Have you ever asked yourself, “Do I stay in this relationship or do I go?”
Briana MacWilliam and I discuss the difficult decision of whether to divorce, ending a long-term relationship, or whether to invest fully in the relationship with the hope that things will get better.
The Decision on Divorce and Separation:
As Briana highlights, many couples are wrestling with the question of separation, especially when children are in the picture.
A common comment I receive from very unhappy couples is, “If it weren’t for the kids, I would have walked away a long time ago.”
While kids are important, it’s also necessary to realize that your kids will imitate your behavior rather than what you say.
“[The research] that children can be harmed by how their parents handle disagreements has led many to conclude that these children would be better off if their parents split up. However, many of these children are hurt by how their parents fight, regardless of whether or not they stay together. What we mean by that is that these children don’t really do that much better if their parents divorce, because their parents still have not learned the skills to handle conflict in a healthy way.” – Howard Markman, Scott Stanley, and Susan Blumbger – Fight for Your Marriage 3rd Edition
Underneath this question of separation is a hidden dream and longing for change. As Briana remarks, you may not need to leave your relationship to get changes because the dissatisfaction or suffering may be due to how the way conflict is handled, the lack of time invested into having fun together, or an emotional disconnection that needs some attention. Sometimes new skills and tools can drastically change a relationship.
A common question I ask couples making this big decision is, “Do you want to divorce each other, or do you want to divorce the patterns you’ve created together?”
As Gottman’s research highlights, how you talk about a problem typically (96% of the time) determines how well you alleviate or resolve that problem. So learning the skills to talk to each other differently can change a lot.
Sometimes working on the relationship does lead to a mature separation due to a recognition of differing values. This can lead to a strong co-parenting bond because you are doing it from a place of acceptance.
It’s also worth mentioning that with a partner who is untrustworthy, uncommitted, abusive, and contemptuous, it is be best to leave that relationship.
Questions to Understand Your Deepest Desire:
If you want to understand your deepest desire—and potential personal obstacles to taking action on that desire—Briana would recommend asking these questions:
- What do you want people to think of you as? How do you want people to perceive you?
- What don’t you want people to think of you as? How do you not want people to perceive you? What is the worst thing you think that people may think about you?
- When you feel threatened, at a disadvantage, or unfairly treated, how do you respond in those situations? What is your pattern? Do you try to dominate or withdraw?
- [Complete the sentence] Sometimes my response creates a bigger problem when…
- [Complete the sentence] If I didn’t respond in this way, I am fearful that…
Our identity and expectations can empower or disempower our romantic relationship. By doing an exercise like the one above, you can intentionally sculpt your values into ones that can foster a deeply meaningful bond that works for both your partner and you.
Reframing and Expanding the Narrative
Every moment of our life is narrated by a voice in our head. Sometimes this narrative can be constricting and instill fear. As done in both narrative therapy and CBT, it can be very helpful to reframe how you see something.
A helpful question to ask yourself when you are experiencing a difficult moment in time or wrestling with the difficult question of whether to end things is, “If this is the best thing that could be happening to me right now, what else would have to be true?”
Maybe the uncertainty I have around this relationship gives me the opportunity to look at something I haven’t explored in years. And maybe by looking at that thing, I’ll know myself better and move closer towards being the type of person I want to be.
When you reframe and expand the narrative, you can engage life and love in a different way that can change a lot of things for you and your relationship.
If you want to learn more about how I assist couples with fostering intimacy year round, check out my Intimacy 5 Challenge here.
If you are interested in learning more about what attachment style you have, and how knowing your attachment style might offer simpler solutions to your relationship problems, I invite you to take Briana’s Quiz.