My heart was touched. Les and I were sharing dinner and personal stories with our friends, Judy and Tink. Judy Armstrong is an actress, singer, songwriter, and dancer. Years ago, she fell in love with Tink, an actor, singer, dancer, and choreographer. During one glance, I noticed their hands met and caressed. I thought, “I am in the presence of true love.” As Les and I drove home, the warmth of the evening lingered.
That was years ago. Last year Tink died. Judy did all she could to give him a grand celebration of life, including big band dance music! The warmth of their love lingers.
I do not know if they ever had moments of struggle questioning whether to stay or leave their marriage. I do know they demonstrated a deep commitment, cherishing behaviors and a mutually supportive partnership.
But there are many other and different relationship stories.
It is common for women, on their own, to visit my counseling space. They often come to decide whether to stay or leave their relationships. Oh! I wish they had come earlier to discuss whether to move forward or backward with a new relationship. Prevention is always much easier. But then our biggest errors often provide us with significant life lessons.
These women, who visit me, ask themselves, “Why stay? Why leave?” There are no easy answers but there are options, especially now.
Imagine When Women Had Little Choice to Leave
In the old days, women, in particular, stayed when it would have been better for all concerned if they left. They stayed, regardless of emotional, verbal, physical and often sexually abusive behavior. Why?
Their faith communities told them being disobedient to their husbands was a sin. They often had misplaced and unexamined loyalty. Some women actually believed they deserved abuse. They often had no frame of reference to think otherwise. Domestic violence was not discussed nor considered. They stayed to avoid community rejection and judgment. Lastly, there were no safe housing alternatives for them and their children. All these reasons were my mother’s reality!
But, the old rules of relationships no longer work. In 1973, a group in Langley, British Columbia opened Canada’s first women’s shelter.
In North America, we are increasingly disdainful of domestic violence. Our communities do their best to provide resources to help. Regrettably, women’s shelters are still needed.
The ideal scenario is to use this history to inform and help us before entering an intimate relationship. Romance and happiness are fleeting.[tweetthis] If not on solid ground, a couple can walk into trouble. Let us wake up to the relationship under our bedsheets. [/tweetthis]
Are You Asleep or Awake?
Is your relationship asleep or awake? If we are awake, we appreciate the aliveness and the tension present in our relationship. Indeed, we will use our relationship to discover our shadows and light.
We can often stay committed regardless of our old patterns and unfinished business. They will inevitably rise. Yes, they will! But those older patterns can shift if we both do the work of becoming aware of our own histories. This includes discovering our tender spots, our pet peeves, and our core values.
Be Aware of Typical Relationship Problems
Problems do not destroy relationships. Poor problem solving destroys relationships. Poor communication skills, including blaming, name calling and nagging destroy relationships. Taking one another for granted destroys relationships. Domestic violence destroys relationships. Two adults acting like two out of control toddlers in a sandbox destroys relationships. Threatening divorce destroys relationships.
Some people believe that a thriving relationship should be easy. When struggles surface, those same people use the D word — divorce — thinking it’s the easy way out. Little do they know that divorce typically takes more emotional angst, time and resources.
Your partnership may also be at risk if your parents did not model healthy problem solving, care and commitment.
Be heartened, you can develop relationship skills. That is if you are willing (and ready!) to do the emotional work.
Choose Relationship Maturity
Change does not come without effort to become aware plus an effort to heal old wounds. It also includes being coached to develop new beliefs and healthy behaviors. It is a choice whether to grow and mature in your present relationship.
Let me qualify my comment about choice. As my colleague and Neuro-linguistic programming trainer, Shelley Rose Charvet said, “Where there is a will, there is a way. In relationships, it takes two wills to make the way.” Yes, it takes both of you to make your relationship work.
Michelle Wiener-Davis’ book The Divorce Remedy: The Proven 7-Step Program for Saving Your Marriage is an excellent resource for those who want to gently check if their partner is open to change.
Three times I considered leaving my marriage. Fortunately, I visited a trusted and insightful therapist. She asked, “How is he stopping you from living the life you want?”
You see, I was using my marriage as an excuse not to take some brave and personal steps. That is now my yardstick with couples: Can you be you in this relationship?
Know When to Leave: The Deal Breakers
While maintaining your sense of individuality within a relationship is important, it cannot come at the price of compromising personal safety. Are you in danger emotionally, physically, sexually, or financially? Or, even worse, are you enduring these violations of human dignity? If you are and your partner is unwilling to get help, leave!
Domestic violence has a cyclical pattern. A violation occurs. It’s like being in a war zone or a destructive storm. An apology is made, maybe with a plea for forgiveness. Sweetness is in the air. It is like a honeymoon. Tension builds. It’s like walking on egg shells. Another violation occurs. The cycle begins again. Any suggestion of seeking help is dismissed. Track it. Record it.
If you find yourself in this recurring cycle, it’s time to leave the relationship! It may be hard because you may have come to believe this is what you deserve, but you must do it. And, just for the record, no one deserves to be abused. It’s absolutely not true!
When an abusive partner is unwilling to change, then an exit plan is necessary. Get help from a women’s shelter or service. You need support for your safe plan. You need your worth validated. You need to have an advocate to access resources. Lastly, you deserve to experience someone treating you with dignity, respect, encouragement, and tender loving care.
Two other deal breakers, not as urgent but unhealthy to live with, include addictions and infidelity.
Invest so the Staying is Sweet
At its best, an intimate partnership supports you in becoming the best you. As John Welwood, author of Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships, wrote, “I am committed to you and will help soften your edges.”
Invest in your number one squeeze and go hand-in-hand to find an effective marital therapist. Or, read books together on couple enrichment. The relationship researcher and therapist, John Gottman, also has helpful books; one is The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. The Banff Couples Conference is a yearly relationship enhancement weekend. My husband Les and I have participated more than twenty times.
The decision to stay or leave is yours to make. Make it wisely. If it is wise to stay, think of Judy and Tink’s long, steady and committed marriage. At some point, they learned to cherish each other, respectfully dialogue, and gently touch. You can too…if you have a willing partner. I hope you do!
In what ways do you invest in and nourish your coupleship?