Chances are you’ve been asking this question for awhile. Perhaps you have the same, repetitive fights with your spouse. Maybe you feel unsatisfied, like something is missing in your relationship. Or, your partner has habits that drive you crazy but you’re not sure if it’s a deal breaker. You may have the maddening experience of going back and forth in your mind wondering if your relationship is worth working on or is it time for a breakup. As the Clash song goes, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”
Living with questions about whether to end a relationship or invest more is an extremely painful place to be. Often there is uncertainty, fear and feelings of helplessness. The pressure to make the “right” decision can feel heavy. The consequences may impact other family members, children and friends. Leaving a marriage or significant relationship is always a personal decision. What one person is willing to tolerate may be unacceptable to another.
However, there are specific things you might consider while going through the process of deciding that can bring some clarity. Since no relationship is perfect, it’s important to recognize when you’ve got a good thing going. Sometimes you have to dig below the surface complaints to find that your relationship is actually a diamond in the rough. Here are four qualities that may suggest there is something of value to salvage and improve.
1. You feel safe and validated when expressing your feelings to your partner.
While it sometimes feels risky to start honest conversations with your guy or gal, you know that you will be met with respect. Your mate is willing to listen to your concerns, expresses interest in your opinions and feelings, and shows a desire to work through issues. Qualities like these suggests your partner views you as an equal partner with an understanding that you have mutual needs. When there is space in a relationship to meaningfully discuss problems, there is usually room for positive growth and change. If the majority of the time you feel closer to your partner after having those heart-to-heart talks, you might have something that is valuable.
2. Your values and long term goals are in sync.
Sharing fundamental values such as loyalty, honesty, kindness, or making time for family can be the glue that anchors a relationship for the long haul. Yes, it may be annoying that your partner always leaves her bath towel on the floor, but you can trust that she will generally make good decisions based on your shared values. These are not the same thing as shared interests. Those are more superficial than values which are firmly held beliefs. Just because you both like yoga or 90s rock does not indicate a reason to stay. These are hobbies or interests that may change over time while core values are timeless. Shared values mean you have similar ideas about what is right and what is wrong. Shared values allow you to make compatible decisions that are your guiding principles in life. Shared goals and values mean that your relationship has a good chance for success and the ability to work through hard times.
3. Your sex life is satisfying.
When you connect with your partner sexually you not only feel turned on and fulfilled but you also feel emotionally closer. Good sex can soften the hard edges of daily life and the ups and downs of a relationship. When the needs of both partners are met, sex can substantially increase intimacy. Mutually satisfying sex can also lead to more generosity in other areas of your relationship. There are many reasons why sexual interest can die in a relationship including losing feelings of respect, boredom, poor body image or a medical condition. However, if you are still wanting and having regular sex with your S.O. this is important. And, if you find that being sexual with your partner revs up your feelings of connection and goodwill, then this might be a positive sign to work on things.
4. Your parenting style is similar.
If kids are part of the equation for you and your significant other, then how you parent together says a lot about your ability to work through other issues. If you tend to agree on how to discipline your kids or when to give them a little freedom, this is a positive. It suggests that you and your partner most likely will back each other up and feel united as parents. When you are in agreement in handling parenting choices, you are less likely to build up resentments in this area. Any resentments that build up over time can bleed into other areas of your relationship. Unresolved resentments are toxic. Parenting styles are often unconscious coming from our own childhood experiences. If you find that you completely trust your partner in this arena, this is good for the kids and good for your relationship. Having a shared purpose of raising children together (and a sense of humor about it) can strengthen your love when you are in alignment.
It’s possible you already have the relationship you’re dreaming of. You may just need to tweak some of the ways you relate such as being more assertive in asking for what you need. Or maybe you need to develop more of your own interests outside of the relationship. It’s possible that there are small changes you can make that will make a big impact on your overall happiness in the relationship.
If you don’t have any of the above qualities present in your relationship, it’s probably time to let go and move on. If you are still ambivalent or confused, you may need more time. That’s okay too. You might consider the help of an experienced therapist to help you sort out your questions. A professional can help you determine whether you’ve already made up your mind or have the willingness to improve the relationship.
Mutual respect, shared values, great sex, and compatible parenting are the makings of a great union. Just having a few of the qualities above can be a sign that you should stay. Given that no relationship is perfect, it’s important to recognize when you’ve got something worth fixing!