Often clients ask me, “Should I stay with my partner or should I go?” This is obviously not a question I can answer for them, so I help them look at the big picture – their expectations, the reality of their relationship, their old patterns – to help them make their decision.
Many people feel bored in their relationships and wonder if someone else would be a much better partner. Some people decide to try and “have it both ways” and have an affair.
Initially, an affair can feel so exciting: your lover seems to have all the qualities that your (boring, predictable) partner doesn’t. You feel understood in a way your partner never could. This, dear readers, is characteristic of an affair. It is full of excitement, newness and illusions.
While we enjoy the excitement and newness, it is the illusions that spell trouble for us. We imagine that this new, wonderful person will lead us into a whole new life, but it’s the rare affair that blossoms into a happy long-term relationship.
Affairs usually end badly: the illusions eventually bite the dust and we see that the person we’re cheating with has plenty of problems and annoying habits. Once we wise up, we may wonder why we’re giving up someone we really know for someone we barely know at all.
I’m not advocating that you stay in a boring, stagnant relationship. Sometimes a different person can better meet your unmet needs and you are really ready to change your life. But, in all honesty, this is NOT the case for most of us. For most of us, it’s US that needs to change. This is such a drag, isn’t it?
Wouldn’t it be great if our partner would do all the changing and we could just lie back in our La-Z-Boy recliner and enjoy how wonderful they are now that they’ve gotten rid of all those annoying habits? Ah…if only it worked that way.
It doesn’t. If we want to have better relationships, we need to work on ourselves first. Couples counseling can be great, but only if BOTH people are willing to change. Change is uncomfortable, hard work. Many people aren’t willing to go there, so they keep repeating the same scenarios over-and-over, regardless of whom they pick as partners.
If this is you: wake up! It’s you who is the problem, not your partner. If you have a common pattern in relationships, it’s all about you, not them. Changing partners probably won’t make a damned bit of difference. Oh sure, at the beginning things might look rosy with your new lover, but give it time and the same old you will start to emerge. Big surprise.
If you’re unhappy with your relationship, I recommend you consider several options:
Talk about it with your partner. If he/she is willing to change, you have the potential for your relationship to deepen and become really amazing. You may find couple’s counseling to be useful, or a workshop for couples, or some other way to get new information and skills to improve your relationship.
If your partner isn’t willing to change, focus on changing yourself (perhaps in individual psychotherapy) and see if your partner will eventually “follow along”.
Sometimes a trial separation is a good reality check for a couple in trouble: it gives both parties a chance to see if they miss each other, what they had together, and can serve as a good motivator for discussions about “how can we be happy together again?”
You may be clear that what’s best for you is to end the relationship. If so, do it with as much kindness, grace and honesty as possible. Love isn’t like a light bulb, you can’t just turn it on and off with a switch. If you’ve loved this man or woman, you still probably do. Leaving is rarely the easy, breezy panacea we hope it will be. It’s usually fraught with lots of sadness, anger and uncertainty, e.g., “Did I give it my best shot?” “Did we try everything we could to stay together?” “Did I give up too easily?”
If you do end your relationship, I strongly recommend that you be on your own for a while. Do not jump right into another relationship, even if it appears immediately on your doorstep.
After a relationship ends, it usually takes a few months for your internal voices to calm down and for you to see clearly where you’re at and what you really want next. Jumping right into another relationship usually has a poor outcome. Yeah, you may be lonely for a while, but you need to figure out who you are now and what you want in terms of your next relationship.
Wondering what a good relationship really is? Let me share with you my definition:
A good relationship is one where you and your partner help each other to become the men or women that you truly want to be.
Whether you stay or go, let that be your guide.