The Ticket Out
Love relationships and marriage can be so difficult that they test every fiber of our being. During tough times some partners teeter on the brink of ending their relationships. Many unhappy partners bounce between staying and leaving; between hope and hopelessness. While struggling to come to a choice, partners may live with crazy-making emotional fluctuations, a symptom of the battle between the head and the heart, while determining the best course of action. Should I be true to my needs, or stay true to love? In addition to loving a partner, we also have an obligation to love ourselves. Swinging between these values and stuck in indecision can torture a partner resulting in emotional instability. Outlined below are three factors that can help a partner who is struggling with relationship uncertainty to become more clear on the choice: should I stay or should I go?
Mostly true in marriages dissatisfied partners need to earn the ticket out. Our love relationships serve a deep purpose that gets little attention: facilitating our growth. If we do not do the work of growing, we set ourselves up to face the same life lessons repeatedly and in our next love relationship, like the movie Groundhog Day.
The first element is by growing in every personal area that our relationship demands of us. If we do this growth work, we are fulfilling the original underlying purpose of choosing this partner and this relationship. When the work of growing is complete, we become released from the obligation we have made and the relationship bond is loosened. By improving yourself, you are stating behaviorally that you are ready to be in a healthy and satisfying relationship. Growing personally also helps to make a good relationship even better.
The second element is eliminating our contribution to the relationship problems. Only by asking ourselves with rigorous self-scrutiny: “how much do I contribute to the problems?” may we fully own what we bring to the problems. Otherwise we may never understand why the relationship unfolded as it did. Subsequently, with every bit of our strength, when we take action to eliminate our contributions to the relationship problems we may be more certain about ourself.
The third element is giving our best. Partners in troubled relationships are easily controlled by their hurt and anger. An angry person gives far less than his or her best. Poor attitude and negative behavior help to produce a poor relationship. Our best includes being non-judgemental, patience, accepting of the partner, not taking the partner and his or her limitations personally and being compassionate. Our best requires that we give love generously, but balance it with the strength to assert our limits. If we make a full commitment to delivering our best, consistently, we are then ready to internally set a generous enough deadline that our best efforts may produce a result and may actually improve the relationship so that it becomes good enough. If we choose to end the relationship, the three elements have prepared us to be our best for a new partner.
If after the predetermined interval the relationship hasn’t improved while we have grown due to all the lessons that the relationship is providing, eliminated our contribution to the problems and given our best, then we are free to end the relationship…if that remains our choice. However, the efforts may have improved the relationship; staying in it may then be more satisfying. If we still choose to leave, doing so can be executed with confidence and without regret. Loving ourselves means always putting ourselves in a good position and by going through these steps we may stay or leave while feeling good about ourself. Andrew Aaron, LICSW is a sex and relationship therapist who practices in the New Bedford Seaport.