Consider: Should You Stay or Move On?
You didn’t anticipate this day when you said, “I do.” Like most people, you thought your decision was a life decision. You stood at the beginning of a relationship and family building process that would last a lifetime. Sharing your life with a person you love, work, family, friendships, a home, children, building your assets for a shared future: it was a vision that inspired you and your partner.
And now the shattered pieces of your dream lie about you. Perhaps you’ve been together for many years, and your connections are complex and multi-layered. Perhaps you’ve been together for a relatively short time, and it’s easier to disentangle yourselves. Either way, contemplating the loss of a relationship is painful, usually complicated to a greater or lesser degree and often scary.
Your first question is, should I stay or leave the relationship? But your first move is to step back and take a deep breath. Can you live with things in limbo for a while? Leave decision-making for the future while you go through a process?
Consider these steps as part of your process:
- try to reconnect to good feelings
- consider the positives that first brought you together
- make a preliminary decision about your relationship
- if you decide to stay, consider the negatives or challenges in your relationship
- learn how to communicate about these negatives effectively
- if your decision is to once again move forward, begin the hard work of repairing and rebuilding.
So you took that deep breath. You think you’re comfortable in limbo for the time being. You’re ready to move on to the next step.
Reconnect to good feelings.
See if you can find a mental space to connect, even momentarily, to the good feelings that once were part of your relationship. Take an imaginary trip down memory lane. An impartial listener, someone who will not judge, is an important part of your process. It’s sometimes hard to see the ways we sabotage ourselves or blame others. Sometimes it’s hard to sort out the confusing barrage of feelings that accompany a relationship in trouble. A good listener can work with you alone, or with you and your partner, to help you reconnect to your positive feelings. It’s an important part of your decision-making process to break through hurt and anger.
Consider the positives that first brought you together.
Try to remember what drew you to each other. If you and your partner can, either together or with an impartial third person, tell other about those things. Be specific. Remember things you have done together that you enjoyed. Specific things. If it’s at all possible to do those kinds of things together now, do them.
Sometimes a genuine expression of caring or a belly laugh over something ridiculous creates an opening through the layers of hurt and anger that build up over time. Whether or not you stay together, piercing through hurt, anger and disappointment and connecting to genuine caring feelings will bring you to a healthier, happier space sooner. It will help you make a better decision for your future.
If you can break through the hurt and anger that inevitably builds up in a troubled relationship, think about the positive qualities of your spouse, the things you appreciate. Make a list. Again, if you can do this as a team, better yet. Share your lists with each other. Keep negatives out of this discussion and off your list.
Make a preliminary decision about your relationship.
Chances are good that the partners in a troubled relationship both have a long list of complaints. These negatives must come out for discussion at some point, but it’s a good idea to hold them until you can determine if there are enough things working in favor of your relationship to do the necessary hard work of trying to save it. If you decide that your relationship is salvageable, there will be a time and a place to deal with those negatives once you build the skills.
Learn how to communicate about the negatives effectively.
The things your partner does that hurt or anger or bother you and vice versa are challenging. Often criticism consumes a relationship. While both partners in any relationship are sure to have a laundry list of criticisms, the strongest marriages are those in which both partners can make a list of positives and negatives, feel that the positives outweigh the negatives, and put away the laundry lists.
Many of us never learned effective ways to tell others about those negatives — or how to hear them. A good outside listener can provide guidance and tools for this kind of difficult communication.
If your decision is to once again move forward, begin the hard work of repairing and rebuilding.
As you move forward, keep before you the positive characteristics that brought you and your partner together, and continue to learn how to manage conflict effectively.
Sadly, some relationships just don’t, can’t or shouldn’t work. If you cannot retrieve any caring feelings, if trust is irreparably broken, if abuse is an issue, and you decide to leave, an impartial listener and guide is invaluable to help you move through a different kind of decision-making process, the process that will position you in the best possible way to move forward with your life separately from your partner.
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