Based on the book Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay by Mira Kirshenbaum, this article explores the topic of making a good relationship decision.

What is Relationship Ambivalence

It’s been several times you caught yourself thinking about whether to end your relationship, imagining the alternative reality if you were free from your partner or with somebody else.

You could be thinking these thoughts right after a quarrel with your partner, or rather, seemingly out of the blue when everything seems to work just fine between the you. Would you be happier if you let go of this relationship? Or is there still hope that things could be better between the two of you if you hang on?

You could not find a conclusion as the more you think, the messier your thoughts become. Memories, feelings, hopes and fears. You feel confused and paralysed. Maybe you would wait, wishing that perhaps one day, a clear decision will come to you.

This is what is known as relationship ambivalence, when you are in a relationship that seems both too good to leave and too bad to stay. While taking some time to consider things thoroughly may be a wise and mature approach to decision-making, sitting on the fence while waiting for things to become clearer may not be beneficial at all. In fact, relationship ambivalence is the worst place to be in. In this state, you will not be working on a relationship that is still good to keep (hence, losing your chance), and you will not be letting go of a relationship that is actually bad for you (hence, prolonging your suffering).

So how to get out of ambivalence and make decision with clarity? You might be overwhelmed with the considerations you have, trying to balance the good against the bad. Yet however hard you tried, clarity is not easy to get. Someone please just tell me, you ask aloud, WHAT SHOULD I DO?

Making a Decision

Getting out of relationship ambivalence means obtaining clarity on your relationship. Having clarity does not necessarily lead to taking drastic actions immediately. You may still not be ready to do anything just yet, but that is because you actually know what you are doing and not just waiting for things to happen.  

So how does one obtain clarity and make a decision out of emotional messes? Clarity comes from simplification. Instead of digging out more factors to consider and try to weigh them against the sliding scale of good and bad, you really need to think about just a few key factors. I have personally distilled a few key questions that you could ask yourself that can help with clarity.

5 Key Questions to Leaving or Staying

Question 1: When the relationship was at its “best”, did it feel right for you?

Many of you may think that this is a no-brainer, that it must have felt “right” otherwise the relationship wouldn’t have continued? This is exactly right. So for the minority who has had doubts since the very beginning, the harsh truth, based on probability, is that “if it never was very good, it’ll never be very good.

Question 2: Is the relationship abusive, physically and/or emotionally?

Physical abuse, especially if it is not a single, isolated incident, is a cause of grave concern and should be a definitive red flag for leaving the relationship at once. Emotional abuse may sometimes to be harder to detect and thought of as more tolerable, when in fact the harm could be severe. Emotional abuse may come in different forms, through controlling, manipulative or alienating behaviours. If you have a basic, recurring, never-completely going away feeling of humiliation, powerlessness or invisibility in your relationship, it is a clear indication of emotional manipulation and abuse.

Question 3: Suspending all judgment from yourself, others and God or your spiritual belief, would you feel relieved to leave?

Some of us might be bound by expectations, imposed by the society, our communities, family and upbringings, religions and values, and ourselves in terms of aspirations and principles. Even when a relationship was dead long time ago, some of us cling on because of expectations imposed on us. If you suspend all judgements on the situation, you may find better clarity about what the situation actually is and what you truly want.

Question 4: Despite all the problems, do you still find your partner is reasonably nice, smart, sane, not ugly and okay smelling to you?

These are known as “pre-love conditions”, which must be met for the person to be deemed okay for you before you fall in love with that something special. If your answer to the above question is a “no” while being calm and objective about it, then you know you might be happier if you leave the relationship.

Question 5: Does it seem to you that your partner generally and consistently blocks your attempts to bring up topics or raise questions about things that you really care about?

You might want to give the benefit of doubt, thinking of excuses and justifications for your partner if they have not given you a variety of reasons already. What you need to see though, is the fact that if your partner constantly blocks your attempt to communicate your main concerns in one way or another, it is likely intentional. There is a difference between poor communication skills and not wanting to hear or care about your needs at all.

Make a decision for yourself

Of course, like all self-assessments, there is a limit to how accurate it can assess unique cases, and definitely limited in its predictive power of the future. However, the questions are well-formulated based on real case studies and statistics, so they do reflect the general probability of a positive or negative outcome.

Regardless of the clarity and answer you’ve got from the above, at the end of the day, you are living your life based on your own choices. Having clarity is the first step to making better choices.

Like this article? You might also be interested in the other articles in this category of Love Psychology:

Knowing when to seek counselling for your couple

Killing Love Softly with Silence

Perfect Timing – When to Fall in and out of Love


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