Can Your Relationship Be Saved?
How to Know Whether to Stay or Go
By Dr. Michael S. Broder
5 star must reading. [The following is what I highlighted during my read of this excellent book -- I recommend it on my Top-ten List of Peace resources. My purpose in providing them is to interest you, the reader, and hope that you will obtain and read the complete work. To properly understand the highlights, you need to read the book to put them in the proper context.]
You Are Not Alone!
… rather than referring to an ended marriage as one that has failed, I will encourage you to acknowledge that a relationship has ended because it ran its course.
… there is no such thing as a happy or unhappy couple—only the happy or unhappy people (who constitute the couple.)
… your happiness is way too subjective a matter for anyone but you to determine!
Ambivalence is a state of mind where you feel torn or stuck between one or more conflicting choices.
… honor the uniqueness of both you and your situation.
How to Use This Book
… take your time with each chapter so that you can fully digest the material on an emotional level.
Most importantly, this book is about you and the relationship that perhaps represents for you the most crucial aspect of your life.
… the main mission… to tape the greatest resource you will ever have, to make this or any other major life decision—your own inner wisdom.
Part 1: Your Relationship
This is a book about you and the rest of your life. It’s also about choices and becoming empowered to make them. And it’s about relationships—what it takes to make them work, when efforts to do so become futile, and where it’s now best to take yours—if (and how) it can be saved and should be saved, or if it’s too late.
1: Why Did You Buy This Book?
… I can’t imagine that there are very many of us who haven’t been at this crossroad at some time, with one relationship or another.
For a relationship to
begin—or to continue—there has to be a degree of desire, effort, or at least
collaboration on the part of both partners; but for a relationship to end, all
that is needed is for one partner to want it to end.
The Two Main Pillars
of Relationships that Work
… the two most important components of relationships that work: passion and comfort.
- Passion is all the romantic and sexual energy that gets you together as a couple in the first place. Passion is a great motivator. It prompts you to open your heart to someone, and is the stuff upon which longing, desire and certain types of intimacy are built. But passion alone cannot keep a relationship together.
- The second component is what I call comfort. Comfort is the ability to work things out, to enjoy each other’s company, to respect each other, to share a common lifestyle, goals and values (financial, children, work schedules, etc.) and to live a peaceful and contented co-existence.
When it comes to making a commitment to each other, passion is the part of you that commits from the heart. However, it is your brain that determines whether your relationship provides you with a sufficient degree of comfort to warrant the commitment. Maintaining a sufficient degree of passion and comfort—for each of you—is really a lifelong job.
In all types of troubled relationships it is important to ask: “What is the potential for change?” If the answer is “none,” the next question to ask yourself is, “Is this where I still want to be?”
What Are Your
- Obsessively jealous
- Dependency or smothering
- Life purpose
Then and Now
After you have reflected on these questions, and maybe
added some to your list of issues, you may want to go through them again—only
this time as your partner, and take a look at them as
they apply to you. Warning: this can
be a powerful eye-opening exercise.
… can you say that your partner is someone you truly like?
If you had to do it all over again, would you marry (or become committed to) your partner again?
Looking at Your
I’ve seen many
relationships fall victim to the expectations put on them.
2: Can Your Relationship Be Saved? An
Does it need kindling?
The inventory that you are about to take in this chapter comes about as close to the standard of a litmus test as anything I have found.
What really needs to be looked at is the reason you answered “true” to any item where true applies…
3. I am constantly thinking about how nice it would be to have an affair.
Moderate risk: As long as it is kept on a fantasy level (unless your relationship is not a monogamous one). Is there someone in particular? Is your fantasy saying that your sex life is unfulfilling? Chapters 5 and 6 will contain some perspectives for addressing this issue.
… even the best couples do grow apart in certain aspects of their lives.
High risk: Restoring respect once it is gone is somewhere between extremely difficult and impossible. The only exception to the rule is if you can pinpoint a specific issue(s) that caused this trend to begin, and then work it through.
Remember the only resource that you cannot replace is time.
Experience shows that unless this is worked through, what comfort exists will drain away over time and lead to resentment.
25. My partner has done something for which I cannot forgive him/her.
This was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
High risk: The metaphor of the “straw that breaks a camel’s back” indicates that there have been numerous unresolved issues that taken by themselves may be quite small, but when added up amount to something rather large. Learning how to deal with these (instead of sweeping them under the rug—to use another metaphor) is probably your only redeeming way to go. No relationship will survive happily if you can’t learn how to get past life’s upsets. Chapter 6 explores this in detail.
28. I am almost certain my partner is having an affair, and if this is true, I will not tolerate it.
Moderate to High risk: Believe it or not, many relationships have become stronger after either the acknowledgment of an affair or the fear of it is brought out and dealt with. There is no easy answer here, because you are dealing with trust—one of the most important fabrics of the relationship itself. Chapter 3 contains ways to help you look at the issue of trust.
By discovering that you could go it alone, you are in a much better position to make the choices necessary here.
… your long term happiness, both individually and as a couple, depends on taking the risk.
… the real issue here is acknowledging together the desire for what you had, and working as a team to recreate it.
… my definition of a long-term relationship is one that survives the normal bumps in the road such as the decrease of that initial passion.
Couples in long-term relationships … often find that as individuals they have slowly begun to walk on different paths.
… you can work on changing the climate so that your personal growth is possible.
Truly loving a person is usually incentive to leave no stone unturned in trying to arrive at a satisfactory degree of fulfillment.
Part 2: Working Through the Curse of
Either (a) the direction your life will now take—staying versus ending your relationship—is an obvious one … or (b) there is even more confusion than you may have imagined. In the latter case, Part 2 will help you to sort through your confusion…
… you can expect success only to the extent you will commit to making the changes that can resolve your ambivalence.
3: The Pain of Staying Versus the Pain of
(Examples of relationship ambivalence include: wanting to leave, but not wanting to let go of the parts of your relationship or lifestyle you do value; being torn between the good parts of both your relationship and what you perceive as your life after the relationship ends; wanting to stay, but feeling intolerant of certain aspects of your relationship; or being unhappy with your relationship, while scared of what awaits you if you leave it.)
What is Ambivalence?
Ambivalence in and of
itself can actually destroy your life!
… being ambivalent about it could ruin the quality of it all.
… the problem comes in to the degree that you allow yourself to operate under this all-too-common myth: that there is one and only one absolutely right answer that will contain no shades of gray. The myth continues when you believe that by being indecisive and holding out long enough, some certain, indisputable and absolute answer will somehow come to you.
… you will resist
making tough decisions at all that you are the least bit ambivalent about!
By remaining ambivalent, you are making a decision by default—that is deciding by making no decision.
… what important life issue doesn’t contain some degree of uncertainty? Certainly not the area of relationships!
Some people actually have a fear of making decisions altogether. If that’s you, it is likely you have many regrets about things that may have passed you by.
… to the extent that ambivalence exceeds prudent caution it will generally serve to hold you back;…
So if you are feeling ambivalent about your relationship right now, consider your ambivalence to be as worthy of resolution as any of your other relationship issues.
Here are a few ways to attack ambivalence:
Remember that just about all
of your important decisions are, to one extent or another, educated guesses.
- Forget about certainty. The concept of certainty itself is a myth. Instead, believe in yourself.
If You Are
Questioning Whether to Stay or Go
relationships that end do so not out of failure, but merely because they have run their course.
… that time of your life was simply over. It ran its natural course, and it was time to move on.
Determine the practical and
logical steps in ending your relationship, and then make a preliminary to-do
list for the major life change that lies before you.
For each of your to-do list
items, give special thought as to how you can accomplish each task in the best
possible way, without creating more pain or more obstacles for you or anyone
… only one caution:
pay particular attention to the issues of children who are often more vulnerable
during this period.
Make a list of what sources
of support you may need at this point in order to help you get through your
Or Worth Staying?
… if both of you
are willing to work—by whatever means—on the most serious issues, your
relationship is still viable!
Or “Toughing It
Here is a handy way to check out your bottom line
On a scale from zero to ten … how much do you want your relationship to continue?
… you and your partner can even have a great discussion about how you can work together to bring each of your numbers to “10.”
The Crunch Point
… this relationship was damaging me.
… no longer emotionally connected…
… detached sexually…
“I refused to be abused any longer…”
Some Bottom Lines to
With rare exceptions,
a relationship that is not serving both of you is not benefiting either of you
in the end.
Changes will be permanent only if your partner clearly sees that it is to his or her personal benefit and advantage to make them. And the same goes for you.
… waiting for that mythical absolute certainty is merely a bad strategy for burning up your most precious and irreplaceable commodity—time!
… while for many the task is to learn relationship skills, for others it is to learn how to leave.
When do you know that a relationship has truly run its course? Any of these three signals should be taken very seriously:
- You and/or your partner do not want to stay in the relationship, and one or both of you have no desire to work on resolving the issues.
- There is no longer a desire for you to spend time together, and neither of you feels motivated to increase your tolerance of each other, work on your indifference, or be involved in each other’s life.
- The magnitude of stress is so great that it causes you physical or emotional problems…
My own bottom-line belief is this:
If you are undecided, it is in your own best interest to leave no stone
unturned in trying to save your relationship, provided that your relationship
has at least the potential to add an acceptable degree of happiness and quality
to your life.
If you have determined that you must get out in order to live a life
that can be fulfilling to you on a long term basis, then my advice is to do
whatever it takes to recognize that your relationship has indeed run its course,
and for the sake of the quality of your life, accept the reality that it cannot
Strategies to Work Through Your Ambivalence
Set a definite standard to
gauge whether or not your relationship should continue. For example, make a
list of what would have to happen for you to feel a sense of peace.
In thinking long-term, think about what you can live with for a period from five years to the rest of your life.
- Determine whether your passion conflicts with peace. How would you suggest someone else (other than your partner) whom you truly cared about resolve this dilemma?
- Set a time limit. … their relationship takes on a higher priority.
… observe whether the absence draws you closer or pushes you further apart.
… ground rules…
For an innovative approach to the trial separation, take a look at Dr. Bruce Fisher’s “Healing Separation” model in the book, Rebuilding: When Your Relationship Ends (Fisher & Alberti, 2000)
… if you do consult an attorney at a point in time where you are still ambivalent, be clear that you have not yet decided to separate or divorce.
… you will probably feel much better if you do everything you possibly can when it comes to saving a relationship which you value!
Ambivalence is a state of mind, not a point of fact. Resolving ambivalence may not be easy, but once you do it you will have the rest of your life to reap the benefits. In the next chapter, we’ll explore what leaving will be like for you if that is your choice.
4: “What If I Leave?”—“Will I Be
And All Those Other Questions You May Be
… “pro and con” list … thoroughly imagine and visualize—with your eyes closed—what your life would be like if your relationship were now to end.
Here is the visualization exercise:
Allow yourself to thoroughly imagine your relationship ending right now.
Be aware of what your life would be like. Think about the people, places and
things that would—or you believe would—be a part of your life if you were
now to end your relationship. How would life be different for you right now?
(Pause) See if you can imagine a worst-case scenario. (Pause) Be totally aware
of how you are feeling at each step of this process. Next, see if you can
conjure up a best-case scenario, and let yourself just drift with that best-case
scenario for as long as it takes. (Pause) Having imagined a best-and a
worst-case scenario, see if you can find the image that would most represent the
reality of how your life would be right now were you to decide to end your relationship. (Pause) Next, go forward
slightly in time to take a look at what you imagine your life would
be like. What would be some of the joys and sorrows of the very immediate future
just after your breakup? (Pause) Now, take your time and imagine what things
might be like for you one month from now. (Pause) How about in one year? (Pause)
How about in five years? (Pause) How about in twenty years? (Pause) What would
it be like for you toward the end of your life? (Pause) At each step, imagine
that you are past all of the details. What do you feel most happy about? (Pause)
What are your regrets? (Pause) Take plenty of time to reflect on each of these
The answers you are
seeking lie underneath those emotions.
… be especially mindful of what it is that you are seeking for yourself by ending this relationship. Is it peace of mind? Is it freedom?
“If I Leave, Will
I Be Sorry?”
… lack of fulfillment was the major factor behind her low-grade depression.
… die emotionally and spiritually.
If you’re second-guessing your own decision to leave, try this: Honestly compare your life without the relationship to how it really was with the relationship. (Be realistic here: forget about how you wished it was, or how it might have been).
Children need to have their own relationship—with as much stability with each parent as possible.
… never—ever—badmouth each other to or in front of the kids!
Experience has shown that what is ultimately better for the kids usually will ultimately best serve the parents as well. Remember, you’re not leaving your children!
… it is normal for sexual desire to fluctuate.
… attributed her actions to naiveté and perhaps immaturity…
… the difference between hindsight and insight. Hindsight is the attitude that underlies that destructive tendency to put yourself down—after the fact—for making what you later perceive to be an incorrect decision… hindsight is rarely helpful. However, some important insights might be: “Relationships are complex and involve two people. When an issue arises, it’s important to try to resolve it if you value the person you are involved with, rather than to run away.
“Even if I make a seriously wrong decision, I need to learn how to forgive myself, let go of it (and him) and move on.”
“I’ve Decided to
Leave, Now What?”
… do me a favor and leave for me.
… take the responsibility for ending it.
“Maybe if I were having an affair…”
… leave with as much dignity as possible.
… cooperation can (by some estimates) make your collective legal fees a mere fraction…
… peace is
priceless, and worth every penny of it!
But “Breaking Up
Is Hard to Do” (or at Least Can Be!)
… both rebound and prebound relationships have one thing in common: they serve as that combination of anesthesia and/or a safety net to aid the prebounder in breaking away emotionally.
… spending money… self medicating…
… nobody can ultimately make your choices except you.
Considerations for Leaving
… make every effort to reframe that belief to the alternative, “My relationship has run its course.” If you work hard at allowing this affirmation to take hold in your belief system, you will be amazed at how your negative feelings—such as anger and guilt—will change.
- As hard as it may be, force yourself to see whatever decision(s) you are making in a positive light.
… always refer back to the reasons for making your decision.
… relationships are way too complex to be thought of in black-and-white terms.
- If you decide to reconcile, do so only after you have resolved the issues that were responsible for the breakup;… This includes genuinely forgiving each other and letting go of anything and everything either of you may be angry about.
- Take some time to reflect on the relationship that has just ended, and make a long list of things that you have learned, about yourself and about relationships, that you would not want to repeat when next you become involved.
Wisdom right now can be defined as your ability to learn from all that has taken place.
… make sure that your next partner is someone who actually likes and supports you…
… be aware of what your bottom line was in ending it.
5: “What If I Stay? Could I Be Missing
A Better Life?”
… “Pros and Cons for Staying in this Relationship.”
Imagine what staying in your relationship would feel like. Think about
the people, places, and things that would be or continue to be a part of your
life if you were to stay. As you go along, picture details of scenes in your
life. Take all the time you need to feel and experience any emotions that come
up for you. (Pause) and stay with each
aspect of this exercise for as long as you would like in order to be able to see
all the visions emerge, feel all of the emotions that come up, and allow
yourself to process any insights that may arise.) Become aware of what it is you
would now need to do in order to keep your present relationship intact. (Pause)
Next, see if you can conjure up a best-case scenario, and just let yourself just
drift with that best-case scenario of staying together for as long as it takes.
(Pause) Then do the same for what you
imagine to be your worst-case scenario. (Pause)
Having imagined both a best- and a worst-case scenario of what your life would
be like by staying together, see if you can find the image that most represents
the reality of how your life would be right now were you to decide to stay. And
imagine what you would feel regarding your decision toward yourself, your
partner, and all those relevant people who are important to you. Be especially
aware of any joys or sorrows that come up. (Pause) Let yourself slowly drift from right now to next month. What would
your life be like in a month if the decision you made were to stay, and you were
able to put any thoughts of leaving behind you? (Pause)
A year from now? (Pause) In five
years? (Pause) Twenty years? (Pause) Take all of the time you need to return to and experience any phase of
your visualization that you feel drawn to. Then slowly, let your vision extend
toward the end of your life. (Pause) When you are good and ready, and you have seen all there is to see for
right now, slowly open your eyes.
- “I wish I knew, but there’s no way I could possibly know right now, so why ask?”
What does your
partner need to do in order for you to let go of that last trace of ambivalence?
What does your
partner need to do in order for you to resolve your ambivalence in favor of
Next, consider whether and how your requests (or demands) can be negotiated.
willingness to do what it takes to support each other through the changes you
both find important could be the magic ingredient that takes your relationship
off of life support!
Working It Out
- Show your willingness to listen to his or her point of view as well.
- … Chances are that if you keep an open mind, you will learn something that you have not known before. … don’t cheat yourself of the opportunity to find out.
- Be as clear as possible when sharing your expectations of each other. You are looking for long-term solutions…
- Settle for nothing less than a win-win solution! … “what’s good for you needs to be good for me”
How Have Other
Couples Worked It Out?
In my experience, the loss of sexual desire (when there is not a physical reason) is usually a symptom of underlying anger about one or more unresolved issues.
… the higher your
expectations are of each other, the more difficulty you will have in meeting
Total agreement is an
“quirks” do not exist.
Letting your partner
be who he is makes things so much easier.
… perfect enough.
don’t exist, either.
Forever exists only
in theory. Life is best lived a day (week, month) or—perhaps when applying the
principle to deciding whether your relationship can stay together—a year at a
Beware of those vague
fantasies of nirvana to which you may be comparing the real life you have.
You can choose peace
by giving your partner the acceptance he or she deserves, or turmoil by
Here’s to the End
of Your Ambivalence
… reconciling those best and worst visions, you can get an incredibly sharp view of the big picture.
… work out ways to change your and your partner’s behavior—not your personalities.
- How realistic is the fantasy of having everything you could possibly want in one partner? … changing what can be changed while accepting everything else.
- Never compare an outside affair with your primary relationship. … If you have discovered that your partner has had an affair, avoid the immediate temptation to write your partner off forever. Take my word for one thing: Although many relationships do (and perhaps should) split up because of extramarital activities, many others have been made a lot stronger because of their ability to survive them.
- The lack of sexual desire can have many causes…
No relationship that you value is worth throwing away without a thorough evaluation of these types of conditions.
… my definition of what the true nature of a committed relationship is: It is an agreement that you will stay together until one of you changes your mind!
In the next chapter, we will explore your new life together, along with ways to minimize the possibility that you will change your mind.
Part 3: The Aftermath of Ambivalence
6: Yes, It Can Be Saved!
Making Your Life Together Really Work
What Could Make It
Work For You This Time?
“I finally learned what forgiving my partner meant—to really let go of the things that I was angry about…
… I now realize
that I have to accept him for who he is!”
“I … treat her as
I want to be treated…
… now at least we
both agree that we have lots more work to do.”
“I now appreciate
what I have in my partner.
… learned to
tolerate each other…
… be nurturing and comforting to my partner…
… resolve it in
favor of whoever considers it most important.
… find a win-win
When we romanticize,
we infer that a relationship can effortlessly operate on automatic pilot without
working on the issues that will inevitably come up.
Creating a New
- Develop a vision (perhaps a shared one) of what you would imagine your ideal relationship to each other would be like.
Write a “job
description” for the role of ideal partner.
… realistic and possible…
Where are we going? (With respect to our goals together, our communication, our sex life, our finances, parenting our kids, our careers, our lifestyle, etc., etc.)
Where would we like to be? (In all the important areas of life together and separately).
What obstacles are there that separate where we are now from where we want to be? (Be as specific as possible)
… develop a code
Make it a sacred part
of your relationship.
- Remember not to expect perfection from yourselves or each other.
- When you spend time talking to each other in a meaningful way, don’t focus only on problems and issues!
- Plan fun things together.
Learning How to
Support Each Other
Everyone defines support in his or her own way when feeling overwhelmed, needy, troubled or in a crisis. So the question is: What do you prefer? And what does your partner prefer?
… “Instructions for Supporting Me When I Need It the Most.”
The choice is yours. Couples who can use those opposite characteristics to their own advantage operate with four eyes and four ears, rather than canceling each other out. And canceling is often the result when there is perpetual conflict. But getting this to work fully to your advantage can present a challenge.
Getting Past Your
- Be careful about what you share with your family and friends concerning your relationship.
- Learn to take risks with each other.
Never forget this: You can always share “it” later, but once it’s said, you can’t unsay it.
- Work hard on your ability to empathize with each other. –have a solid awareness of each other’s needs, desires and feelings.
… check out what my husband meant…
- Learn to forgive!
… as important as passion may be to you, it is rarely enough to sustain a full-time long-term relationship!
Perspectives on Keeping Your Relationship Together
- Let your partner pursue what is important to him or her and make an agreement that both of you will do that for each other. This includes allowing each other some space and privacy. Also, be sensitive to your partner’s need to be alone. If there is one ingredient present in the happiest couples I know, it is this form of mutual support.
- … love is conditional based not on who you are but on what you do. … Taking each other for granted simply means forgetting this very important truth about relationships.
7:No, It Can’t Be Saved
Maximizing Your New Single-Again Life
… a far more powerful master strategy for you right now is to become emotionally free.
Then your next relationship will be a choice, not a necessity for happiness.
“What is the best advantage you can tell me about being single?” “What have you found to be the worst disadvantage of the single life?”
Practically everyone I interviewed pointed to the awesome amount of freedom and choice that a single lifestyle provided them as being the best thing about single life.
… the worst aspect of single life, it was those feelings of loneliness and isolation that are sometimes a by-product.
… like practically everything else in life, there’s a price, or a flip side.
… learn how to experience and enjoy your power and freedom to the fullest, it will take a truly special person to get you to give your new lifestyle up…
It is important to allow yourself to mourn your ended relationship…
At the very least, being able to experience your aloneness as the positive and self-nourishing feeling of solitude will make your life as a single-again person tolerable. At best, you will discover (or perhaps rediscover) solitude to be profoundly enjoyable and fulfilling!
Freedom, Aloneness, and Solitude
… time is a gift only if you use it to serve yourself.
- Avoid another unworkable relationship. Be aware of inappropriate partners…
- Focus on your core values. Think about the traits, qualities and behaviors that you consider essential in a partner.
As you heal from what may have been a major life crisis for you and those around you, I urge you not to forget this period of time or the process you have undergone.
- Work hard to let go of your anger, guilt, blame, and all of the other negative feelings…
- … it all happens for a purpose.
- … Don’t fool yourself into thinking that one simplistic reason was the cause of it all!
- Remember the good times as well as the bad.
If you are staying:
- Don’t consider this chapter in your life to be over until you have in some way resolved all the issues that brought you to this crisis in the first place. Then once they are resolved, please—let go of them forever!
- Forgiving each other is a critical part of the letting go process. … resolve to start again with a clean slate.
- … tackle any issue that surfaces while it is still small. Never underestimate the importance of keeping things current!
- Always give one another the benefit of the doubt. And, don’t be afraid to give in.
- Long-term relationships are about much more than issues. They are also about fun, play and lightness.
No matter where things go from here, there is one thing that is crucial—to live your life according to your own choices, sense of empowerment, and fulfillment. I hope you can make that your definition of living life to the fullest.