“If I end my marriage, it will hurt so many people.”
“If I stay in my marriage, I will be so lonely and miserable.”
When you are unhappy in your marriage or common-law relationship, it’s hard to see things clearly. Troubling thoughts like these might be swirling around in your head non-stop. How do you decide whether to stay or go?
Any decision can be hard, but a major decision like this can be one of the most challenging. I sometimes hear people judge others for ending a marriage or relationship too easily. In my experience this is not true. I see people agonize over this decision for years, and even when they do decide, I have yet to meet anyone who is 100% certain that their choice was the right thing to do.
To build confidence in your decision, you can start by quantifying things. On a scale of zero to ten, how happy are you in your relationship?
Then, try these four steps and see if they help:
The first step is to look at you. Ask yourself: Do I take my spouse for granted? Do I look for the good in my spouse? How do I support my spouse? What can I do more or less of to nurture my relationship? This may seem like an odd exercise when you are considering ending your relationship, but many of our clients at Family TLC tell us they want to make sure they have done everything possible to save their relationship. Asking questions of yourself and evaluating your contributions and beliefs about your marriage is very important to help you decide if you have done enough.
The second step is to examine the communication between you and your spouse. Many clients tell us they had no idea their partner was so unhappy and they were very surprised by the decision to split. As a therapist I used to wonder how could someone have no idea that their mate was so unhappy. Through the years I have realized that even though people think they communicate clearly, the message has not truly been heard. This is where counselling can really help. A skilled counsellor can help the two of you communicate effectively and have those difficult conversations about what is wrong in your relationship.
The third step is to set some goals for the relationship. If your partner refuses to participate, then do the exercise alone and make sure the goals are only for you. We cannot change anyone else so do not try. If you are working on these goals together with your partner, then make sure there are three different sets of goals – the things you will do, the things your partner wants to do, and joint goals you will both do.
The fourth step is to evaluate your progress by monitoring your relationship on an ongoing basis. Many people think they have a great memory and that they can see things objectively. In truth, most people have a poor memory for facts, and are better at remembering the subjective things that reinforce our beliefs. If we believe the marriage is bad and we are unhappy, then we can easily remember the evidence that supports that. So write things down and keep a record. Use a checklist and track both the positives and the negatives. Look at frequency, duration and intensity. Do this for at least a month and then look back. Are things better than you thought or are they worse?
Once you have completed these steps, rate your marriage again from zero to ten. Now compare this to your earlier rating. This should help you decide your next step.
Ending a marriage or long-term relationship is never an easy decision. These techniques can help you achieve a balanced view of your situation, and back up your feelings with clear facts about the reality of your situation. From there, you can be confident that you’re making the best choice.