One of the frequent relationship issues that people seek individual counseling for is the perennial question whether to stay in or leave a relationship. While there are many variable to consider from one case to the next, there are some key elements to consider before you make a decision. Here are a few:
1. Don't make a decision when your emotions are running high.
There can be many reasons that lead someone to wonder whether they should stay or go, and more often than not, I always recommend to slow down and really delve deeper into the question. Barring any physical or verbal abuse, chronic substance abuse, physical harm to a child, or a extensive history of affairs/deceit, many people can hit a point of clear disillusionment with their relationship. To shift from high emotions to what we like to call a "wise mind", consider the following:
- Seek counseling with someone who will provide you with the skilled space for exploring your options.
- Make use of great resources that are at your disposal. Start with "Too good to leave, too bad to stay" by Mira Kirshenbaum.
- Educate yourself about what a divorce would entail for you and your children. Don't rush into a decision without knowing your rights and the necessary measures to be taken if you decide to go through with leaving.
- Regardless of what your decision will be, start prioritizing your personal growth. Engage in activities and friendships that will foster wholeness within yourself.
2. Ask yourself why are you staying?
Most people don't seek therapy the moment they notice they are unhappy in a relationship. Usually, months if not years go by before a person gets to a point where he/she is feeling burnt out by the relationship. When you've been able to tolerate your partner despite all the frustrations you have, it's safe to say that there must be some clear reasons that have kept you in the relationship all this time. Maintaining hope that things will get better might be one of them, but unless you decide to seek professional help for couples therapy, that alone is not enough to stay. Reasons spanning from the happiness of your children ("Even though I'm not happy, he is still a great dad.") to ensuring financial stability can be legitimate reasons to stay in an unfulfilling relationship. Be clear with yourself why your relationship is worth preserving even when things are not perfect.
3. If you've decided to stay, then determine what are reasonable expectations you can have from your partner and relationship.
What ever your reasons for deciding to stay, you need to make a (mental) list of reasonable expectations to have of your partner or your marriage. Some couples grow apart because either pre-existing value differences are starting to emerge (this usually happens once couples become parents) or one partner has evolved away from their spouse. If your partner is not showing any interest in your new hobby, you need to come to terms that you have different interests and continue to cultivate those activities you enjoy. If your spouse has turned into a workaholic and has not taken heed of your requests to be more attentive, then there's no point in continue to expect that he/she will put the work phone down during the weekend. You're only driving yourself crazy.
4. If you decide to leave, then project into the future (let's say a year from now), will you be able to have a clear conscience that you've done all that you could reasonably do to improve the relationship.
Many clients will waist precious time trying to understand why their partner is doing this, that, and the other. Unless these questions are meant to reconcile the narrative of your relationship or uncover some sympathy toward your spouse, it's not going to yield much in terms of making a decision. You are better off taking the space and time to focus on yourself and what role you have played in the relationship. How did you get here? How were you draw into this relationship? While your partner may be 97% to blame, can you own that 3 percent? And what can you do differently with that 3 percent? Can you learn new ways to communicate your needs and longings? And when you've done what you reasonably can do and you know you've grown from this relationship, then you know that you won't look back wishing you had tried harder.