Should I stay or should I go?

IMPORTANT: This blog is not a substitute for therapy, but provides evidenced-based education for the purposes of self-help, or to compliment the therapeutic process. ​ ​This blog is non-monetized.

By: Christina Crowe, RP

​Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double.

-The Clash, from Combat Rock

There is no shortage of poetry, literature or song lyrics that detail the timeless question of whether or not a romantic relationship is worth all the trouble. Joe Strummer sings about relationship ‘trouble’ in the classic Should I stay or should I go? and ‘trouble’ certainly means different things to different people.

​More and more, as time marches on, social scientists and psychology researchers uncover different components in marriage and/or long term romantic relationships, and what it takes to make them work. Not only have we questioned whether or not we even need to get married nowadays (will future generations think its absurd?), the reasons we do finally tie the knot are pretty different from the generations before us. It can look the same on the outside: courtship, engagement, wedding, the juggling of maintaining a life-long romantic relationship (date nights?), the pressures of a growing family and more often than not, two full-time careers. Alongside this fairly traditional concept of marriage, we also have acceptance and understanding of couples and families who are choosing to write their own rules. We have same sex couples and parents, step-families with shared biological children, step-families without shared biological children/blending in unrelated children, childless couples who surely consider themselves a family, polyamorus or swinging couples, or couples who look traditional on the outside, but may be in an ‘open’ marriage.

In addition to the various structures of couple or family relationships, we also have come to realize that many of us do not marry for financial security anymore. While we don’t stay married for money either, don’t kid yourself – divorce usually brings on some level financial devastation; however for many, it’s a price they are ultimately willing to pay.

A price for what?

For happiness and fulfillment.

Perhaps the new reason people get married. 

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It’s no surprise to see younger married couples, with all the structure and trappings of what we typically associate with marriage (kids, stressful mortgage, 2 jobs, minivans), can be unsure about how to cope, when they find themselves miserable, unhappy and unfulfilled. Some stay, to keep the family together. Their ‘happiness’ is the price they see themselves paying. And they torment themselves with the battle of  “should I stay or should I go.” Their parents and grandparents might have stayed together even though they were unhappy. For past generations, marriage wasn’t supposed to make you happy. It was supposed to make you (and your family) financially secure and socially accepted.

This post isn’t lamenting the ease of divorce (or generations past).Its great if you figure that out before you have kids, or before you tie the knot. But if you are one of the many who are stuck in the Miserable Phase (after the Honeymoon Phase), and you are staying put for the sake of your kids, you’re in a pretty tough spot. We intuitively feel an intact family is the best option for kids. But when the intact family is miserable, combative, false, chaotic … we also instinctively know that isn’t right either.  

You are who this post is for.

So we realize, ok, marriage isn’t all its cracked up to be. It kind of sucks a lot of the time, and sometimes it’s pretty nice. Comfortable, cozy, secure. Irritating. Hurtful. Routine.

And you’re not getting any younger. If you left, would you meet someone else? The older the kids get, the harder it will be for them, right? This isn’t the model of (loveless) marriage you want to demonstrate for them. You can’t imagine selling the family home.  How could you face shared custody and not seeing your kids everyday? Impossible. Maybe you seek out a therapist, try couples therapy, start confiding in trusted friends. Take up yoga.   

After we get stuck, we tend to turn to everyone, except our partner.


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Hopefully, you find a therapist that can help you work through the struggle – whether you are to remain together or decide to move forward apart, an objective and nonjudgmental supporter is always a smart idea. For those of you who decide to muddle through together, it doesn’t have to be in misery. Reframing how we think about the purpose of your marriage (and that special category of marriage that includes children) is part of the solution.

Being married isn’t about sacrificing your chance at happiness to another person. Being married is about sacrificing your chance of individual happiness to the marriageThe Marriage is the new entity that both of you are working to strengthen. In an ideal world, everyone has worked through their childhood trauma’s and pain before entering marriage and having children.

We ALL know it doesn’t work that way. Usually it first takes a really rough patch in a romantic relationship to reveal our misconceptions about life and love (the result of aforementioned childhood traumas), which then leads to much hand wringing, depression and anger about the choice we made for a spouse and how to face our own partner assessment shortcomings.

​Again, ideally, once we realize we have utterly shortchanged ourselves in the partner department (this is meant to read as a bit sarcastic), the task at hand is to come to terms with it, accept our loved one – warts and all, and move forward with a new understanding of who they are, how to love each other and what the relationship can bring to our lives. What we do know, from lots and lots of relationship research, is that we can only overcome our traumas from the past, through connection with another. ​

A ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIP, OR MARRIAGE, IS ACTUALLY THE THERAPEUTIC RELATIONSHIP YOU ARE LOOKING FOR TO MOVE FORWARD.

However, you know it doesn’t happen like this.

​Many people live with one foot out the door for a long time. Some people leave and come back and leave and come back and finally leave for good. Some people have affairs. Some people start new addictions: shopping, online gaming or fantasy relationships, creating the illusion of perfection on the outside, asking (often) if its wine o’clock yet … anything to numb the pain of disappointment in hum-drum daily life.

​THE JOURNEY IS ABOUT INCREASING AWARENESS OF OUR OWN STRUGGLE.

 It’s when we can sit with emotional pain, embrace the both hum-drum and hectic pace of life, with young kids and busy jobs, acknowledge our own shortcomings in the relationship and face the pain of disappointment in our own life.There is no way around this.

There is no shortcut.

Time and time again, I hear people wanting to know, “how long will this take?” or “I need a five-step plan.” We’re in such a rush to be happy again. We can live for a long time in the prison our own minds. Happy isn’t some illusive thing Out There. It’s in your head. It’s in your expectations. It’s hardwired into your ideas about what life, love and marriage are Supposed. To. Be. And you got that in your childhood.

So, to unpack 30-60 years of life, to figure out how you got here from there … well, how fast it moves is entire dependent upon you. Once you decide you are willing to tear apart all of the rules, ultimatums and expectations you hold, only then can you move forward. You’ll keep some of the old rules, and toss the others. But you must have examined them. And when you are ready to re-examine The Marriage – the living, breathing thing that exists between you – you will be in an entirely different place.  

The question of whether you should stay or whether you should go, becomes answered as your awareness of your own self grows. 


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Picture of ​Christina Crowe, H.BSc. MACP, RP

​Christina Crowe, H.BSc. MACP, RP

Registered Psychotherapist, Validated Clinical Supervisor, ADHD Therapist & Coach Podcast Host The Christina Crowe Podcast Christina is a Canadian Registered Psychotherapist, a member of CADDRA's Advocacy Committee and relentless mental health advocate. Christina believes great mental health information should be available to everyone, loves creating content that makes invisible things VISIBLE and finding new ways to bring healing experiences to as many people as possible.

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