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When To Walk Away

two pearsCouples go through ups and downs. And while we bicker and fight, many people think about walking away.

One of my clients has been going through a rough patch in her marriage. She has struggled with depression and anxiety and was laid off from her job. While she was trying to recover, her husband went through a stressful time at his job and ended up having an affair.

The healing was difficult to achieve. Once trust has been broken it’s hard to recover. Both were going back and forth about whether to reconcile or to split. Much harm had been done. But after months of pondering they decided to make it work.

This is often the one thing that is missing when relationships go sour: the determination to stick it out. It has been said that the biggest difference between couples who separate and those who stay together is simply deciding that breaking up is not an option.

I keep thinking about a quote I read somewhere by either Will Smith or his wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith. When they got married they were well aware that especially in Hollywood the options to be tempted by someone else are plentiful.

They decided that they would just commit to each other, fully knowing that there would always be other attractive people but making a conscious decision that they would simply not allow someone else to intrude.

How well that works for them I cannot judge. But it sounds like a good idea to me. It’s what many people of our parents’ and grandparents’ generation have long practiced.

Modern relationships place a lot of importance on how much couples have in common and how the other can expand our world view. It’s certainly nice when that happens. But it’s not essential.

What keeps relationships together are common values and a common vision of the future. If one of you wants an open relationship and the other doesn’t, it’s not gonna work. If one of you is a born again Christian and the other a hardcore atheist, it will be very challenging. If one of you wants your kids to grow up without rules and the other is strict and disciplined, it’s gonna be a miserable ride.

Many times, the issue of kids will throw a wrench in the mix. One wants children, the other doesn’t. Some people are very clear that having children is not an option. And if the other person is defined by their wish to procreate, it will be very hard to come together.

But very often people are more ambivalent than absolutely opposed. And many of the ambivalent will be persuaded to have kids and go on and adapt to having them. Most of them end up not being able to imagine life without children.

Some though, will hold on. They will keep insisting that they didn’t want kids and now their life is destroyed. It does happen. But less often than we fear.

The fact is that in relationships, we tend to put all our eggs in one basket. We expect our partners to fulfill all our needs. Of course there are intimacy needs that are indispensable, but lots of our needs can be met by other people in our lives.

Good friends are there to be social with, to talk and commiserate, to go to events and on trips with. Parents and spiritual teachers are there to give advice, and to teach us about life’s pitfalls. And there are a million ways to learn new things. Easiest of all, online.

The world is vast and wide. We tend to forget to look for it.


photo credit: jimforest


When To Walk Away

Gerti Schoen, MA, LP

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APA Reference
Schoen, G. (2012). When To Walk Away. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 20 Mar 2012
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