It comes up reasonably frequently for clients in relationships to question whether or not to stay in the relationship. I get asked my opinion, advice or thoughts. I’m always very clear that it isn’t for me to voice my opinion. That we are there for their truth.
What I do ask them for purposes of clarity is:
“If your partner never grows, if they continue with the same patterns and behaviour and never change, could you see yourself being with them as they currently are?”
The reason I ask this question is because in the majority of situations, the person who comes to me is in fact looking to work through their own behaviour and patterns. Being the change ourselves, can in fact instigate change in the other person, the partner. When we make changes to what we will or won’t accept in another person’s behaviour, when we learn to recognise what we want and need and how to ask for it in a secure way, we generally find that our partners begin to respond to this new change. It can take three to six months for them to come out of their old patterns of behaviour in response to your new ones. It can and very often does happen that one person can have a huge influence to the relationship and be the change maker. The relationship grows and changes and can begin to flourish.
When someone is coming for coaching, they are in some way stuck. Maybe stuck with their own patterns that need further uncovering and support. Or, stuck in their own growth because their partner is not growing or doing so at a considerably slower pace.
It becomes difficult if you are the person making the changes and doing the work, being accountable for how you are showing up. It can feel like a battle taking the full responsibility of the relationship when the other person resists change.
Resisting change is not unusual as I discuss here. We can go through phases of being shown a part of ourselves, a shadow piece that we don’t want to admit is there and we may deny it. Generally something uncomfortable and very often an inner-child piece is the resistance because we don’t want to admit that somewhere along the line our parents weren’t always there for us. It can also feel frightening to acknowledge the part we are playing in our own stagnation in a particular area of our lives. Change can require a leap of faith or doing something so different to what we’re used to that our nervous system and ego hold us back - trapped in the familiar albeit unhelpful pattern. So for this reason, it isn’t unusual to go through periods or moments of resistance.
However, when the person resisting does so frequently or doesn’t even attempt to look within it can leave you, the person doing the work, feeling like you can’t move forward. The resistant partner may get defensive and not respect boundaries that you begin to be put in place. They may make passive aggressive comments around your own growth work, putting you down about it as a way to protect themselves from the need to look at their own stuff. They may not recognise the change you are making and continue to behave and react to you in familiar patterns that keep trying to pull you back into old habits so that it can begin to feel stressful and lonely. It’s at this point that you may question whether it’s time to move on or try again to ‘make it work’.
What makes it difficult to take the leap? To let go? To end something? To transform our lives? To change direction?
We grow up very much with the idea that you find a life partner and get married and stay with them until the day you die. We know that divorce rates are high, at least in the Western world, and that marriage rates are decreasing but there is still the social conditioning that being in a monogamous and long-term relationship is something to aspire to. This creates a huge amount of pressure. There can be the feeling of shame and failing. It’s as though if you choose to leave, you are somehow ‘giving up’. That you are destroying a family. That there is someone specifically at fault or to blame. That we have to stay with someone out of duty.
What if we looked at the quality of our relationships as self-care? What if we frequently checked in with our partners, ensuring that we are on the same or similar growth path? That our values still aligned? That we have the same life goals? That we make decisions on our relationship based on these factors? By asking these questions we are in this way consciously choosing to stay… or separate.
If we find that the answer to these questions is separating, how about instead we tell ourselves that it is positive to want something more fulfilling for ourselves. That we are modelling to our children self-respect, that if a relationship isn’t working it can be healthier to separate. We are being mature and opening conversation on what has worked, what isn’t working and whether we have the capacity to make it work. If a relationship isn’t aligned choosing ourselves is healthier than projecting resentment, discontent and our wounds back onto our partner. Or, allowing anything to happen or be said in the relationship for fear of conflict or confrontation - in effect, when this happens we completely lose ourselves and become almost a shadow of who we were. It creates the loss of aliveness, of giving a part of yourself to something that isn’t supportive of your authentic self.
We can be afraid of being alone. Being afraid of not having anyone to be there for us when we need them. Of not having the support. Of not having someone to come home to. In these instances, when we truly look within, we can sometimes find that we can be in a relationship and the loneliness is still there. The fear isn’t so much that leaving will create loneliness, in fact the thought of separation can in fact bring the realisation that we were already lonely but just had not recognised it.
We can feel a huge sense of responsibility to the other person. That in some way we need to look after them. After all, they haven’t actually done anything wrong specifically. We might drift apart, try to find our way back, but then notice that the drifting has taken us both in two very different directions. But, because we ‘made a commitment’ and ‘don’t want to hurt’ the other person, we stick around. Again, allowing ourselves to be drained by a relationship that no longer brings us what we want or need.
Maybe we have children and fear how they will deal with it. Especially if we have seen how other people separated and it affected their children. What we need to remember is that our children are always watching and learning. They can very often see and sense if a relationship isn’t functioning and fulfilling. Showing them that communication, respect and being able to understand when something isn’t working for us is healthier than staying ‘for the children’ will teach them that self-worth is important. After all, don’t we want our children to be happy? Don’t we want for them healthy, thriving and loving relationships? Wouldn’t we want for our children to separate from a partner if their needs aren’t being met? Then showing them how to separate in a healthy way and that it is a form of self-care is a preferred step and better way to teach and guide them.
We can be afraid to move on because although there isn’t the growth, or emotional support, or love or whatever it might be that is missing, we stay to hold onto the idea of what the relationship was. What it used to be.
So what can separating and moving on look like? It can look like completely moving out and living in separate accommodation. Separation can also look like living together but officially changing the agreements of the relationship and making everyone in the family aware - including children.
How you choose to do you doesn’t need to be defined by other people’s expectations and ideas. Decide what you want. Propose it to your partner. Then you both get to decide how that might look.
Carla Crivaro is a trauma-informed and certified Sex, Love & Relationship Coach, she works with men and women internationally to reach their goals in delicious sex, profound love and authentic relationships. Carla helps men and women understand themselves and each other, sexually and relationally, in and out of the bedroom. You can reach her at email@example.com.
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