The questions to ask yourself if you think it is time to call it quits….
There are signs that not all is right in your relationship, including early warnings signals that you brushed off and ignored months or years ago. You may feel that although you are dissatisfied, so much is tied socially, economically, and emotionally with your partner, that it may be worth attempting to patch things up, and renew your commitment. The decision to leave, however, is difficult and different.
The following will help you clarify your mind about your current situation.
- Did your initial meeting result in positive impression? (a client* stated that her feeling when first meeting her now ex-mate was of intense dislike, yet the person had been described in such glowing terms that she was eager to find the ‘good’ in him and was flattered when he showed interest in her)
- Did you feel reluctant to commit, yet you agreed to date, were engaged with your mate for, at the time, valid reasons despite hesitations?
- Did you engage in out of ordinary behaviors, such as crying, feeling apprehension that was not the excitement of meeting him/her, suffering from ailments or depressed moods, or feeling unease as your relationship progressed?
This will give you a clue, as your intuition or guts feelings spoke, whether you and your partner were a match. Listen to your body as you interact with a person or think bout them.
Jody* recollects that on her wedding day, her fiancé John was behaving oddly and was in a sullen and quiet, even sad mood. He had behaved that way in the few days leading to the ceremony. She barely noticed at the time, and attributed his reactions to the stress of the wedding. Weeks later, he left her abruptly, after telling her that he had had doubts from the time of their engagement and had not wanted to go through with the wedding, because he had realized, that he “didn’t love her.” Jody was devastated and, in retrospect, wished she had spoken with John before the wedding.
Some things we do not recognize until the relationship is well established. Maybe your courtship was flamboyant and a roller coaster of exciting emotions, with dreams and great expectations. Your mate looked ideal though, as some aspects of their personality shone through, you felt somewhat uneasy but said to yourself “we’ll address that in time” or “I can accept this.”
Mary * recalls how in the first 9 weeks of meeting Brad, he blew up in two huge temper tantrums as she unwittingly made remarks upsetting to him. She noticed the anger and the following silent treatment, and decided at the time she could handle it, as she was able to reason him through the blow up. She was unsettled, but confident that the matter could be solved if she would tell him how upsetting his behavior was to her. Soon, however, she started avoiding discussing topics that would ‘set him off’ no matter how important the matter was to her. She built up resentment over time as she felt she had to put up with anger out of proportion, while being ‘punished’ by him with his silences, if she, in turn, was to express angry feelings. Meanwhile Brad’s rages became cyclical and habitual over their 10-year marriage, and grew in intensity. Mary left Brad after one of his tempers resulted in her being physically injured.
A honeymoon period lasts generally between three months and a year after meeting your mate. Then reality settles in, as partners get back into their old habits, the ones that were habitual to them prior to your encounter and courtship. Later on, a point balance is reached, where one learns to live with their partner’s behavior… or does not.
When you reach that stage, it is normal to ask yourself “should I stay in the relationship?” As you explore the reasons for asking yourself this question in the first place you may then consider the material and emotional implications of leaving or staying. It might be a good idea to grab a notepad, and list the benefits and consequences of staying or leaving. This may cover: reasons for unease, whether recoverable or not, characteristics of your mate, areas of discomfort, upsetting and satisfying personality traits, etc, down to material aspects such as the cost of living alone, division of assets, burden of rebuilding a new life, living and coping as single parent, etc.
This sounds rather clinical; yet taking stock may also help you realize how much you value your partner!
These are questions to ask yourself as you contemplate what to do.
1. “Have I ever been happy in this relationship?”
If the answer is a definite “No,” or if the answer turns to “No” right from after a ‘honeymoon period’ of romantic love and chemical highs, then, it cannot be fixed, as it never worked in the first place. If the answer is “Yes, sometimes,” or “Yes, mostly”, you may want to explore the current source of your disappointment, and decide whether to work on the relationship or not.
2. “It felt right when we met, now it doesn’t. Is it reason to leave?”
Life is dynamic. Your partner may experience issues. Your life situations have evolved or changed. Explore your answers to the next questions to help you determine whether you are holding on to a sinking ship or are too ready to jump ship when repairs are possible.
3. “Is s/he as willing as I am to initiate some changes in this relationship and work with me at solving some of our issues?” and “I bring the same issue time and time again, but s/he does not appear to take it seriously.”
If your partner is not willing to work at your relationship, it will not work.
4. “Am I invested in making this relationship work?” “Are we communicating on day to day issues?”, “Are my needs met, as I fulfill his/her needs?”
If answers are “No”, the relationship is already over. Having a partner who does not communicate their needs, or expects you to guess them, being unable to communicate your need, or not getting what you need, means the relationship is dead. Why prolong it?
5. “Am I ready to leave this relationship?”
Sometimes we are, so the outcome is easy. Sometimes we need to look at things from all angles, and the process can take weeks if not months. That’s ok. One day, all things considered, the decision will tilt to be a definite yes or no. Be gentle. Talking to trusted others or to professionals might help you develop clarity.
6. “Does my partner want out but fails to communicate this clearly to me?”
This is a blessing: if you consider leaving, the job is half done. No uncommitted person can become a loving reliable partner.
7. “Should I stay because of the kids?”
The answer is a definite “NO”. Studies show that children are very distressed in a bad relationship, possibly more so than children of divorced parents. This depends naturally on how difficult or dysfunctional your relationship is.
8. “My partner behaved badly.” “Did s/he commit to end the offending behavior and admit to it, or instead justify their actions and criticize and blame me for it?” “Does s/he make efforts to heal the pain, or is s/he not showing honesty nor empathy, and does not attempt to engage in a mutual recovery process?”
If answers are “No”, and your partner comes up with statements such as “you made me do it,” to justify their behavior, seriously consider leaving. If s/he does not come clean, or at least attempt to do something about the situation, things will get worse.
9.”My partner behaved so badly, could anyone in my position forgive him/her?”
If the answer is “No”, it is unlikely you would be able to forgive if any one else could not. You are only human. Examples of deep betrayal may be: partner maintains a secret family; engages in sexual activities that put you at risk; engages in illicit activities that may be dangerous to you and family; s/he injures you, threatens you, or blackmails you.
10. “Do I still respect my partner?” “Does s/he respect me?”
If the answer is “No”, s/he simply cannot be a partner. If you feel dismissed, rejected or condescended to, this is toxic, as all discussions are either attacking or defending.
11. “Is s/he unfaithful and blames it on me?”
If s/he justifies their philandering for your being “too jealous” (etc.), this is not acceptable.
12. “Is s/he physically or emotionally or mentally abusive?”
Get out quickly. If your dependence is so great that you feel you cannot, build yourself up with professional help. Take time to plan what you need to do. Patterns of abuse are learned in both family of origin and environment, and they reflect your partner’s set of beliefs and values. These are difficult to change. If your partner is committed to change a behavior that is acceptable to them but is unacceptable to you, then you may be able to get back together. Meanwhile walk out and separate until their own repair work is well under way.
13. “As well as engaging in various forms of abuse, is s/he personality disordered?”
Things may definitely get worse and escalate eventually to become physical abuse. Things may not get better. Cut loose as soon as you feel ready to do so, if you feel that your partner is not willing to seek help.
Whether you decide in the end to stay or to leave, expect … many difficult moments!
If you opt to stay, healing a relationship and changing relational patterns are a slow and uncertain process. It involves trials and errors, and a lot of commitment, from both parties, to change. It is possible though, and chances are that you and partner will end up fully and strongly committed to each other. To achieve this, you need confront several issues, such as trust, blame, reliability, depth of commitment, your role in allowing or accepting the evolution of the current situation, and many more. Though arduous, it can be a journey full of discovery and growth in companionship with mutual respect and trust.
If you opt to leave, things may immediately get better for a while, as you first experience relief from daily vexations. Then, you will have to deal with the emotional, social, and economic consequences of separation, together with learning to live as a single person again. There are complications. Our love may become an adversary; legalities may be involved; you may need to wean yourself from the addiction of drama, the need for a close and comforting, habitual physical presence, the loss of friends who feel they must side against you, the end of a way of life; and facing the unknown, wondering if there will be another relationship, and support along the way, wondering about your ability to make it on your own.
What to do? Stay or leave? Both paths are difficult. The consolation is: time is a great leveler. Nothing is forever. As the pain of working out issues in staying or leaving is felt, know that it will pass, and that, in that process, you will learn and grow, and become more aware of what works or does not work for you. If you do the work, you might go back to your now ex-partner and re-grow the relationship on stronger footings, or simply move on and be more knowledgeable about the characteristics you desire in a future partner.
* Names are fictitious, and stories are a composite of various discussions and reflections with clients and other persons.