feel hopeful and confident about their future.
But let’s start at the beginning.
When we ask ourselves whether to stay or leave, most of the time we encounter fears.
- being abandoned and lonely;
- losing our dreams;
- hurting other people;
- being judged;
- making a mistake.
Fears are fine. Fears are good to be explored, but we don’t have to act on them.
Fears are rooted in our beliefs.
I will give you an example. Kate is scared of being abandoned. She has always had this feeling of having been abandoned as a child and is frightened of an intense feeling of loneliness and emptiness. She is scared of being hurt again. She believes that there is only one person who matches with her and it is her husband. She is scared of not being good enough to meet someone who will love her for the person she is.
When acting on our fears we always settle for less.
Our fears are rooted in our beliefs. But very often our beliefs do not belong to us. Kate’s feeling of not being good enough doesn’t belong to her. Most probably her parents felt like this and projected it on her through having high expectations or any. The belief that there is only one person who matches with us is absolutely not justified. The idea of the “One” is a great movie plot but not the reality.
Before making a decision about staying or leaving, revisit your fears and beliefs first.
If you find out that you are driven by limiting beliefs, change those beliefs into positive ones.
Another reason people cannot decide whether to stay or leave is weighing the benefits and costs. There are obviously material benefits and costs, but emotional too, the latter are difficult to measure.
Lots of people consider leaving their relationship but stay calculating the assets they accumulated during their relationship.
For example, Lena doesn’t feel happy in her couple anymore. She doesn’t connect with her husband and feels lonely. It has been some years already and their couple found a routine around avoiding each other; eventually doing things together, but in presence of other people – their kids, friends, family. Home alone they circulate in their own respective territory, satisfying their needs through professional career, voluntary work, and other commitments.
Lena would like to leave and take the distance, but she is afraid of:
- her husband’s reaction;
- other people’s judgment;
- eventual loneliness that might follow the break-up.
Secretly, Lena weighs the pros and cons of a break-up, divorce in their case, and counts the assets of the current relationship:
Pros – leaving her husband and live on her own would be a winning situation because it would allow her:
- set free from the stressful situation around her couple;
- align her behavior with her emotions;
- a new start with a possibility of meeting new people, eventually a new partner;
- live an authentic life according to her values;
- find the lost energy and feel alive;
- spend more time on being creative rather than organising herself to avoid her husband;
- end the perpetual conflicts and set free from her partner insecurities;
- become the person she wants to be without the burden her husband represents to her.
Cons – leaving her husband would mean to lose:
- commons souvenirs;
- material assets – mainly house; and related comfort;
- company for weekends, holiday;
- common friends;
- family in law;
- joint commitments;
Overall, the longer the couple stays together, the less likely they will leave each other as the assets they accumulated with the time are higher than dissatisfaction.
It is ok to stay in an indecisive place for a while.
Except for physical violence, I would never advise my clients to leave immediately. If you smash the door and leave, you will most probably feel relieved. Angry first and relieved afterward. Relieved for having punished the other one; feeling like the winner.
Eventually, because anger is quite powerful, you may quickly engage in a new relationship. It feels good for a while, but the same patterns appear again. You are set up for failure again. It is a false victory.
That’s why I rather feel like saying, honor the indecisiveness and stay there for a while.
It is very close to a letting go process. You mourn the things that don’t work in your relationship, you learn to accept and release them. You let go of the “current relationship” to open up to a new relationship no matter with whom it is going to be.
You can actually remarry your current partner if this is meant to be.
A famous couple therapist Esther Perel says she remarried her husband 3 to 4 times. It means they managed to reinvent their relationship 3 to 4 times, they navigated successfully through changes and found solutions that worked for both of them. The strength of functional couples comes from the ability to reinvent and recreate the same relationship.
The creative force always comes from each individual partner. Therefore, it is important to turn our regard towards ourselves.
Our partner is the mirror to us.
When we go through the checklist and we assess our relationship, naturally we will have a tendency to blame our partner. It is easier. But there is a reason we are together and the partner always shows our own weaknesses. Our partner shows where it hurts.
The period of indecisiveness is a good opportunity to find out what didn’t work and what we can learn from it. It is a good moment to reconnect with ourselves, start a healing process if we need to heal; start rediscovering ourselves, if we lost touch with ourselves; start cultivating creative energy and grow our potential.
The period of indecisiveness might take a few years for some, but by focusing on “yourself” rather than your partner’s flaws you will make the most of these years; no matter you stay or leave the relationship.
COUPLES WITH CHILDREN
I would also like to add a few lines about couples considering separation and having children. As a matter of fact, many couples stay together because of children. It is certain that all children would prefer to see their parents as a loving couple. Sometimes, we forget we are not only parents but a couple too. If we love together as a couple, children are nourished by that love and don’t have to worry unnecessarily, says Bert Hellinger who founded family constellations. We are a couple first, then parents.
Children do not understand the complexity of the world and they don’t have to understand the reason for eventual separation. It is important they feel safe. We don’t have to stay together because of the children. To be the reason for parents’ unhappiness is a difficult burden for children to bear in their lives.
When considering whether to stay or leave we have to consider what type of relationship we model for our kids. Children do copy the relationship they have seen at home no matter what we theoretically teach them. If you wish your children to have exactly the same relationship as you have, then it is ok to stay.
Instead of cultivating the idea of an “ideal world” to children, it is better to explain to them that even though the world is not an ideal place, we can live a fulfilling life by being creative and constructive.
HOW TO DECIDE THEN?
You decide with your heart and you will never regret it.
But first, let me remind you of a basic presupposition.
There is no concrete truth.
Tom and Sara argue quite often about the education of their kids. Both are very educated people interested and involved in the education of their children. Not only they read and informed themselves about the latest theories of children’s bringing up, they would like not to repeat the same mistakes their parents made, but transfer the things they appreciated about their education. Many aspects to be taken into account when deciding about the routines to be respected by their children, about the eating habits of their kids and organization of their leisure time.
This conflict might also be the reason for their separation. And exactly the same talk can go in their heads for years. This search or rightness will never end.
When we argue and cannot agree, we face our differences. In cross-cultural couples, we face cultural differences, in any couple we face family culture differences. There is not one person alike. Even if we read the same book about education, we might not interpret it the same way.
Instead of focusing on proving yourself right, be curious.
At the same time, when we argue, we try to use all the logical and reasonable arguments. Sometimes, it is easier to decide when one of us knows. Especially when we don’t have time to discuss differently. If Tom is an expert in electricity, let him be right when something at home has to be repaired. If Sara is specialized in history, let her explain when and where, and why an event happened.
But, in many discussions, there is no right and logical approach, none of us is an expert;
MEET ON EMOTIONAL LEVEL instead.
Share how you feel instead of convincing, explaining yourself, and educating your partner.
For example, tell your partner how much his behavior hurts you, instead of informing him about his lack of integrity, lack of values, and moral code.
Deciding with the heart
When we come down to the emotional level when we are aware of our differences when we know that there is no absolute truth we can be relieved because we know that the only right decision comes from our heart.
It is our unique decision. It might be that someone else would decide differently in our situation, but someone else had never been in our situation. Each situation is different, only we know.
We lost a bit of this capacity to connect with our inner selves. We can call that gut feeling, inner voice, intuition. Very often taken by the external environment, we forget to look inwards. I see many people around who cannot get in touch with their emotions, cannot make them space, cannot accept them, so they look for some external escape – consumption, addiction, distraction.
To get in touch with your emotions I advise you to use your creative energy in a way you are comfortable with. Some people prefer meditation and sit with their feelings, some people sing, dance, paint, write,…Breathe, bring the focus inside, observe.
Reconnect with your heart.
Once you learn to identify your feelings, make space for them and accept them. Once you become the person you have always wanted to be; once you live an authentic life; the moment you are in line with yourself, you will know what is the best for you.
“The only real valuable thing is the intuition.” Albert Einstein
Don’t let yourself be guided by your fears, learn to accept them; revisit your beliefs; and;
Desire the love that makes you feel good.