There will be many people who have started the year with the thought that they need to change their relationship status from attached to unattached. Those same people might also have had that thought last year and the year before and maybe even the year before that. The daily grind of ineffective communication, sweating the small stuff, arguing and being unhappy takes its toll in the end. Most couples have, at one time, thought about ending their relationship but can usually find a balance between what is good and not so good. They strengthen the positive and work on the not so positive for the good of the relationship and they find a way to move forward. This is the hope for all of us who have committed to a future with another human being.
However, there are some couples who find the above difficult. They are unwilling or unable to find the balance. They live their lives in a situation where dysfunction reigns, there is no effective method of communication or conflict management and defensiveness and resentment are the main elements of their interaction. Small issues that could be handled effectively escalate into uncontrolled drama leading to such situations as silent treatment, constant loud interaction and continual point scoring. Yet many of these couples stay together in this state, which incidentally can go on for many years without improvement. There are many reasons for this, some as individual as the people themselves but why would anyone wish to live life this way?
Leaving a long term relationship is extremely difficult, however bad it is. The transition period can be difficult and the new issues faced can seemingly be just as bad as the old ones. I am not advocating looking at your relationship and finding a reason to leave it but there comes a point where everything has been tried…you have vowed to work on the relationship, professional help has been sought but it still doesn’t work. Many therapists and couples will have their own idea of where the point of no return is. However, my feeling is that if you are in a situation where your needs are not being met and, for whatever reason, you cannot or will not meet your partners needs, or if you are giving and not receiving, it is time to move on. Every choice one makes in life carries a consequence and doing nothing is also a choice.
Lets look at some of the potential reasons for staying when it is clear you should think about going. As a therapist, I see this often and I believe there are often fundamental reasons why this happens. The list of course, is not exhaustive and there are other individual reasons that play in.
Fear. In my opinion, the biggest factor in the stay or go question and it can be fear of many things. Being alone, facing new challenges or situations, of making the wrong decision, dating, upsetting someone etc, etc. It drives us to believe that the familiar is better than the unknown. While that can sometimes be true, instead of thinking and believing that a better situation is possible, we work with the “better the devil you know” attitude. This adds to the very resentment that might be present anyway.
Eternal Hope. We often go into a new relationship full of adrenaline, fueled by the so-called “honeymoon period”, we all go through as couples. This often leaves us blind to the realities of the person we are with. So-called “red flags” are ignored and expectations are high that this is finally “the one”. That image can be shattered as time goes on as the relationship becomes more routine and the natural process of getting to know someone brings realities home. This adjustment is essential if the relationship is to survive. However, many couples hang onto the hope that the person they met will return.
Codependency. Many codependents have the quest to “fix” an inappropriate partner. In a codependent dance of dysfunction, they sacrifice their own needs for the good of others. The thought of being alone is a dreadful one for them, so they hang on. However, when they inevitably do not get the return they want in terms of security, victim mentality and resentment can follow. They sometimes believe that their partner will not be able to survive without them. Others are locked in controlling, abusive relationships and cannot find a way out.
Societal and Family pressure. We are very sensitive to being judged by others. Sometimes couples stay together to avoid this judgment from society and family and this is before religion and culture come into the equation. We all try to portray a perfect image of our relationship to the outside world and for most people looking in, it is perfectly ok until it isn`t! It may even be an expectation that divorce is not an option or an attitude of “sticking it out”.
Lack of Knowledge. Some couples just lack the experience to know any different and believe that “that is just the way it is”. They may have seen their parents acting the same way or even other couples. This is as good as it gets!
While making any decision that may lead to ending a relationship never comes easy, we are often ruled by our emotional side and fail to look at logic and reality. While pure logic might lead us not to look at things objectively, realism will point us in the right direction. If you are in a troubled relationship, ask yourself basic questions:
How am I feeling being in this relationship?
What is wrong and have I done all I can to look at my own input…are my thoughts and fears realistic?
Have we done all we can as a couple to move forward…have we talked, tried to manage conflict effectively…do we listen effectively…are we seeing things from the other side?
What else is possible?
Am I prepared to stay when I know I should go?