SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO??
MAKING THE DECISION TO STAY
There is no one “right answer” for that question and it will be different for everyone. For me, I made the decision to stay for a handful of reasons. Some may call them excuses or bad decisions. Does it matter what they think? Actually, YES! It does matter what they think. It matters because it can serve as valuable feedback for me, from my loved ones, which ended up partially contributing to my decision on how I wanted to move forward.
I’ve also found that the more feedback you get, the more options you are able to choose from or modify to fit your own specific needs (going back to Part I of this blog, I want to reiterate that it is always, always, ALWAYS A BAD IDEA to isolate yourself in an attempt to deal with this on your own. You MUST reach out for (productive and safe) support which will inevitably mean hearing many different points of views about your personal life and choices. This is why it’s so important to choose people who can be helpful and not shameful). When you get your support network in place (even if it’s just one person for now), it’s a humbling experience and is the first (and most important) step to recovering from this traumatic experience, whether or not you stay or go.
There is no rule that says one must stay to “work things out” and staying certainly does NOT make you a better or more noble person. Some things simply are not meant to be “worked out”. For me, however, I chose to stay for 2 reasons:
- My partner admitted to the issues and sincerely wanted to “do whatever it takes” to change (and is working the recovery).
- I had a personal commitment to my long-term goal (to get to the root of why I choose unhealthy relationships in the first place so that I could learn how to make better decisions in the future).
That commitment, for me, was independent of the status of my marriage. In my mind, divorce meant making a permanent legal decision to pack my bags and abandon ship- A decision that I didn’t feel I was at a healthy mental capacity to make at that point in my life. Staying married, however, for me did NOT mean I had to pretend everything was ok. Staying married gave me options: options to either continue living with my husband or move in with a friend or family member until I was at a better place emotionally and spiritually to make a decision I felt I confident with and could live with.
Staying married just meant I didn’t make long-term decisions at this point in my life. My focus remained strictly on my own personal needs and values and fell away from my partner’s “lack of”. Instead of worrying about what he was doing, I focused on figuring out what made me me? What did I stand for? What was I unwilling to allow? What was I willing to allow? Where am I wasting my energy? Where do I owe my energy to? What do I have control over? What am I powerless over? Was there a lesson in all of this? If so, what is it?
This is where establishing my own personal boundaries and bottom line came into effect (which takes some soul searching, but if you have that support network in place, it will be much easier to create your own “MY NON-NEGOTIABLE BOUNDARIES” list). I decided that if I were to allow myself to stay in such a relationship, it would be on my terms. On my conditions. Based on what was best for me. If my partner was unable to accept those boundaries, I had to leave.
Putting my ego to the side, I had to admit that what my partner lacked wasn’t love, morals, or integrity. He lacked having his own healthy boundaries and having visibility of my boundaries. That’s where my part in this mess comes in. I had no clear boundaries and my behavior (being a people-pleaser) reflected that of a walking doormat.
While we want to assume it is common sense to not do things like cheat and lie to your partner, it is important to acknowledge three very important rules:
1) Common sense varies for different people
2) Common sense and boundaries are not the same thing
3) Executive functioning and other important brain functions shut down in people with addictions (so don’t expect them to “just know” these things even after explaining hundreds of times.
Non-negotiable boundaries are not “rules” for your partner to live by,
but standards for YOU to live by.
When you define your worth and value, you are defining your non-negotiable boundaries. You are saying, “This is what I need in order to be in this relationship.” And while the word itself seems solid, non-negotiable boundaries don’t have to be permanent. People change. Needs change. What you need now, you may not need in a year from now.
DON’T BE A B#### ABOUT IT
Keeping in mind that boundaries aren’t rules for others but standards for you, when you write your boundary list, it is important to keep the list focused on what YOU need to feel safe and in an environment in which you can heal from the trauma. It has to be reasonable. I.e., you cannot make one of your boundaries, “You can never go out on a Friday night” or “You have to call me every hour so I know where you are and what you are doing.” That defeats the purpose of rebuilding trust and healing on both ends.
Lastly, not all boundaries are appropriate for all relationships. Some work for others and don’t work for the rest. Here are some of the boundaries that I personally felt needed to be made in my own relationship:
1) Use protection at all times.
2) No acting out:
- If acting out occurs, I must be informed within 24 hours.
- I will have to reevaluate the marriage.
- If I feel that my boundaries have been violated, I will either:
- consider alternative separate sleeping arrangements
- celibacy, or
- therapeutic/legal separation/divorce
3) Filtering software on all devices (No, not “Spyware”, but software that filters out “adult” content”)
Defining your boundaries takes a great amount of courage because it comes with the risk of your partner rejecting it (and you acknowledging that they have every right to), which means you have to follow through on your standards and leave the relationship. That sucks because we desperately want to grab onto it and change things, and by defining our own personal boundaries, we, in a sense, admit we are powerless… which seems scary at first. After all, who wants to feel powerless?
“I am powerless” is not the same as “I surrender” or “I accept this mistreatment”. What it means is that we finally come to realize that we cannot “fix” our partners. We didn’t cause their problems, and we cannot control it. Only they can (and they may choose not to). “I am powerless” means that we understand that the more we try to intervene, the more damage we cause to, not only our own healing, but our partner’s own healing journey as well.
One of my favorite readings on being powerless came from my First Step in COSA. It said:
“I am able to admit powerlessness over a situation that I want desperately to have power over, since I’m in it right now and I just want it to stop now. For me, the admission of powerlessness felt more like succumbing to abuse…I thought I was ready to admit I am powerless; but now, I realize that because of my fear, I am resisting the idea of powerlessness over my life as it is unfolding right now…There is, inside of me, a place of awareness and understanding, however, that tells me that by admitting I am powerless and honestly surrendering to a higher power, I will, in fact, become empowered. But I am choosing to stand in my fear right now because of trusting the process. I know the effort is worth it; not only in terms of healing in this one area, but also because I know the healing won’t be simply confined to these issues, but to all areas of my life and will touch and strengthen and heal every relationship, every commitment, every thought, and every action. This can be done.”
Now that you have your non-negotiable boundaries on paper, and have acknowledged the risk (possibly having to walk away from the relationship), you will surprisingly find some sense of peace because the focus is now off of what has happened to you and more on what you can do to make things better.
That doesn’t mean we are accepting the behavior or accepting the marriage the way it is. It means we are accepting our lives to unfold the way they are unfolding right now, and focusing on our own healing (which can only happen with established boundaries) and not dwelling on the problems outside of us of which we cannot control.
If your partner has committed to making this journey, it is your obligation to step back and trust, as a sign of respect and love to him/her. This allows them to fully experience and own their own power of healing and growth. Now if that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.
FORGIVENESS AND TAKING RESPONSIBILITY
For me, overcoming the betrayal(s) wasn’t about me feeling loved or not. It wasn’t about what is right or wrong either. And it wasn’t about fixing my husband or changing anyone’s lifestyle or beliefs. It was about focusing on what was really important, what was truly in my control, letting go of what was NOT in my control (other people’s behaviors), and feeling safe, implementing boundaries to ensure my safety, following through with the consequences if the boundaries were violated, and knowing that no amount of changing others would bring me inner peace. Inner peace was something I had to bring about within myself, which included forgiveness.
I had to own up to my part in this story and let go of the need to control everything in my life- most importantly people in my life, even if their behavior had affected me negatively. We have no control over the past or future, but we have all the control over our current moment, right here, right now. We don’t know what tomorrow will look like. We don’t know if our marriage will end in a month, a year, or even five or 10 years down the road. If leaving is what is best for you, then that is what is best for you. But only you will know that, as every situation is different.
And with that, I’ll end with more helpful tools in the recovery process: Emotional Boundaries
The difference between non-negotiable boundaries and emotional boundaries is that emotional boundaries are like “promises” to yourself that are meant to serve you now and way into the future, regardless of what your relationship status is. These too, will be different for different types of people and situations, but here are some of the ones I came up with:
- Instead of trying to punish my partner for hurting me, I will take care of myself in a healthy way such as taking a walk, reading, praying, meditating, sleeping separately, writing, talking with a friend, or something else (non-destructive and healthy).
- I will continue work on my own recovery, regardless of my partner’s commitment to his own recovery.
- While I respect my partner’s need for privacy, instead of zoning out, isolating myself, or emotionally disconnecting when I am in pain, I will reach out and share with others in my life who are safe.
In a world of impermanence, the only guarantee is that there will always be change, and as humans we are not immune to any kind of disappointment or pain. But we have the power to overcome it through our own resilience and inner strength. We need not force others to “fix themselves” to make our lives better, easier, or safer. We fix ourselves and make our lives better by removing the fixation on the faults of others and focus on what is best for us. And, as controversial as this may be, we learn that there are hidden gifts in sorrow and suffering**.
When we own that, and take responsibility for ourselves, we are letting them take responsibility for their actions as well. This is a great gift to those whom we love.
One day in the future I may regret writing this. Or I might actually applaud myself for pulling through it all with my head held high. With dignity. With respect- not just for myself, but for all the others that have struggled to find their own way through it.
**Again, abuse in ANY form is NOT acceptable at anytime. If you are a victim of abuse, there is no “stay” option.