Do any of these sound like you?
I’ve been miserable for years but I’m just not sure.
I know I should leave but the time is never right.
Sometimes I’m ready to leave but then something good happens.
I know I have to go but I’m worried I will regret it.
If any of these sound like you, I have good news: You’re in very good company. And that’s simply because leaving is hard, and caring, thoughtful people don’t do it without a ton of careful thought.
As I’ve said at least a million times before, people in good relationships don’t spend their days wondering if they should stay. They don’t think about it when they’re driving their kids to school. They don’t think about it when they’re standing in line at the grocery store. They don’t go to therapy to talk about it.
If you’re doing the should-I-stay-or-go analysis right now, you know how miserable it can be. How it consumes your every waking moment. How nothing really feels right because the uncertainty is always there.
It’s in your kitchen when you wash the dishes. It’s in your bedroom when you pull back the covers. You can’t get away from it. It follows you around. And, I also have bad news: Until you make a decision, it won’t stop.
Here are some important things to weigh:
1. Indifference. It’s said that opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. Translation: If you’re past the point of caring about the relationship or your partner, could be it’s time to go. Why stay with a partner or in a relationship you don’t care about?
2. Keep track. A reality check can’t hurt. Keep a calendar — or make a private note in your phone — marking good days and bad. Give yourself at least a month or two to get a fair tally. How many of those days were spent unhappily? If there were good days, what made them good? Remember: The absence of unhappiness should not be confused with happiness. If you’re relieved a day wasn’t bad, that doesn’t necessarily mean it was good.
3. Percentage. It’s been said that any healthy relationship is at least 70 percent good. Is yours? There is no such thing as perfect bliss, so kindly take that into account. Every couple has struggles. But the good should largely outweigh the not-so-good. In other words, you should at least feel peaceful most of the time.
4. Time. How long have you been thinking about leaving? Has it been a few months or a few years? A few bad months strung together may not mean it’s time to move on. All couples go through rocky times. But if it’s been years of strife and struggles, you may have your answer.
5. Foundation. Think about the foundation — the beginnings — of your relationship. Did it start out with love, understanding, and warmth? Or were there issues you were concerned about from the get-go? It’s not always the case, but couples who are able to access their happier beginnings may have a better luck getting back to those roots. If it’s never been good, you’ll have a harder time making it so.
6. Partnership. Is your partner willing to do the work? Is he/she open to making changes? Going to therapy? Dealing with any addictions? You absolutely cannot do this work alone. If your partner is willing, you’ve got more of a chance to get the relationship back on track. If your partner is unwilling or thinks you’re the problem, that’s a problem.
7. Kids. If you have them, this decision is nothing short of brutal. If you leave, are you scarring them for life? Are you bequeathing a legacy of separation or divorce? But you may want to ask yourself what your kids are seeing on a daily basis. Are they watching you in a relationship filled with affection and respect? Or are they seeing their parent(s) living in cold, detached misery? What they see now could set the table for their future relationships. (Note: If there’s any violence in the house, you’ve gotta go. Now.)
8. How bad is bad? With a few exceptions, only you can define what’s bad for you. What you might be willing to tolerate may be someone else’s breaking point. But if you’re feeling these things consistently, you may have hit bottom:
- You feel more alone than partnered
- Being apart from your partner is preferable than being together
- You can no longer rely on your partner for support (in any form)
- Your partner has no desire or capability for change
- Being with your partner requires you walk on eggshells or create anxiety
When it’s possible, do the work. When it’s possible, figure out if you can get enough of what you need to stay. But when staying feels impossible, it just might be because it is.