If you are wondering when the line has been crossed and when it is time to set your boundaries and gracefully leave a relationship, you will have to rely on your judgment, your heart, your emotions and support from those who don't have an agenda for you and your relationship. Below I offer a tool for helping you gain some clarity. Before I reveal the tool, I'll give you some case studies that show the complexity of deciding to stay or go.
1) The Smart and Sexy Pirate. Sally was in love with her boyfriend who was attractive and charming. He was also intelligent and kept her thinking and inspired. However she kept having this problem that she couldn't trust that he was faithful to her. She also wasn't sure she could trust everything he said. Sometimes she wondered if he had a hidden agenda with her.
2) The Golden Retriever that Was Hard to Live With. Beth was living with the guy of her dreams. When she met him she fell in love with his good looks and intelligence. Now that they were living together she realized he was not easy to be with. He argued about everything, always playing the devil's advocate. She knew he had a heart of gold and was totally devoted to her, but wondered if marriage was in the cards since day to day life was more challenging that she thought.
3) The Trophy Partner. Brad was in love with his girlfriend who was everything he ever dreamed of. She was beautiful and fun to be with. After they moved in together he noticed that she spend a lot of time recreational shopping and asked him if he would like to finance her cosmetic surgery. He thought she was already beautiful and didn't think she needed any improvements. She told him she just wanted to make him the happiest man in the world. He was worried about staying with someone who was so high maintenance, but was she was easy to talk to and she was always the life of the party.
Reading through these brief excerpts it's obvious that each decision is highly personal and you would need to know lots more information to have a clear idea if a person should stay or go. But these stories illustrate the basic points of my tool for helping you gain clarity.
For purposes of simplification, think of each person as having 3 different layers that reveal themselves more the longer the relationship lasts.
The Three Layers of Love Tool
1. In the dating relationship, you only get to know the Superficial Side of your date. This is the person's personality and level of attractiveness. A person can be shy or outgoing, fun or serious, assertive or passive among many other traits that we can figure out within a few dates. Many people make decisions about whether to keep dating someone on appearance alone. Many people also make judgments about level of success early on and use that as the main factor in deciding whether to continue a relationship or not.
2. If a couple decides to live together or has been dating for a long time they get to see another layer - what is this person like to live with on a day-to-day basis - this is the Daily Dose layer. Some people are irritating, stressed out, easy to be with, woefully disorganized or super-orderly. A person who is more controlling might be harder to live with and a person who was more passive might be easier to live with.
3. At some point you will gain a sense of the Core Essence of a person. Is this person solid gold? Easy to trust? Predatory? A natural born wanderer? The Core Essence reflects whether a relationship will be "built to last" or not. If you want a long term relationship with someone to last a lifetime, a central quality to look for is trustworthiness.
Most of us understand that in deciding to stay in a relationship, the most important layer is going to be the Core Essence of a person. The problem is that it can be really hard to figure out what is the Core Essence of a person and what is the Superficial Side and what is the Daily Dose.
For example the Smart and Sexy Pirate was a "thumbs up" in the Superficial Side and the Daily Dose. He was attractive, successful and on a day to day basis fun and stimulating to be with. All of these traits can create high powered feelings of attraction that make it confusing that at the end of the day, you don't trust this guy. If you find yourself wondering if he's telling the truth, and knowing at some level he can't be faithful to you, you might consider if this guy is really a keeper. This can be really hard to do with all the intense feelings you might have that might drown out the still small voice that knows something is off. If deep down you know something is wrong but are hopeful that he will change once you get married, you might want to ask yourself if that is a realistic hope. Many times it is not.
In Beth's case, she was confused by the day to day irritations of arguments over small things. In her gut she knew the guy at his Core Essence was solid gold. When she reviewed her past relationships she realized they had failed because she had been attracted to the "bad boys." She reflected that those relationships had failed because over time she couldn't trust the bad boys who lived up to their reputation. When she was able to separate the day to day irritations as reflecting the friction of managing two lives with their own stressors from his central core as a loyal and loving partner she realized that she was eager to forge a passionate partnership with this "keeper." She sought therapy to understand why she had ever found "bad boys" so attractive and gain communication skills to smooth out the day to day irritations.
When Brad used the tool of the three layers to sort out his complicated feelings for his girlfriend he began to see that his girlfriend's consumerism was a reflection of a Core Essence that was empty and desperately insecure. Even though she was beautiful she never felt good enough. She had never explored her depths because she had so many men interested in her that if one relationship didn't work out she always had many temptations and men eager to rescue her. He realized that spending his life supporting her recreational shopping to fill her inner void would be a life of hardship.
If you are wondering whether to stay or go, you can use this tool of peeling away the layers of the Superficial Side, The Daily Dose and The Core Essence to help you make your decision. The most important factor should always be whether you are passionate about your partner's Core Essence. Daily problems can be resolved with improved communication skills and other relatively easy fixes. It is foolish to believe that you will be able to make changes in a person's Core Essence. It might be tempting to stay with someone who impresses your friends with their attractiveness and charm. Sometimes you might be tempted to stay with someone whom you have great sexual chemistry with but are constantly questioning his or her honesty. If you are looking for a relationship for the long haul, focus on the Core Essence.