You might be wondering, Should I stay or leave the relationship? The answer is neither straightforward nor black and white. It is complex and nuanced. Many of my clients do not know what to do, and they become trapped in the land of indecision. My goal is to help you make the decision to stay or leave from a place of clarity, not from a place of being stuck. I’ve created an initial 3-step process addressing the multi-layered healing that takes place when people are willing to do the work and go from a place of suffering to finding a solution and freedom.
Step 1: Removing shame and blame
Before the truth can set you free, you must identify which lies are holding you captive. There are lies we tell ourselves (shaming) and lies we are told from others (blaming). Judging yourself and allowing others to judge your decision to stay or leave creates shame and blame.
So, what are the lies? They are false beliefs about others and ourselves that are not grounded in reality and hold us back because of what we make things mean.
Assigning Meaning: False Beliefs Around Staying or Leaving
Assigning meaning to your decision to stay or leave or allowing someone else to do so is harmful. Placing assumptions on such a life-changing decision can create shame, doubt, and confusion. Some believe that leaving the relationship is the healthier choice to make or the stronger choice to make.
The same could be said about staying. Staying means you have no self-respect or means you are weak. But all of these responses are unhealthy. They are false beliefs, false judgments. They oversimplify very complicated issues.
Every person is different. Each relationship is different. Labeling a person’s decision to stay or go as unhealthy or healthy, strong or weak is destructive and untrue. Based on the available research in the fields of trauma, attachment studies, and neuroscience, these decisions are not simple because there are complex systems in place stemming from childhood even.
There is no right or wrong answer. The decision to stay or leave can be both made in unhealthy ways.
Step 2: Get out of your head
Overthinking the question of staying or leaving the relationship keeps you stuck and prevents you from knowing the answer. We must do the work to find out. Overthinking Keeps Us Stuck
For my clients, thinking about the answer to the staying-or-leaving question becomes all-consuming, emotionally overwhelming, and mentally tormenting. This is because they are obsessively overthinking in their effort to figure it out. In addition to an already painful relationship, there is an underlying layer of suffering in thinking about whether to stay or go. Overthinking is our mind’s way of keeping us preoccupied. It is paralysis by analysis. We become stuck (paralyzed) with indecision because of our constant overanalyzing.
Obsessing in your mind to figure out whether to stay or go prevents you from making the decision to stay or go.
You are living in your head rather than living in your behavior.
Overthinking is distracting us and keeping us busy; therefore, we falsely believe we are doing something. Thinking is not doing, and it is blocking us from doing, from staying or going. Essentially, we are thinking instead of behaving. Our behavior (i.e., setting boundaries, expressing needs, and using our voice) will expose dysfunctional dynamics and help us determine what is happening in our relationships rather than feeling stuck in a tormenting mental bubble. We must do the behavioral and emotional work. Overthinking is also a form of projectizing, making yourself a project to fix and a problem to solve rather than focusing your attention on the relationship and the other person involved. Frantically fixating on the stay-or-go question and needing an immediate answer inhibits you from arriving at the decision to stay or go from a healthy place.
Step 3: Face your fears
I’ve discovered in my clinical practice, it is always the fear of relational loss that hinders people. Over time, they lose themselves (their voice, boundaries, needs, wants, dreams, desires) because they are afraid of losing the person they love the most.
The Fear of Losing the Relationship
After meeting with countless clients who are stuck, I’ve discovered that fear is the driving factor in their place of suffering with whether or not to stay or leave the relationship. The fear of rejection, fear of feelings, fear of uncertainty, fear of the unknown, and fear of abandonment. This is due to the enormous emotional, spiritual, financial, and relational implications that are painful and intimidating.
When thinking about leaving a relationship, they face new and different challenges, such as how their decision will impact their family and children, finances, community, career, and living situation. All those realities can feel unbearable and create fear.
Most of all they are afraid of losing the relationship. They are afraid the other person is not willing to do the necessary work to change. That is a frightening reality to face. As a result, they become paralyzed and stuck, obsessively thinking about all these dynamics instead of taking action steps because of fear.
What will happen if I set a boundary or stand my ground or say no or say what I need, feel, and think? What if they leave? What if they continue to be hurtful, lie, avoid me, or manipulate? Continually thinking about the decision to stay or leave is a way to avoid such scary and hard questions.
Being unable to tolerate potential loss of the relationship can trigger fear. Even if that loss looks like, my spouse or significant other and I might have a fight or have conflict for a few days, or they will give me the silent treatment.
To know whether to stay or leave the relationship, you must be willing to do the work around fear and identify the false beliefs underneath the fear. Including facing your painful emotions and worse case scenarios.
You do not want fear of pain and fear of losing the person or fear of conflict to keep you stuck in a continuous cycle of suffering.
More importantly, you do not want to lose yourself because you are afraid of losing someone else.
These initial steps of removing shame and blame, getting out of your head, and facing your fears are essential and necessary to help you determine whether to stay or go.
Then, we must do the work to find out. It’s about the how, not what. The how is the doing, the what is the thinking.
Next week, we will discuss how to arrive at the decision to stay or leave the relationship.
**The content for this blog post has been taken from chapter 9 (Cuckoo Counsel, Who Hurts You and Who Can Help You) of Andrea’s book, The Cuckoo Syndrome: The Secret to Breaking Free from Unhealthy Relationships, Toxic Thinking, and Self-Sabotaging Behavior
The photo accompanying this article was sourced from iStock and is in the public domain.