In the 30 yrs since I became a sex therapist I have seen frustrated, sad, confused people who lie in bed at night next to a mate they feel estranged from, not knowing how to bridge the gap. They want to reconnect but are at a loss for how to do so. And then they get to a point where they ask themselves, and me, whether they should stay in the relationship or leave. That is asking the wrong question.
I have a notice board in my office with quotes. My answer to their question begins with this quote from Terry Real: “Am I getting enough in this relationship to make grieving what I’m not getting worth my while?” In other words, is there more good than bad? And how do I grieve what I’m not getting, without punishing my mate? How does that grief relate to my history? How do I find compassion for both of us?
Given that many people are in relationship seeking validation and reassurance that they are loveable/wanted/desired, the prospect of giving that up can seem intolerable. The typical yearning for intimacy is more about a need for a reflected sense of self than about self knowledge. Yet there is no better way to learn about oneself and grow than being in a relationship.
So the next time you’re wondering whether to endure the pain of leaving or the pain of staying, remember, that’s not asking the right question.