As a relationship counselor, I listen to many people who wonder if they should break up or stay together. Of course, that answer is not for me to decide. Instead, we go over the advantages and disadvantages of staying together. We sort it out, and then they can make a decision.
Because all relationships are different, the reasons for staying are unique to each couple. The pros and cons certainly do not fit a checklist. However, there are some behaviors to look at, which might sway the pendulum to one side or the other.
- Do you live (or wish to live) a separate life from your mate, even though you still live under the same roof? Are you finding yourself arranging your life to limit activities with your partner? Instead, are you focusing on other people and unshared activities? Are you finding more pleasure in being with friends than your spouse? If so, you’ve already started separating from your relationship. Now to clarify: friends and other interests are important, but they should not be the “main attraction” compared to your mate. If you would rather spend time with friends, then you are showing your preference.
On the flip side, perhaps you want to try to merge together again with some shared interests. Sharing creates mental and emotional bonds that support the health of a relationship. How often have you heard the statement, “We have nothing in common”? If you and your partner have at least one positive, pleasurable activity or interest (besides children) that you currently share and look forward to sharing in the future, then try to do more of it. Pick something to do together that you both like and that gives both of you a feeling of closeness for a while. If you do not have a shared interest, then try to cultivate one.
- Do you do everything you can to avoid physical contact with your mate? When you like and love your partner, it’s natural to want to touch him or her. Something is wrong when you or your partner have little interest in holding hands, sitting side by side, hugging, or sharing vulnerabilities. Intimacy is often misunderstood as only sexual in nature and ignored in many relationships. Affairs are one consequence of the absence of such closeness. If you find yourself ignoring or avoiding your mate’s attempts to connect to you through intimacy or everyday conversation, it might be a clue to “trouble in paradise.” Research tells us about the importance of communication through touch and physical connection, as well as by talking with each other. People “need” people, and this need is what a relationship is based on. A lack of closeness cannot be ignored and must be dealt with for a relationship to go the distance.
- Do you still like your partner? Of course falling in love was wonderful, wasn’t it? Some of us would probably enjoy falling in love every day. When we fall in love, we usually like the other person. Or we are so smitten with desire that we do not even know much yet about the other person. With more time, as the “in love” feeling moves into a more comfortable love, you may find qualities and behaviors in your mate that you actually don’t like, or vice versa. The problem arises when interest and respect are lost. Is there a willingness to change, for either of you?
- Is only one of you putting effort into the relationship? For a good relationship to flourish, both people must be involved. As Gene admitted, “The less I give, the more I get back.” No wonder Julie thought things had become unfair. She seemed to be doing so much of the giving that Gene didn’t have to do his share. Both must be willing to make some changes for the relationship to continue.
- Are any big deal breakers present, such as alcoholism, drug abuse, verbal or physical abuse, compulsive gambling, or compulsive spending (to name a few)? If so, there is no question that these behaviors have to stop or the relationship will falter.
To stay or leave is a complicated question and unique to each couple. What is important is to call it out and examine the problem, rather than sweeping it under the rug. Some people are ambivalent and choose to stay, thinking the relationship difficulties will work out. But this tactic doesn’t produce any real answers. Instead, I urge you to take an inventory and ask questions, somewhat like the ones discussed previously. See if there is enough respect and loving feelings left. Are you both still open to giving love and being loved? Are the two of you ready to solve problems together and in a way that strengthens the relationship? If the answers are yes, then go for a “stay” solution with all you have.
It’s never too late to believe in yourself enough to roll the dice one more time…but at what price?