Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Posted by in Articles, David Chaddock

Life is full of challenging questions.  One of the most soul-wrenching questions is whether you should stay in your struggling marriage (relationship) or not.  This decision impacts every aspect of your life.  With so much on the line, this decision is difficult and overwhelming.  Many women ask themselves, “What happened to my marriage and can it be saved?”

Two key ingredients for any successful relationship are a sense of “connection” and “care-giving”, which we all desire.  Early in a relationship, we enjoy a fun connection and would do anything to help each other.  Kindness and affection flows easily.

As the relationship becomes more established, our attention broadens to other interests, such as careers, children, friends, family, and volunteering.  While these interests are great, they sometimes threaten our relationship and the sense of connection we share.  Now our care-giving is offered to all these other interests instead.  By the end of the day, there’s not much energy left for connecting and caring for one another.  After weeks, months and years of being focused elsewhere, your connection has withered and both of you feel hurt and neglected, but you no longer turn to each other for care-giving.  You get your needs met through work, children, family and friends and begin to criticize each other for not caring enough.  What was once a great relationship has become the source of your frustration, hurt, and sadness.  At this point, you begin to wonder whether you should stay or go.

The “divorce assumption” in our culture suggests a person struggling in their marriage only has two options.  They can stay married and be unhappy or get a divorce in the hopes of finding happier days.  However, a study from the University of Chicago challenges this assumption.  In her study, Sociologist Linda Waite discovered that 80% of the unhappily married couples on the verge of divorce reported being happily married five years later, if they stayed together and worked on their connection.  Unfortunately, those who pursued divorce reported the same level of unhappiness as before they divorced.  Waite concludes that they traded one type of stress and frustration for another and now struggle with lower self-esteem, conflict with children and their ex-spouse, less financial stability, and a sense that their life is fragmented.

So what should you do before you decide to go…

1)    Most women over 40 have spent many years caring for children, careers and families and need to re-evaluate their own wants and needs.  Take time for yourself to clarify your hopes and dreams by journaling, try yoga or talking with a trusted friend or spiritual leader.

2)   Look for new, small ways to invite your spouse into re-connection.  Take short walks together after dinner; go on coffee dates often; or meet for lunch every few weeks.

3)   Create a new relationship vision or dream.  Don’t discuss your dissatisfaction through criticism, but instead share what each of you would like “more of” in your relationship.

4)   Consider working with a coach or therapist that can help you discover new ways of connecting and caring.  With a little help, you might be one of those couples that report being happily married five years from now.

To stay or go is a big decision.  Whether you just started asking this question or have considered it for awhile, it can get better.  Don’t give up too soon.