The question of “Should I stay or should I go?” is one of the hardest ones that women wrestle with, because there is not necessarily a right answer — there are only different consequences. Unfortunately, we cannot foresee the future to see the consequences of our choices. This decision requires a leap of faith into the unknown and that demands a lot of trust and courage.
The traditional relationship (long-term, heterosexual, monogamous) is not working for many couples. In fact, much of my therapy clinical practice focuses on relationship problems. According to current statistics, 40 to 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. Importantly, this decision to stay or go usually rests with the woman as approximately two-thirds of the time it is the wife who initiates the separation. These are women who may have been living in families with children and who faced great financial challenges after the divorce, and yet they still believed that it was the best decision for them.
What’s clear is that women are rebelling — even if it comes as a great risk and at a great cost. Some may argue that we are too choosy or that our expectations of our partners are too high, but I see it the other way around: the expectations placed on us — and that we place on ourselves — are too high and therefore not sustainable.
Relationships provide so much opportunity for growth and, if you are growing, even though it requires effort and work, perhaps that is right where you want to be.
During my divorce in Canada, my lawyer told me that, in her large family-law practice, women initiated the divorce a whopping 80 percent of the time. So, if you are hoping your partner will make the decision for you, so that you do not have to, it’s unlikely. However, if you are even thinking along those lines, that might serve as a useful clue to what your deeper desire is: i.e., if you are hoping your partner will leave you, that is useful information that you really do not want to be in this relationship any longer. No one wants to be blamed, or be the bad guy, or hurt our partner or children, and this keeps many people together, but you have to ask yourself if that is a good-enough reason. We deserve to thrive; if your heart and soul feel stuck, stagnating, or withering, then it is your responsibility to figure out how to thrive, and that may mean making the decision to leave. We are the only ones who can create a life that we can blossom in. No one else can do that for us as adults.
On the other hand, perhaps, a new paradigm can emerge for two people who are courageous and are working on themselves — both separately and together. If you find yourself in this situation, maybe the two of you can begin exploring what it looks like for two autonomous individuals to be in a relationship as a “we”. Can the two of you be individuals who are individuating and becoming self-conscious — figuring out who you are, how you’re different, what you need, and what you actually want — and navigate the paradox of separate vs. together? If you are both willing to put in this work of self-actualizing, then this is probably a relationship worth staying in, at least for now. Relationships provide so much opportunity for growth and, if you are growing, even though it requires effort and work, perhaps that is right where you want to be.
Here is a visualization exercise to help you. Settle into a comfortable seat, close your eyes, and take several deep, slow breaths, inviting your body to relax with each one. Invite it to let go of any tension. Notice what you feel in your body. This is your baseline. Now see yourself standing at a fork in the road; see one path that you continue along with your partner. See the two of you together. Look as far down it as you are able to see. Now check in with your body; what sensations have come up, what is your breath doing, how does this path feel for you? Then look at the other path, that one that you continue down alone, without your partner. See yourself on that path. Look as far as you are able to; what do you see or notice? Now check in with your body on this path; what sensations have come up, what is your breath doing, how does this path feel for you? You can look back and forth as often as you need to. Notice if one path feels expansive and if one feels constricting, if one feels thriving and life-giving and one feels stifling and degenerative, if one feels scary and one feels easier — often the scarier one is the one our soul is impelled towards. Let yourself gently return to this world with some big breaths, open your eyes, and write down your reflections without judgement. Also notice if resistance comes up and be curious about that.
Being a woman takes courage. Be brave. Thrive!
Stacey Shelby, Ph.D., is an author, speaker, and depth psychotherapist. Her 2018 book: Tracking the Wild Woman Archetype: A Guide to Becoming a Whole In-divisible Woman is available on Amazon.com.