Making the decision … Should I stay or should I go?
Making the decision to leave a relationship is a very daunting process, and is the one that fills us with a great deal of anxiety. This is because the choice of free will brings with it enormous responsibility. We realize that our choice will affect our partner, our families, our children and our friends – it is a responsibility we must live with all our lives.
The process of choosing to stay or to leave often begins in “the gut”.
Somehow your body knows, often months or even years before you think seriously about taking any action, that this relationship is not the right environment for you.
It is important to access your intuition, a word that comes from Latin, meaning “to look or to know from within”.
Once you have tuned in to that knowledge for some time, and recognize what it is telling you, then you must consider some options.
On the road to nowhere
Couples do not split up BECAUSE they have arguments, it is the WAY they argue that dictates whether a couple will split up.
Researcher John Gottman in 1999 identified several signs that suggest a couple is on the road to nowhere:
Harsh start-ups: Discussions that begin with criticism, sarcasm or contempt.
Criticism: There is a difference between complaints, which refer to a particular action by your partner, and personal criticism.
Contempt: Any form of sneering, eye rolling, mockery or name calling that aims to make the other person feel bad. A worse form of contempt is belligerence, often expressed as, “Well what are you going to do about it?”
Defensiveness: Trying to make the other person seem like they are the problem, as if you have not made any contribution.
Stonewalling: When one partner “tunes out”, unable to take any more criticism, contempt and defensiveness. By disengaging, they are less exposed to being hurt.
Flooding: Regular emotional “flooding” is when either partner is overwhelmed by verbal outbursts from the other. When we are attacked, heart rate and blood pressure increase and hormones are released, including adrenalin. We want to run away.
Failure of Repair Attempts: Unhappy couples fail to try anymore to repair the relationship. The partners emotionally disengage, stop bothering to try to sort things out, and begin leading parallel lives within the same house.
A couple who “never fight” (usually because one is intent on maintaining harmony) often falls in to this category. One or both completely disengage, build a ‘wall’ of protection, and become indifferent to the pain caused by the actions of the other. This is harder to recover from as “not caring anymore” becomes a conditioned response, necessary for survival of the disengaged partner.
How will I know if there is no point trying anymore?
Of all the poor interactions and communication breakdowns mentioned above, John Gottman believes that the greatest indicator of a relationship not being able to get back on track is the feeling and expression of contempt. Do you know what Contempt feels like? The emotion is a mix of several other emotions – what do you think these might be?