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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Relationships that last are built on the foundation of trust, mutual caring, desire for each other, reciprocal support, communication and common goals. Those that flounder hold the opposite polarity of subterfuge, neglect, apathy, inequality, withdrawal and overwhelming differences in world view and intention.

Lundy Bancroft and Jac Patrissi, authors of Should I Stay or Should I Go? A Guide to Knowing if Your Relationship Can — and Should — Be Saved ask these questions as a means of assessing whether you or your partner would be better served walking out the door rather than remaining in an unhealthy situation.

  • Do we have a “relationship problem,” or is it really that the problem comes from my partner’s own issues?
  • Am I the problem? Do I just expect too much from a relationship?
  • Is my partner capable of changing and becoming kind, responsible, and committed? How do I tell if he’s really changing or not, or if he ever will?
  • What steps should I take to get this relationship back on course?
  • How much more time should I invest in this relationship?
Many remain in dysfunctional relationships long past the expiration date, like milk that has since curdled.
Reasons include:
  • Financial dependence
  • Fear of being alone
  • Limited social supports
  • Co-dependence 
  • Loneliness
  • Poor self image
  • Holding out hope that the other person will change
  • Belief that they deserve what they have
  • Cognitive dissonance in the face of disillusionment
  • “For the sake of the children”
  • Having no identity outside the partnership

Jean was in a relationship with a man who she met at a party. A few days earlier, she had met with a coach to help her navigate the dating world after having been widowed a few years prior. The coach asked her a question that was difficult to answer, ” Is it acceptable to you to be single for a long time, maybe even forever?”  Her visceral response was to say no. The next night, the aforementioned man showed up in her life. At first, he seemed charming and attentive. Within short order, red flags began waving furiously. At 50 years old, he was ‘under-employed’ and cash-poor. She ended up paying for nearly everything they did. Although he didn’t smoke, when they would go dancing, the venues were smoke filled and when they would return to her place, (his apartment was more cluttered and unkempt than her then teenage son’s room and she didn’t want to sit on the couch, let alone sleep over) he would refuse to shower. Although she didn’t drink alcohol, by choice, he did, at every dinner they shared and when they would go out. When he saw that it bothered her, he would have one more, to prove that he could. To clarify, he did pay for his own drinks. This lasted four months, which she laughingly admitted was three weeks and three months too long, since the warning signs were everywhere. At the time, loneliness was louder than common sense and self love. It took the observation of a friend that she had, “lost her joy,” that gave her the courage to end their relationship. She never regretted that choice and in retrospect, wished she had listened to the wisdom of the coach.

Mark was introduced to Colleen by a mutual friend who thought they would be in synch on many levels. Both had grown up in large working class families and both had lost parents at an early age, so took on adult roles to care for younger siblings while their respective widowed parents worked to support their children. Early on in the relationship, things seemed to be going well. Unexpressed needs surfaced and Mark felt unappreciated by Colleen for taking on a provider role, since his income was higher. Colleen began controlling his activities, by checking his phone and email account since she suspected he was cheating. Neither parents’ marriage provided the role modeling that might have assisted them with openly communicating their concerns. Rather than attempting to find a way through the morass, they decided to call it quits, each wondering if they would ever find someone who would understand them.

How You Know When It’s Time To Go

  • If abuse, whether verbal, mental, financial, emotional, sexual or physical occurs
  • If you are consistently investing more into the relationship than your partner is
  • If you have attempted to work out differences to no avail
  • If you feel like you are giving up your identity in the service of the relationship
  • If you feel as if you are walking on eggshells or fear rocking the boat to keep the peace
  • If your mental or physical health is deteriorating as a result of being in the relationship

How To Exit As Gracefully As Possible

Even if you choose to leave the relationship, do it as consciously as you can. Although it might be tempting to break up via text or even over the phone, unless safety is a concern, an in person meeting would be appropriate. Since there was once a time when you cared about this person’s well being and they about yours, as a matter of respect for that state, take the step to ‘leave the campground better than you found it,’ to quote a Boy Scout maxim. In that way, you create good relationship karma that will serve you in the next one. Know that love is never wasted.

Stay or Go image via Shutterstock.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW

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APA Reference
Weinstein, E. (2016). Should I Stay or Should I Go?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 26 Mar 2016
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