The popular band The Clash once had a hit song titled "Should I Stay Or Should I Go?" In my practice as a relationship coach and couples counselor, it is one of the most common things I get asked when a new client comes through the door or the internet to see me. They arrive pretty much at their wits' end because everything they've tried in attempt to fix their relationship hasn't worked.
For one reason or another, they don't feel they can talk to their spouse about how they feel. Conflicted, they come to see me to to try to sort it out. One thing is decided for sure: there has to be change or they're gone! What kind of change is necessary or viable is up to the couple and to the person in pain.
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Back to The Clash. Some telling lyrics in their song can give us a little insight into this issue: "This indecision's bugging me / If you don't want me, set me free / Exactly whom I'm supposed to be..."
This is exactly the problem. The partner that came to see me is finding that he or she can't be who they are — and stay in the relationship. Their soul is dying and they feel they need to get out! But getting out is scary, and it isn't always the obvious correct choice.
For example, Jane came to see me and through tears, told me she was thinking about leaving her husband even though they have a child together. Both of them have full time jobs. "No matter what I do, I'm not good enough for him." I asked her for a specific example.
"He says I'm not organized enough and I'm forgetful. It's not true. I have a full-time job and I do most of the child care. He gets on my case because I can't keep up with a full-time job and full-time childcare. Do you know our son is 9 months old and my husband still hasn't given him a bath on his own! I'm not disorganized; I'm overwhelmed. And when I suggest that maybe he is part of the problem he gets cold and analytical then badgers me with all kinds of arguments proving why he is not in the wrong. He won't stop until I start to cry. Only then will he actually show some emotion."
Jane is overwhelmed and confused. She can't be who she really is and stay in this relationship as it is. It's my job to help her sort through the confusion, get her priorities straight and then be able to say what her relationship must-haves are. Only then can she say with certainty to her husband what has to change in order for her to stay in the relationship.
To answer the question "Should I Stay or Should I Go", you (and Jane) have to do the following:
1. Create, write down and be able to articulate your own personal manifesto of your relationship. This is your personal declaration of what you want in a relationship: your must-haves, your strongly want-to-haves, and your I-can-take-it-or-leave-its. This is your list of wants and needs, your intentions, motives and view of relationship.
2. Once you've gotten clear for yourself what your relationship values and requirements are, then you need to talk to your partner about them. It's often a wise idea to seek out a couples counselor to help you do this. If you partner refuses to participate or does go to the sessions and merely says that he/she is not the problem, then you pretty well know it's time to go.
3. If your partner chooses to engage with you on this, be prepared to hear about the things you do that drive them crazy. Be open to working for mutual change and improvement. Be ready to take partial responsibility for the problems. Remember, the dance of a relationship takes two people. Someone is following and someone is leading... but they are doing it together.
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4. Don't judge, jump to conclusions, find blame or need to make the other one wrong so you can feel right. It's not always obvious to see how we can resolve disagreements without blame. Many of us were raised in a world that's permeated by blame, shame, victims and victimizers. When you take a "me or you" or "us or them" stance, there is no middle ground and nothing to move towards. Both of you are trying to move away in an effort to be right. Keep reading...
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