It’s easy to say when to leave a relationship. Leave if you’re being abused physically or if you’re being abused verbally or psychologically and your partner won’t stop or agree to counseling. If your partner cheats on you and refuses to go to counseling, leave. If your partner has any kind of addiction, drugs, alcohol, gambling, Internet porn you don’t agree to, spending money he/she doesn’t have until the family can’t pay bills, and refuses to seek treatment, or sometimes refuses to even admit there’s a problem, you should leave because, unless someone wants to change, and then actively seeks some sort of support to create change like individual counseling, group therapy, AA, NA, or any other identified form of treatment, it’s unlikely they’ll change. Will power is seldom, if ever, enough to create lasting change. If your partner lies to you repeatedly, not white lies but big lies, for example, “I went to work today,” when he/she actually got fired the week before or “I’m going to my mother’s house,” and he/she doesn’t, instead going somewhere else, which they may or may not deny when you confront them, you should leave if there’s either an unwillingness to admit there’s a problem and/or an unwillingness to seek treatment and stay in it. When I talk about leaving, I mean leaving the relationship, not necessarily being the one who leaves the residence.
Why is it easy to say, “Leave,” in the above situations? Because in each situation, the person is unwillingly to admit there’s a problem or they admit there’s a problem but refuse to seek and stay in a course of treatment that will change the behavior. If you’re being physically abused, you should leave because that person is so out of control you could be seriously injured or even killed. It happens, and it doesn’t always happen to someone else. If it happens once and the person is really sorry, then they should leave while they seek out anger management counseling or an anger management group. He or she needs tools to stop themselves from crossing that line. And, by the way, there are plenty of women who physically abuse the men they’re with. Physical abuse is perpetrated by both sexes even though we most often hear about the perpetrator being a man. Statistically, more men abuse women than women abuse men but it still happens.
Now for the hard part, how do you know when to stay in a relationship? Why would anyone stay in any relationship that is troubled?
First of all, if any of the above conditions are met by a willingness to seek treatment and then a willingness to stay in treatment long enough for the behavior to change, it’s probably worth hanging in there.
All relationships run into trouble of one kind or another, sooner or later. It’s the nature of the beast. Take two people who profess undying love until death do them part, and it won’t be long until one is wishing the other an early demise over one situation or another.
Sometimes disagreements are resolved and the couple moves on. In situations where it seems like the relationship is falling apart, slowly but surely making a slow spiral down into something that doesn’t even resemble a friendship, there are things to consider before walking away from the time, energy, and commitment you’ve invested in the relationship.
First and foremost, if you’ve had children, you have an obligation to those children. It’s been my observation, over a twenty-five year span as a therapist, that children living in a nuclear family do better, particularly in adolescence. Two parents sharing the duties (and the joy) of raising a child or children, create a much better situation than one parent in one house and the other parent in another house shuttling kids back and forth like commuters waiting to turn eighteen. Once a pre-teen said to me, “I feel like I don’t live anywhere. I feel like my suitcase is where I live because I’m always carrying it back and forth from one house to the other. I can’t wait until I’m eighteen and I can tell them I’m not going to do it anymore.” Children are helpless. You brought them into the world and you should do whatever you can do to insure they are raised in a healthy home where they feel loved, supported, and heard.
Another reason to stay, is that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of that fence. Sure the woman/man at work who always laughs at your jokes and does nice things for you like bringing you a cup of coffee you hadn’t even asked for or listens to you as if she/he is really, truly interested in you, makes a compelling case to go off and live the life you always meant to live. If you’ve been living day in and day out with the same person and have reached the place in your relationship where it takes some effort and consideration to treat your partner the way you treated them when you first met, you might have the delusion that another partner will be better.
Guess what, in every relationship couples have disagreements, they get tired of each other, they don’t want to “try” to make the relationship work, they get bored with their partner, they get sick and tired of seeing the same torn up slippers or raggedy flannel pajamas or dealing with the annoying little habits that weren’t so annoying in the beginning. No matter how “hot” a new relationship seems, it’s going to go the way of all relationships.
The honeymoon does end for everyone. Suddenly your partner isn’t your ideal man or woman, suddenly you think you were tricked into believing your partner was wonderful, when really they’re not. And that’s the time when, with a little patience and effort, you can create and sustain deep and abiding love. Love that’s tolerant and understanding. Love that’s patient and kind. Real love.
Now you’re probably wondering just how you do that. This is the first thing you need to do: take your own inventory. Stop thinking you’re perfect and your partner isn’t even a close second. Stop thinking your partner is the problem and you are just stuck. You are just as flawed as your partner because you’re both human and humans are flawed. Sorry. The only fairy tales are in books.
Do you give your partner what you want? Are you romantic, seductive, kind, humorous, understanding, compassionate, sexy, fun, or any of the things you find lacking in your partner? If you can’t say you are then that’s the work you need to do first. Change yourself. Do to and for your partner what you want your partner to do to and for you. The best way to teach someone how to treat you is to treat them the way you want to be treated.
Too many couples are pointing fingers at each other when they should start by pointing at themselves. How tolerant are you? How forgiving? How kind? How much fun are you? When was the last time you did something fun or exciting for your partner and didn’t sulk or throw a fit if your stunned partner didn’t respond in five minutes to your overtures?
With a little practice, a lot of patience, and sometimes counseling for support and direction, you’ll grow into a gentle old age with each other and you’ll be happy you made the effort. You’ll be gray haired seniors living with your best friend. Your children won’t have to alternate holidays as children of divorced parents have to do. You’ll thrill at the births of your grandchildren and the joy of being grandparents (it’s true, it’s better the second time around). You’ll have a lifetime of memories, good, bad and funny, memories of loving each other, fighting and making up, holidays, vacations, raising children, sharing the joy and sorrow that all life brings with it and that is worth fighting for.
And last, but probably not least, you won’t have had to divide your assets, leaving both of you poorer, having to begin again with another partner, with less resources available to live the life you meant to live the first time around. You won’t have to divide your paycheck for alimony or child support. You won’t have to give up that house you finally have, the one you worked so hard to get, so hard to fix up or care for. You won’t begin another relationship with half of everything, including time with your children, having the notion you’ve finally found that perfect one, only to discover that the perfect one doesn’t live with you. He/she lives in that book, you know, the fairy tale book.