How do you decide if you should stay in a relationship or leave it?
There is not magic formula to determine if you should stay in a relationship or leave a relationship. However, there is a possibility of gathering helpful data to support your decision making process. In our work with clients, this question comes up quite a bit. While we can’t answer that question for anyone, we do encourage our clients to gather information so they feel more confident in their decision to stay in a relationship or leave it.
It’s important to remember that with almost any decision we make, we don’t know the full outcome of that decision. We encourage you to consider making your decision with information you have in the present and to stray away from information that is not tangible (for example what ifs and promised changes).
Should I stay or leave?
Here are some helpful ways to gather information that our clients use.
1. Make a list of all of your options. When we are in this place, it may seem like we only have two options: stay or go. However, depending on your situation you may be able to consider a therapeutic separation, taking space, living apart for a few weeks or months, an in home separation, and so on. This exercise is just about listing options, not if the option is practical or liked. When we recognize we have options, it helps alleviate feelings of powerlessness. Sometimes our clients list options they find completely ridiculous or even silly…but knowing they have more than two options alleviates a lot of pressure.
2. Create an observation board.
This is the most used technique for our clients. This board can be imaginary or kept in a journal. Think of it as an NCIS board; it’s full of information that naturally leads to conclusions. The board is used to gather information regarding your partner or the relationship. It helps eliminate judgement in the moment when an experience occurs and encourages you to look at the other information you have before responding to the situation or making a decision. It is also important to notate any “positive” behaviors or outcomes such as following through on a promise or an apology. Before drawing any conclusions, check the observation board. At times, when our clients do this, they notice that while their partner may have missed a commitment, they have also increased their follow through on other commitments. However, they may also see an established pattern that demonstrates that commitments aren’t being kept. In either case, now you have some form of data to consider.
3. Use the Wise Mind activity. Wise Mind comes from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). Its purpose is to help you make decisions with both emotion and rational thought rather than one or the other. The activity asks you to make a list of all of your emotions, your rational thoughts, and then the balance between the two. Here is the worksheet many of our clients use. This tool is very helpful for slowing down the thought process to respond to situations and/or make decisions.
4. Create a 4 way pros and cons list. While it may not feel good to put your relationship on a pros and cons list, it can be helpful to have another set of data. This activity is helpful having a data set to balance the emotions that are often overwhelming and confusing when deciding to stay or leave a relationship. You may not necessarily use the pros and cons list for your final decision, but it can help you sort out important factors and deal breakers. Some clients weight the factors they list, giving each item a score and adding them at the end. This scoring isn’t an exact science, but can help you see the differences in your factors and lists. Here is a worksheet you can use.
5. Check Your Values. Our values provide a road map for making decisions. Create a list of your values and assess if your current relationship fits into these values. If not, can the relationship change (within reason) to fit your values? Here is a worksheet we often use in values work in our practice. While it is not directed at relationships, it can help you assess you values.
6. Identify Your Ideal Relationship. Create a list of qualities that your ideal relationship and/or partner would have. If your current relationship is different than your ideal relationship, how big is the difference? Is it possible for your current relationship to grow into your ideal relationship? Is it possible for your current partner to meet your needs? Make sure the factors you have identified in your ideal relationship are attainable. Additionally, are you willing to equally meet the standards you are requesting (if applicable)?
Making the decision to leave a relationship or stay in a relationship is difficult. It cannot be made purely by logic nor purely by emotion, but the balance of both. Even after trying some of these activities and talking with those you trust, you may still feel lost. The best way to move forward is one day at a time. Our therapists have worked with a number of individuals and couples in navigating the difficulty of relationships and can help you work through these steps and many more. Please reach out to us if you need additional resources or have any questions.