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Should You Leave or Should You Stay?

If you're on the fence about leaving, follow these steps to help you decide.

Key points

  • How you feel around your partner is more important to long term happiness than "love."
  • Men expect much less from their relationships than woman partly because the way their brain is wired.
  • Ongoing stress from work, health, or other issues may be affecting your mood and hurting your relationship.
  • Unexpressed needs can be a source of resentment and unhappiness. Don't expect your partner to read your mind. Risk be, vulnerable, and speak up.
Nacho Carretero Molero/Unsplash
Source: Nacho Carretero Molero/Unsplash

Is your relationship just so-so? Do you think about breaking up? Maybe you’re not sure if you still love or ever loved your partner? Even if you're being abused, you may still love your partner and think being single again would be worse and not guarantee that you'd meet someone better. Perhaps you fight and never resolve anything. On the other hand, maybe he or she has good traits – but something is missing. Do your parents or friends think that he or she is great – but you're still unhappy? Or do they urge you to leave, yet you hope things will improve?

You feel the romance is gone, but tell yourself it doesn't last anyway. You want someone to connect with physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, but wonder if your expectations are too high. Friends say you’re lucky if you get one out of four elements, or “He doesn’t hit you. He has a job.” Still, you’re restless or feel a vacuum instead of connection.

How do you decide what’s the right thing to do?

Steps to Take Before Breaking Up

You may think your relationship is hopeless. But before you throw in the towel, try these steps:

  1. Make an inventory. Assess your needs and prioritize them. Think of the four above categories and add financial, social, and more. This is very individual. To a feeling-type individual, sharing emotions is number one. f this is you, you may be feeling emotionally abandoned. Someone else values intellectual conversation, while another, shared interests, a travel companion, or financial stability. This is why no one can tell you what you should do.
  2. Consider which needs are your responsibility to yourself and not your partner’s obligation to fill for you. Make sure you’re not blaming your partner for your own unhappiness. You are responsible for your own self-esteem. A survey showed that men are happy if their marriage is 50 percent okay, but women are disappointed if it isn’t 80 percent okay. One reason women expect more from their relationships may be because they look to their partner as a means of financial security or personal fulfillment. Men generally look to their careers to satisfy that their need for fulfillment. More than men, women’s brains are wired for relating emotionally, and many women lack the self-efficacy and motivation to succeed professionally.
  3. If you’re stressed because of work or depressed for some reason, the relationship will suffer. You may not feel like getting close or able to enjoy anything. Take responsibility for your mood. Seek counseling if you need more support and can’t get it from your partner. You can expect short-term support from him or her, but not help with a persistent, chronic problem or grief that continues beyond six months to a year. Your mood, not your partner may be stressing the relationship.
  4. Pay attention to exactly how you feel around your partner. A key question is how you feel about yourself when you’re together. This is more important than how much he or she loves you. Love and attention will always make you feel better, but they're not the best predictors of long-term happiness.
  5. Particularly women often don’t trust their gut instincts. Instead, they rationalize staying in an unhappy marriage or relationship because the man loves her or is successful. When men are unhappy, they usually tune out their feelings and withdraw from the relationship emotionally, pouring their energy into work, hobbies, or an addiction. Both may seek sex or intimacy outside the marriage. Instead, listen to how your body feels.
  6. You may not be able to define what’s wrong or “what’s missing.” It may be the feeling of connectedness achieved through greater emotional intimacy. That’s not the same as romance, but more honest and deep.

Risk Being Vulnerable

  1. Once you get clearer about your needs and feelings, plan a quiet time when you and your partner can have a conversation.
  2. Speak honestly to your partner about what is missing for you. You can even say it’s serious and you’ve been thinking about breaking up, but that you don’t want to. You want your relationship to improve.
  3. Explain that you’re “unhappy because of ______.” Be specific about what behavior he or she is doing and how it makes you feel. Don’t label your partner (e.g., mean, cold, self-centered), which puts the other person on the defensive, rather than engaging him or her in the conversation.
  4. Then state why it (the missing element) is important for the benefit of the relationship. Describe how this behavior or problem affects your feelings about your partner. Don’t blame, but share your feelings and let the other person know the impact that his or her behavior has on you and your feelings towards them.
  5. Ask for what you want in the relationship. Specifically, describe the behaviors you’d like to see. Don’t just say what you don’t want. When you complain, and say, “You didn’t (or worse, “never”) do X,” you sound like a victim, and the listener will feel criticized and tune out. It’s more powerful and effective to state what you do want. Make it concrete and visual.
  6. Don’t expect your mate to read your mind. Some women object and say, “If I have to tell him, it doesn’t mean anything.” Think again. Isn’t it wonderful that he cares enough to be willing to listen to you and make you happy?
  7. Then let your mate know that if he or she does what you’re asking how you’ll feel. This gives him or her incentive. Tell him how loving (happy, grateful, impressed) you’ll be when he or she makes the change you want. Reassure your partner that you know he or she can. Give examples of changes in the past, or the way he or she treats others or accomplishes goals.

You may not be able to define what’s wrong. It may be a feeling of connectedness achieved through greater emotional intimacy. That’s not the same as romance, but more honest and deep. It may take a skilled therapist to help you find it together. If you decide the relationship is worth trying to save, consider couples/marriage counseling, before walking away.

One caveat: If your partner is highly defensive or has a personality disorder, such as narcissism (NPD) or borderline personality disorder (BPD), it will likely be more difficult to have this conversation. You can point out their reaction as a problem you would like to see changed. See my posts about abuse, confronting abuse, abusive relationships, and how to leave.

Copyright Darlene Lancer 2010

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