Should I stay or leave my relationship
January is a busy time in the world of relationships. It is a month that is traditionally teeming with resolutions and renewed self-discipline, meaning the cities are filled with singles determined to take control of their dating lives and couples wanting to refresh, enrich and repair their relationships.
It is a common period of reflection too and so over the last month I have been working with both men and women who are going through the process of reassessing their relationships either independently or with their partner.
This article won’t categorically tell you whether you should stay in your relationship or leave it, but it will give you a few things to think about regarding whether to stay or leave, along with explaining the best mentality to have regarding any decisions…
Where the dilemma comes from:
There are generally two causes for getting to the situation where you are thinking deeply about whether to stay in your current relationship or not. The first is created over a period of time where the relationship is either becoming monotonous, or you feel that the relationship is selling yourself short. Basically, you can fathom a more ideal relationship.
The second cause is when there is one specific and often drastic event that makes you reassess the whole foundation of the relationship. This could be a betrayal of trust such as your partner cheating on you or lying to you, or it could be some other event that contradicts the person you thought you were with.
Having high standards:
The biggest thing to bear in mind when deciding whether to stay in a relationship or not is to be true to your personal standards. If you are a person who wants the absolute best out of your love-life then you must never settle for a relationship that is anything short of perfect for you at any given time.
A common suggestion from peers and even therapists to this whole situation is to list all the pros and cons of the relationship and see which side of the list is favoured more heavily when it is complete.
The problem with this approach is that relationships are dynamic and changeable. Not only will you find that certain points vary in intensity as your state changes from day to day, you will also have trouble pinpointing certain things as solely your partner’s fault.
A couple having constant arguments is a good example of this, as the bias towards whose fault the arguments are will lead to further inconsistencies. All in all, the list approach will probably leave you more confused and more indecisive than you were just basing your decision on gut feeling!
Rather than making a list of the good qualities your partner has, try making a list of the qualities you want your PERFECT partner to have and then seeing how your current relationship compares. Although there are many couples who manage to craft a lasting relationship despite not necessarily being ideal for each other or not being consistently happy together, you are doing yourself a disservice if you halt your search for the perfect partner in order to have a relationship or marriage prematurely.
There are many times in life where we don’t feel as much self-worth as at other times. For me, since deciding to take control of my dating life back in 2003, I’ve always made sure that my relationships aren’t decided by or affected by those negative moments.
What this means is that unless a relationship of mine at any given time is anything short of perfect then I will be honest with both myself and my partner and not try to make it something it is not.
The best mentality to have when deciding whether to stay or leave a relationship:
The following diagram shows the four different attitudes one can have when deciding whether to stay or leave a relationship:
Whilst the decision of whether to stay or leave is completely down to you and there is no right or wrong answer, observing the four final paths, it is quite obvious which two are the healthiest options. The four final choices can be placed into two categories: remaining unfocused and indecisive, or taking action and moving on. It is the second category that you want to follow, regardless of what your initial decision was.
If you stay in your relationship but don’t make any effort to change or solve any of the issues from the past, then those issues will remain.
If you decide wholeheartedly to stay in your relationship and then proceed to actually embrace that decision, promise to put aside any of your past conflicts and work on enriching the relationship then you are one step towards making it fulfilling.
If you decide that leaving is the best option but it is done without courage or clear thought, then you will inevitably feel the loss of suddenly not having a companion. It takes a lot of mental effort to move on after a breakup, which includes taking action towards finding someone new.
The key piece of advice here is to be proactive once the relationship is over and not dwell on what has hypothetically been lost. Feeling the loss is the main cause for couples getting back together after a breakup. Whilst the relationship can be different once it has been restored, remember that you broke up for a reason and it is imperative that neither person ignores the issues that were originally there.
To summarise the key points of this article:
- Be true to your personal standards and don’t settle for anything less.
- Make a list of how you visualise your ultimate partner and relationship and see if that is possible to create from your current one.
- Whether you decide to stay or leave, follow through on that decision with full commitment and positivity. 🙂
I was just browsing some of your old articles and a new one popped up on the homepage. I like my timing lol.
I think this is a great writeup. I remember you saying that you should only stay in a relationship that makes you happy and I guess this uses that point. The diagram makes the points really clear other I might not have fully understood.
Its been a while since my last oficial relationship but like you say I only want to be in one that is perfect. If I was in one I would definitely find this article useful tho so thanx.
Bad time to leave a relationship with valentines just round the corner tho no?
Yes I definitely still adhere to the notion that relationships should actively make us happy and add to our lives. I’m glad you like the diagram. 🙂
Whilst there is merit in your attitude towards only being in a relationship that is perfect, there is a lot of value in experiencing and learning from other relationships along the way. Else, you may not have the tools and skills required to make that perfect relationship last when it comes around.
A lot of a relationship’s success is in how each person applies themselves to it and the effort and understanding they utilise and this is generally only achieved through experience.
As for your comment about Valentine’s day, whilst it may seem a bit harsh to break up with someone before a special event, there will never be a ‘perfect’ time to breakup if the sentiment isn’t mutual. Common sense prevails in those situations.
Speaking of Valentine’s day though, next week I will be writing a ‘Valentine’s Day Special’, with tips and advice for singles, couples and anyone in between for the big day, so make sure you check that out! 🙂
Thanks for commenting,
Great new article for the new year Sam!
One thing I’m not sure I would want to do myself is to write a list of the qualities I would want my ultimate partner to have. I just think it is pretty harsh on your current partner, who you are with for a reason. They may not have EVERY quality you want, but surely they must have some as you wouldn’t be with them in the first place if they didn’t!
On the other hand I do agree that you should have the best partner possible, so if there are any doubts they must be addressed quickly.
Happy New Year!
Hi Eva, Happy New Year to you too! 🙂
I see your point and I agree that making a list of qualities whilst in a relationship may seem harsh. That idea was specifically for people who are already questioning their relationship. If someone knows that there are things missing in their relationship then the list idea that I mentioned helps them pinpoint what those missing areas are. Obviously if you are already happy in your relationship then there is little need to rationalise that happiness with a list or anything similar. 🙂
Thanks for your comment,
Welcome back Sam, I’ve been checking regularly for your return.
This is a great post for me as I have indeed been in that situation with my last husband. I think that when you are married it does make the situation a lot harder as you cant just up and leave so easily. I went through some of the processes you describe though and decided that my happiness was more important than my marriage. The diagram and description is great, I can definately relate to that.
Are you returning to weekly updates?
Hi Joan, it’s good to hear from you again. 🙂
I can definitely imagine that being married or even other factors such as living together can make the decision harder but I love the way you summed up your decision with, “my happiness was more important than my marriage”. I like that. 🙂
And yes, I should be settling back into the routine of updating every Tuesday and I look forward to hearing from you again. 🙂
Welcome Back Sam! I enjoyed reading this. I couldn’t agree more about making a decision and sticking with it. So many times, a person goes through a relationship hoping that something will change for the better. When it doesn’t, the strength to leave is easier to come by.
I also agree about high standards, but being alone isn’t easy and sometimes, holding on to those standards one can lose their grip. Still, standards are the best way to stay your true self and even if they get slippery at times, one has to believe they will bring you the ideal partner.
Hi Elena, good to hear from you! 🙂
That’s exactly right… A lot of the time, people in the situation we’re discussing will put off making a decision, hoping that things will magically resolve themselves and obviously they rarely do without any input. At some point there does become a ‘turning point’ where things become too much but often decisions can be made a lot earlier and easier.
You’re right that someone doesn’t want to have unrealistic standards that prevent themselves from experiencing any relationships. It’s about finding the balance between knowing what you are looking for and knowing how to find it!
Thanks for commenting and I hope everything is grand with you, 🙂
I think everyone has opposite ideas on this subject and a lot depends on the age of the respondent. As I have aged, my priorities have varied. I no longer look for anyone to make me happy, I look for society, person that will work with me for a routine goal. Other than that, it is up to yourself to be glad, and until you acquire to take care of yourself, your only preparing yourself up for grief and pain by reckoning on others to do that for you. One thing is that a love relationship is to much to charish to be operational in the first direct. Maybe you don’t have the brave for her, but if she screws you she will help you with that. Just ask her what am i doing wrong to piss you off and also make sure that every conversation at least one matter is right.
That’s a good point about how age is often a factor. As people get older there is a far greater desire to settle down and think of stability and direction as more governing factors in a relationship.
I’m not sure I would recommend constantly asking what you are doing wrong but you’re right that you should be in charge of your own happiness.
Thanks for stopping by,
Nice post Sam!
I might add to the discussion an idea of another way to get at a decision point —– if a couple reviews my little book, “A Short Guide to a Happy Marriage” (Boston Globe #1 relationship pick) and are not motivated to embrace the behaviors to give their marriage a serious try, they have lost the desire to try. But always see a professional therapist before you finally give up, you both owe that to yourselves, each other, and any children involved.
In an ideal world, all relationships would be suitable and everlasting and we would inherit the tools necessary to coexist with that partner happily for life. Unfortunately this isn’t the case and marriage only goes some way in artificially creating that. That is why I would still only recommend professional therapy in extreme circumstances, even for married couples.
Indeed, seeking therapy does show the willingness to make a change but even then there are enough resources available that are from a far more productive and enlightened angle than therapy.
Thanks for your input and I hope your book does well for you,
Thank you so much for giving this advice, I Have recently broken up with a long term boyfriend and was beginning to think that maybe it was all a big mistake. But your article here has reminded me of the reason why we are both better off going our separate ways. We are both still young and i believe more than anything now that when it felt like something was missing from our relationship, it was because thats how i truly felt inside and if we were to continue it would have been like being dishonest to myself. I am gutted of course that its over, and im going through the feelings im sure we all face when this happens, loss, and mourning for the times that we had, i also don’t wish for him to be upset, and hope hes gotten over all this without as much upset as i have had haha. we are going to give a go at being friends when we have gotten over things. and im glad that we can at least have gained a friendship from what we had. Thanks sam, for telling all of us thats its okay. 🙂
Your mindset is spot on; it takes a lot of insight to embrace the bigger picture when it comes to relationships and I think it’s great that you want to stay on good terms with each other yet not let it affect moving on.
Thanks for sharing your story, 🙂
Hi I’m really confused I’m 24 years old 25 in October I have been in my relationship for 1 year and 4 months with my boyfriend I’ve had 3 relationships before him so he would be my fourth relationship throughout my life he is also my first long term and my first love I think I know that’s sad but I am a late Bloomer I’ve never been dumped or etc. And for that been called a heartbreaker I’m tired of it I’m not sure am I just with him to kill that Nickname? Or do I love and want to be with him?he wants to be with me marry me and have my kids Please help me Sav.
I am also his first real girlfriend I’ve tried letting him go several times but he cries and says he loves me and doesn’t want anyone else but me and make me feel bad and I always give in to him and stay. With him
Well first I would say that whilst doubts are not always accurate, they exist for a reason. That does not necessarily mean that this relationship isn’t right for you, but you should definitely take some time to rationally think over what you really want out of a relationship.
This should be a decision you make on your own, based on what YOU want!
If you are a not even considering things such as marriage and children yet then make that clear to your boyfriend. They are both huge acts of commitment and you want to make absolutely sure that you are both completely fulfilled and happy in your relationship long before either of them occurs.
Aside from trying to separate yourself from your boyfriend’s emotions temporarily so you can make a rational decision and stick to it, you also want to drop any concerns about what people outside the relationship might think; they really don’t matter in this instance! Only you can decide, using some of the techniques mentioned in the above article, if your relationship is right for you.
Good luck in whatever you decide,
Found your website and you sure have a great way of giving advice and being to the point.
At 52, been with my husband since 21 (married since 26) and dealing with this painful question, trying to figure myself out, etc. It is a very difficult place to be in life. I am questioning my “standards” as you have pointed out and this is why I’m separated from him for the last 6 months.
The major event was finding out last August (2011) that my husband has a daughter (22) from an affair he had back in 1989. Add to that another event of some type of an affair 12 yrs ago (that I had put under the rug) and then from early 2010 through 2011 a decline in our intimacy (which started me thinking it was someone else again), hardly spending any time together because his work takes over everything (although he always has time for his clients) and just the feeling of being “roommates”. Also, he is someone that will leave a note saying “thank you for dinner”, maybe because he feels guilty but he is a “note” guy. My husband claims that the reason for the last 2 years of “lack of a attention to me and our relationship” was that he was focused on the daughter he had just connected with. He had originally denied that she was his daughter, way back when she was born and she never knew she had another “biological father”. He was the one who decided to look her up and eventually tricked her without her knowing on getting on DNA so that he could find out. It turned out that she was and then she found out about this father she never knew. Then I find out out his family and employees had known for 2yrs+!. I don’t have anything against her and even her mom because he knew he was married when he did this. So, another thing that really got to me as to how he went about it and becoming friends and deceiving the young woman (I think she was 19 then) to get her DNA without her mother knowing. In any case, at first I was irate and then I proceeded to put it “under the rug” until it hit me 2 months later that I was not dealing with this and why was I allowing it. It took from Aug to Oct for me to have a reaction to all of this and to start to wonder if there were other affairs, etc. and then I this out of body experience as if I was looking at myself from another person’s point of view and said “where have you been, why are you allowing this?”. I felt very strong for about 3 months that I wanted out and felt very confident. He went from apology at first and being caring to later saying that I was making this more negative than was it is. That I was only focusing on the negative side of our years and not the positive things. He asked if I wanted to go to marital therapy and I said no because I truly felt we were just going to deal with a “marriage” issue and not “myself”. He eventually told me that he would respect my decision and that I will always be the women of his life (not that this “title” really matters to me) Since Oct. we are separated in our home. I sleep in the bedroom and he sleeps in another bedroom and we don’t do anything together but only communicate “business related” stuff. My issue is now that do this guilt stuff on myself (started going to a therapist over 1 month ago) where I’m thinking that I could have done more, that I’m not giving it another chance, that after all he is great in so many other ways (he is generous, financially responsible, etc). I’m also financially responsible and at one point made more money than him (one of the reason he gave me for cheating back in 89), keep myself fit, and have always worked. So, my dilemma is not about kids and finances. I’m finding that I get lonely, that I feel like I’m doing something wrong by not “trying again” or even trying to go to marital therapy (if he still want to go and if he said no then I would be fine with it). My therapist thinks I’m very hard on myself and that I did everything I could to keep us going in the past. I’m very confused as to my feelings for him “caring vs love”, he is someone that is an overall good person, and so am I. I truly want to make a decision and I feel stopped and depressed at times with some bright moments of feeling strong and knowing I can go on with my life. My family and friends support me and that helps too. Any input and advice will be greatly appreciated.
Being with someone for so long and for the majority of your adult life does make the decisions more difficult as there are fewer comparative experiences to draw from.
There is so much history between you and your husband but you must try your hardest not to let events that happened so far in the past influence your decisions now. That doesn’t mean to put them “under the rug” but instead to fully accept that they happened due to past circumstances and feelings. Detaching yourself from any blame is the first thing to do, whilst simultaneously starting to feel more in charge and responsible for your decisions.
There isn’t a definitive overview for how a marriage should be. Just like a young couple dating for the first time, you can have any relationship setup you want! Professional therapy may help but only if it inspires a positive attitude. A lot depends on the therapist in question; some are a lot better at connecting and understanding than others. Dwelling on past memories does not help going forward in my experience.
Although you have technically been separated recently, living under the same roof means that it will take even more thought and awareness to mentally detach yourself from the situation and work out what you really want. Whether you end up together or not, finding a way to connect once more, uninfluenced by the past, will help. From there you can see whether friendship, courtship or intimacy evolves once more. Remaining in a state of relationship limbo will make all of the above difficult to achieve.
All the best and thanks for reading the website,
Hi, i have been together with my bf for almost a year now. At the very beginning, things were very good. Then came a time when we almost broke up due to a misunderstanding..see before he asked me out, he made sure i knew about the problems he faced with his family which i think affected his last relationship. One time he became distant, i mistook his behaviour for wanting out as i tend to overthink and think the worst, but he explained to me that he was facing problems with his family and that he wants to be together. Things got better, we had another misunderstanding but solved things. The thing is, what he says doesn’t match his actions, he tells me he misses me alot and wants to see me..but he cancelled the last two times we were suppose to meet yet he was the one who made the plans. Right from before, we usually speak once a week, is this a bad thing? I do think that guys are the ones who should be the one to pursue the girl..which is why i let him to the planning and intiate calling/texting. I would intiate calling, planning and what not if things were really good, but at the moment things don’t seem that great between us, however the last time we did speak, he said he misses me alot and hopes to see me soon. I like and care for him a whole lot and i want things to improve. But im confused, im not sure if things are the way they are because his family problems are affecting him again..if thats the case, i want to be there for him. If not, could he be losing interest? or is he just plain slack? This is why im also unsure whether it is a good idea to leave the relationship for my own good or stay and hope things/he improves? Any advice to help me will be much appreciated.
If your boyfriend has other aspects of his life, such as family, that might be affecting his lifestyle, confidence or decisiveness, then it is understandable why some of his behaviour towards you might be confusing or changeable. For this relationship to work it is the understanding and communication that needs to improve first, although that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to have in-depth discussions about it.
I certainly would not advise passively waiting or hoping for things to improve. There is a saying that states, “If you keep doing what you are doing, you will keep getting what you are getting.” This is true for relationships too.
Instead of waiting for your boyfriend to make an effort to instigate change himself, you can help and inspire him to do so, using a better relationship for the both of you as an incentive.
Try not to make assumptions about how he is really feeling and instead base your actions on what you want out of the relationship now and ways you can make that happen. If he is losing interest, his response to any renewed enthusiasm from you will make those feelings obvious. If it is habit, naivety or emotions that are the cause, then you will start to get more out of him as your trust, communication and passion for the relationship starts to improve once more.
Put aside how things have been recently, including all the misunderstandings, and indulge in one final effort to figure out why the relationship has become what it is, and ways to change that from your perspective.
Thanks for reading,