“ShouldI break up with them?” is something my worried little fingers have typed into Google many a dark night. And by the millions of largely repetitive articles out there on the subject, I imagine I’m not alone.I’ve used the “should I?” method of deciding my relationship’s fate before. Once when I was living with a boyfriend, we worked at the same company and I adored his family — and “should I?” kept me trapped for years.
As far as I could work out, I should stay. Sure, I wasn’t particularly happy. Sure, we nearly came to blows over everything from what to cook for dinner to how to interpret a film. But I respected him and our lives were intertwined, so breaking up seemed logistically and emotionally too hard.
The question “Do I want to break up with them?” hasn’t worked for me either. It caused the opposite problem.
Using this method, I quite spectacularly broke my own heart by ending my first ever healthy relationship. Not realising unresolved trauma was making me see the relationship as too good to be true, I went with my instinct in the moment—which was to run.
The thing is, it’s easy to focus on whether you feel in love right this second or worry about the way your relationship fluctuates day-by-day. It’s also easy to become fixated on other people: your partner and whether they’re “good enough”, what your family will think, even what their family will think if you leave or if you stay.
But hold up: let’s focus on your future for a minute.
What does your life currently look like? Is it how you want it to look? How would future you benefit from staying with your partner and how would she benefit from leaving?
If we ask “What is better for my future self?” it can be more helpful in a variety of scenarios because it enables us to look several steps ahead.
Let’s look at some totally made-up examples.
You feel you should stay with your partner for financial reasons and also because it feels safe but you don’t want to because you don’t have anything in common. Which is better for your future self?
That depends on your life goals. Let’s say you long to be more independent and find a partner who likes the same things. In that case, a breakup that financially debilitates you and leaves you lonely is probably bad for you right now but there are many possible benefits in the future. Maybe you’re spurred on to get a better job and become financially independent. Maybe you start to feel good about being alone. Maybe you even meet someone who’s a better fit.
Let’s try another example. You want to stay with your partner because you’re still infatuated with them, but the fact they won’t commit to anything longterm is making you feel like you should break up with them. Which is better for your future self?
Again, what life do you want for your future self? Let’s say you want to start a family. In that case, a break up would be painful in the short term: you’re still in love and will likely miss your partner and have doubts. But in the longterm, you will probably grow to understand that infatuation isn’t necessarily a sign your relationship is healthy. More importantly, you’ll stand more chance of meeting someone who does want to start a family with you.
I want to be clear: there is never a right or wrong answer. It’s about what works for you.
You could, for example, decide to stay with someone you like but have never been attracted to because companionate love (which is friendship-based love) is what you’re actually looking for. Or you could choose to leave because feelings of being “in love’ are a stronger value than being in a friendship-based relationship.
This question also might lead to finding alternatives other than simply stay or leave. Once I changed the question, I realised things don’t even always have to be as black and white as staying or leaving.
If you want more romantic adventures so feel you should leave your partner but don’t want to because you still love them, polyamory or some form of open relationship could be solutions that best serve your future happiness.
If you had stopped feeling attracted to your spouse but loved parenting with them, you could consider a “parenting marriage” where you still live together but just as companions and co-parents.
The possibilities are, well, not endless but certainly less restrictive.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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