• Shona Dee

Should I Stay or Should I Leave?


Relationships are hard. Divorce can be harder. And one of the HARDEST questions you may ever be forced to ask yourself is Should I Stay or Should I Leave?

This was not a choice I’ve personally had to make – in my marriage, the choice to leave was very much my husband’s, and it very much took me by surprise. I don’t know if he ever asked himself the ‘stay or leave’ question. I hope he did. I like to think that there was at least some thought put into his life-changing decision.

A work colleague of mine is currently dealing – battling – with this situation. She and her husband have been married for more than twenty years; the last few at least have been challenging. I won’t get into the nitty-gritty here except to say that together they have two daughters living at home, a mortgage, a dog and a lot of shared history and baggage.

He is not one to talk about problems – about what’s really going on in their marriage; they haven’t been physically intimate in some time; they are almost living as flatmates. Conversations centre on what the kids are doing, where the money’s going, who’s buying what for dinner.

This lady is miserable and spends a lot of time thinking about what her life – her marriage – will be like once both her children leave home. Of course, a lot of married couples go through something similar to this. A lot of people wonder and worry about what they’ll do to fill their time once the nest is empty.

Some people prepare for this by having the occasional date night with their partner, by taking the occasional holiday without the kids, or by generally trying to work on their relationship so they are not at a complete loss when there are no kids around to act as a buffer to the relationship and its problems.

This is a good thing, a great thing, for those couples that still feel at least a little spark, a little hope, a little love. But then there are those that struggle to feel any of these things. Those, like my colleague, who are comfortable enough in the house and comfortable enough financially, but who are otherwise completely miserable, and have been so for many years.

Marriage counselling is the obvious option – but both parties need to agree to this. My colleague’s husband isn’t interested, and the fact that he’s not speaks volumes to her.

Her predicament is not an enviable one. Not wanting to stay; not knowing how to leave. Her head is a whirlwind of thoughts, emotions and contradictions:

She doesn’t want to ‘throw away’ the last two decades of her life. She doesn’t know how she’ll cope financially on her own. She has some good memories that are hard to let go of. She knows she is not being authentic to herself by staying in a marriage out of convenience – convenience to everyone and everything but her. More than anything, she can’t shake the almost gut-wrenching feeling that life is slipping her by.

Here’s the thing: finding the courage to become your true self is never an easy thing, and it’s harder still if you’ve made a life habit of pleasing others and giving your power away. But eventually, more than likely, something will give. One day it will dawn on you that you don’t need to live life this way. That in fact, you were never meant to live life in a fearful and half-hearted manner. That being authentic to YOU is actually the most loving thing you can do – for you and for those you love.

Why? Because regret is not an easy thing to let go of. Regret breeds resentment. And resentment is even harder to shake than regret. Resentment, left unattended, permeates the very fibres of our being, and the beings of those we love.

Staying in a marriage or situation that has long since died, a relationship where both parties have given up, or a relationship where only one party is making any effort is simply not a requirement of life. Staying in a toxic environment ‘for the kids’ is not always the honourable thing to do. Teaching kids that it is OK (or worse – a requirement) to stay in an unhealthy environment is surely not something that any of us want to do.

I don’t know what decision my colleague will make. Would I think she was being terribly selfish if she decided to call it quits on her marriage? No. Would I be happy for her and her husband if they somehow, against all odds, found a way to make the marriage work for each of them? Yes.

I held a lot of resentment towards my husband when he left our marriage – I still believe he could have handled the situation, and how he went about it leaving the marriage, a whole lot better than he did. Yet once I began healing, the resentment eased. Once I was able to let go of my anger towards him I began to see things a little clearer.

My marriage wasn’t perfect – there were cracks. We were evolving and growing at different rates and sadly, in different directions. My husband made the decision to leave, and I eventually accepted his decision. I am now doing my best to live a life that’s best for me, and I sincerely hope that he is doing the same – I no longer wish him any ill. He was a pivotal part of my life for many years, and I am glad that we didn’t end up in an unhealthy situation full of resentment and regret.

And really, that is what this thing is all about. Should I stay or leave is never going to be an easy or comfortable question for anybody who finds themselves in the predicament of having to ask it. What I know is this – life is too short to be lived full of regret. Some regrets are unavoidable. Some are best dealt with before they morph into full-blown resentments. And we all have the power of freedom and choice.

Have you ever had to make the decision to end a relationship? Are you in this situation now? I'd love to hear your story. Please, share in the comments.

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