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Tired of Not Knowing Whether to Stay or Go? Why Not Do Both?

Marriage in a time of choice

At worst, indecision is a killer. At best, it’s exhausting.

Because getting a divorce would impact you—and those around you—for the rest of your days, it’s understandable that you’d want to think it through as much as possible. There’s also a lot to consider: how the kids will handle the breakup, how you and your spouse will do, who will live where, what finances will look like, what others will think, what the future will hold and so much more.

Although leaving any relationship can be challenging, for those couples with kids, the decision to stay or go often feels like a moral dilemma: stay and model a not-so-good or even bad relationship; leave and negatively impact the kids’ lives. For this reason, some people never move away from the “thinking about leaving” phase. In fact, I’ve seen people remain undecided for years. Even decades.

If it weren’t for the fact that indecision of any kind is incredibly draining, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But it is depleting and sometimes downright debilitating not knowing whether to stay or get divorced.

Normally high-functioning people start to lose their edge. Those who operate primarily on an even keel begin to show signs of imbalance. And, what I see more than anything is that those who would otherwise have enough energy to go through a typical day are often, by the time they come to see me, exhausted.

Don’t Try to Fix the Driver When It’s the Car That’s Broken

I believe the cause of the problem is not the husband or wife facing these relationship challenges or the one who wants out. The problem lies more with the institution of marriage as we currently practice it—each spouse having to be soulmate, romantic partner, co-parent, financial/business partner, social playmate and much more.

We are expected to follow a basic set of rules in our unions and when those rules don’t work, we don’t know how to handle it. We blame ourselves. We blame our spouse. We think the breakdown is caused by human error. But when we do this, we miss a huge flaw in the system that has caused many people to split up when they may not have needed to.

In my recent work with potentially divorcing couples, I’ve helped husbands and wives get out of their Marital Indecision Cycle by explaining that they can both stay AND go by finding nontraditional and creative ways to resolve their dilemmas. I explain: change the rules of your marriage.

Many couples just stare at me blankly when I offer this advice or they resist but I ask them to hear me out. Then I explain how it might look: stay as a family under one roof, keep the legalities of the relationship intact, remain as co-parents and financial partners, keep your monies together.

But leave in other senses of the word: lead separate social lives, perhaps date other people or bring others into the relationship, create an exit plan, change the goal of the marriage from love-based to purpose-based (parenting marriage).

I realize this option won't work for everyone but I believe it should be talked about before resigning yourself to stay unhappily or filing dissolution paperwork.

Expanding Your Idea Of What Marriage Is Can Help You Keep It

It’s hard to wrap our heads around marriage looking so different when we’ve been taught for the past two hundred years or so that the only reason to get married is for love and that the marriage should end when the love goes away.

Marriage is an evolving, growing institution. We have more lifestyle choices than ever before—we can live anywhere we want to, we can have whatever career we choose and we can marry (or not) and have one, two or ten kids (or none) without stigma so why can’t we rewrite some of these matrimonial mandates and make marriage something that suits us on whatever level we need it to?

We can, and people are.

Although some might feel threatened by this new reality, I believe it is just a sign of the times and that sooner or later, you or someone you know, will be deciding to transform the traditional marriage into something more personal and practical.

Have a question about this or a story of your own to share? I'd love to hear from you. Please leave a comment or contact me at

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