“Do I Stay or Do I Go”: The Hardest Relationship Question

Thinking about this topic, I know we’re heading into murky territory, but I’ve been talking with a ton of guys this season where that big question has come up. I think it’s something about the holiday season that makes us look back on our past year and assess both the good and the bad. Do we look back in happiness and success, or do we look back in regret?

The holidays seem to drudge that question up for a lot of people, because I think a lot of otherwise unhappy people want to be able to make a change for themselves with the new year. Relationships are no different. Many people who are unhappy or unsettled in their current relationships start to ask themselves this question around this time of the year, and start to ask themselves if they need to make a change.
This is one of the most difficult questions to ask –  “do I stay or do I go in my relationship or marriage?” This article is not going to answer that question for you, but it’s been a bring up some points for you to think about.

There are some things that make answering that question easier, such as direct physical abuse, a partner who is mired in substance use, or other immediate response needs. I think those types of things need into serious inquiry into the “do I stay or do I go” question.

But, for a lot of men, they ask this question of themselves out of sheer reactivity and hopelessness. Many kind of choose to stay stuck between a rock and a hard place, and never seek out the help that they need, such as couples counseling. For some, it’s more comfortable. For others, it’s just denial.

A lot of times, the question “do I stay?” really means “ can I continue to deal with the problems that I am experiencing currently?” We often end up blaming our partners and creating a certain storyline about them and our relationship, and how it’s going to hell. If we get stuck in those types of thoughts, we’re toast. A lot of relationships and marriages that can be worked on, aren’t.

For men, it’s a little harder to take a look at the things that we are doing to our partners, and to take responsibility for the negative things that we do to them. I think the “do I stay?” question reflects a little bit of this, as well as “can I continue to deal with the negative emotions that come up inside me?” Sometimes, enough suffering drives people out of their comfort zone, where the pain of a bad relationship had become more than they can sit on.

For the guys who are emotionally avoidant already, the next logical question to start asking is “do I go?”. For men who avoid their emotions, and often avoid conflict situations in general, the desire to end a relationship or marriage is logical. It’s just easier to do it that way, and to start over from scratch. Problems are too difficult to work on in this relationship, you might tell yourself. She’s not open to a change, you might tell yourself as well. Or, this is just too much work, and I’m not up to the task, you might end with telling yourself.

I think the biggest question you need to consider is are you asking yourself if you want to flee the relationship based out of reactivity and emotion, or is this a rational, well-thought-out plan? For a lot of men, it’s acting out of reactivity and impulsivity, and that might work briefly in the short term, but not in long-term. We are bound to have to deal with this dynamic again, whether we get back together with our partner, or develop a new relationship with someone else. It’ll still be there.

And then, there is the “I should stay for the children” dilemma. I see a lot of couples wanting to hang in there, despite really difficult problems, for the sake of the kids. Some drudge through miserable marriages because they don’t want to expose their children to break up or divorce. Many times, it’s these guys who were those children in the past, and don’t want to do to their family what it is their parents did to them.

Really making a commitment to hang in there and work on the relationship issues, especially if you feel strongly about your partner, is really the first step. Identifying whether you’re wanting to end the relationship out of the emotion, or whether this is a well-thought-out plan, is one question that you could consider.

A lot of times, even the most hopeless situations can improve with some emotional connection, but it can be difficult for men to both connect to their feelings and to be able to listen to some of their partner’s issues with them and not want to fix those issues (which women often don’t respond well to, but do when you’re present and listening).

Is your relationship or marriage worth saving? Do you feel strongly enough about it, and about her, to start to do the heavy lifting to get your relationship back on track? Some guys do; others don’t. I’m not going to lie to you: it does take some work. But, your relationship is worth it, isn’t it?


About Jason

As "The Man That Men Will Talk To," Jason Fierstein, MA, LPC is a private practice counselor and psychotherapist for men and couples in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area. He works with struggling men to find happiness in their lives, and with their wives.
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