Should I stay or should I go?
How I Stopped Fantasizing About Leaving My Marriage and Committed to Creating the Love I was Longing for
So, your partner sent you to read this...
You could take that as “pressure” from her and either push back or collapse and deflate. I recommend you do neither.
Instead, I want you to see it as a sign. A clear sign of a couple of things that will appear more obvious once you read my story below:
1. Your wife/partner WANTS to stay with you and make it work. She has shown a certain level of commitment to look at her side of it. I know because she read an article that I wrote specifically for her and women in her shoes to challenge and empower her. I honour her for reading it and for inviting you here to look at your side.
2. Your relationship is neither as good nor as bad as you may have been imagining it. You may not believe me or understand why I say that, but as you read on, my hope is that the reality of your situation becomes clearer. Not by me telling you what to do, but by the virtue of you wanting to be honest and make the best decision to stay or to go that leads to more true and lasting love in your life.
I sincerely hope that reading my story (below) will help you to make a choice that is more powerful and loving than the one you may be making right now (which is either to leave out of reaction to stay without being fully in the relationship)...
God knows relationships are the hardest thing on the planet to master and we can all use more guidance, community, and patience to help us find our way.
As men, we were never taught anything really practically useful about how to navigate challenges that come up in a marriage, beyond some pat advice that is nearly impossible to live by.
Here’s my humble and maybe messy attempt to give you something better than advice. Something hopefully nourishing and refreshing to chew on instead.
Lets start with the obvious...
You've already tried...
Lets apply some compassion first. It’s understandable. You probably grew up being taught that it was the most effective (or only) way to get attention, approval and love. Except it never really got you the love. Approval maybe.
That was my experience. Some context of my past.
Has the cost of trying to…. has gotten too high? (impact)
Effect on relationship stability
Here’s what I did…
It’s easy to summarize….
Makes me amazed to see the arc of my journey. If you told me that I would go from A to B over those years, I would not really believe you. I was pretty stuck on…
At the same time, given the changes I went through, it’s hard to do justice to HOW I did all of that. Years of therapy, men’s groups, honest, courageous and loving partners who helped me heal this and grow is a start.
At the same time, I have seen this pattern in men ~ as a friend and a therapist/guide to men ~ over and over again. And I have seen that these chains can be broken. And a new way can be found. And it does not have to take every many as long as it took me. Nor have to cost so many good relationships and so many years of guilt and shame and blame. I’ve mapped out the emotional steps in more precise detail. It’s a perilous terrain -- the world of strong emotion (especially negative ones like fear, anger, shame, etc.) that naturally come up in an intimate relationship -- but you can learn to navigate them and get beyond to a place of much more ease, joy, and satisfaction with your partner.
If you can relate, here’s what I recommend you do next… It’s not a short pithy new agey higher wisdom type bullshit response.
It’ll take some time from you.
Go to this link and sign up to take this short training. It’s private and safe. And a gift from me to you. It will give you a lot more clarity on where you are at and what is possible.
So, what's the catch, right?
To be fully honest, it's also a test for me.
If you want help in making the ultimate decision, it will end with some options (including working with me and my community).
And it will help you discover which of the 5 Relationship Saboteurs is ruining or dampening the love in your marriage.
I suspect it may be THE PLEASER, but I could be wrong.
After you get your quiz results, I will share with you more of the exact steps and even demonstrate it -- with my wife there to keep me honest as usual! : )
So, here’s it is, what I suggest you do about his being on the fence with you?
1. OWN THE IMPACT
2. ACCEPT BOTH SIDES
Ambivalence is a fancy word for having contradictory feelings/desires. Really. It may seem paradoxical, but, somewhere deep down, when you aren’t holding down the fort trying to hold the marriage together and being a faithful wife/partner, you probably also, on some level, question being with him.
By owning that you have even a little bit of ambivalence, you do three powerful things. One is you put more onus on him to convince you to stay. If you always say YES, this makes him want to say NO. Just how reverse psychology works, it polarizes the two of you. One chases the other one pulls away and runs. Owning your own desire to pull away, makes it easier and more seductive for him to consider staying. This is not about certainty or control. But, about being more honest and effective on your side.
Two is you let go (even a little) of judging him. Chances are, if he is conscientious enough (I would suggest you don’t stay with someone who is NOT) he already feels shame and guilt about being not fully in with you. Shame and guilt tend to keep men stuck and or reactive by making really bad decisions, which neither of you want.
Three you normalize uncertainty and being torn. Life is all about that. Love and especially committed relationships need the honest space for both partners to feel all of their emotions. How else can you have true love and intimacy that embraces all of who you are, if you hide parts of yourself? Honest liberates you both and lays a foundation for true love to grow. And yet, honesty is not enough to make some relationships last (in my humble experience). So, here is the next suggestion.
2. make a mutual time bound commitment.
Meaning, despite your own ambivalence, you state your commitment to love him fully for say 3 months and you ask him to do the same. To put aside questioning the relationship long term, etc and just be here fully with you. Why? Because the spark of love as a feeling fades without being tended to. True and lasting love is a choice that we make every day to care for one another.
You may or may not need to explain to your partner WHY you want him to do this with you. I think of the metaphor of gardening… “To create stable soil for this love to grow -- lack of commitment and questioning is a constant uprooting that creates unnecessary instability which hurts us both and doesn’t give this love a chance. I will only keep tending this garden if you join me in doing so.” If he is not willing to do that, it also exposes the truth, that he is more out than in. This is the simplest test to flush out if there is a genuine desire on his part to stay and invest what is needed for it to work. If he is in, the chance of him committing more and surprising you both increase greatly. If he is not willing to do this, you can feel good about loving him and leaving the situation yourself to create an actual relationship with someone who will dedicate themselves to tending this garden with you. The least of what you deserve.
3. plan together to do W.I.T. (Whatever-It-Takes).
This is where -- if he is committed to the previous invitation -- you get specific and ask for him to clarify what-it-will-take for him to be fully in the relationship with you. You outline what it will take for you as well and you both make commitments to support each other’s plans.
This is where it gets most powerful and also where initially it could so easily get sticky. If you put couples therapy on your plan and his plan is more about doing some inner healing work, what do you do? Do you insist that he has to come to couples therapy? Do you acquies? Or, do you negotiate and haggle and dig into the details? I suggest the later. Why does he want to do it on his own and will that be successful? Can he include you in his process? Can you do something else besides couple therapy if that is something he is against but which will meet the goals you wanted to pursue. This is where the harder work begins. You discover your edges and differences and also your common hopes and longings. You stay together and maybe you don’t work it all out (even in this lifetime) but in the time bound frame you’ve agreed to, you work on it together and that is the key.
You are loving the other person and tending the Garden of Love together and that is what a real relationship is. It is not the fantasy of our wounded child within that wishes that our partner could read our minds and know exactly how to love us perfectly every minute of the day (and night). It is a maturing and real love instead.
"What do I do when the time runs out?"
At the end of the agreed upon timeframe, you decide to re-evaluate, being courageous and completely honest about this experiment. And then you both decide whether to continue together or not. If one of you is out, the relationship is effectively over. If you are both humbled and sobered by who you both are and what it takes to love and stay with the other person over time. It will get better if you continue, but now you have experienced some of the journey together to know that it will go through good times and also through challenges and low times. You have a much more realistic sense and now the next decision has to be made -- another time bound commitment to tending the relationship. Sure, maybe one day the ambivalence will fully vanish and you can both honestly see just being in it forever. Until then, you act like you are in fully with all that you have. One loving chapter of your lives at a time.
"How do I encourage him to to look at his side?"
So, if your man has decided to commit to staying for a certain time and loving you as best as he can, I recommend you gently encourage him to look at what gets in his way of feeling loving and loved.
One way for him to do so may be through therapy, coaching, or counselling. With that I recommend him shopping around and testing a few out to find one that he will trust and who he has confidence in to help him.
Another path more appealing to him may be joining a men’s group. For my own reasons, I personally recommend MKP (Mankind Project) and stay away from Sterling Men’s work.
If none of those options appeal to him and if you really think he might gain value from another kind of path, I recommend you invite him to read this article directed to him personally. It talks about the struggles I had over whether to “Stay or Go?” and offers both heaping tablespoons of compassion and tough love for him to swallow. I also offer a quiz for him to discover what part of him is actually sabotaging the relationship and his ability to feel love. There are more free resources at our site, and a training for men who are ready to do some deep healing work, but the article is a good starting point.
Please remember to not push the river (er, your man). Give him a nudge to check out this article and ask him to tell you if he can relate. Empower him not with judgment or shame but making powerful and loving choices yourself and encouraging him to decide what he will do to match your example.