One big message I learned from my Dad was that the way you make a decision will determine how you feel about it later, possibly more than how things turn out.
I’ve made some of the biggest decisions of my life easily and others were torture. As a teenager, when I would get stuck vacillating between a couple of options, my father used to say “Get another option.” Sometimes I felt dismissed, that he wasn’t taking the profound symbolism of my choice seriously. Then I’d follow his advice.
Your first impulse may be to think there aren’t any other options — or that you’ve already got a headache, you can’t handle more information. Fight those thoughts.
There is always another option, even if it’s not a good one. Often I’d forget all about option 2 and while comparing option 1 and 3 realize that obviously 1 was the best all along. Or maybe I’d forget about option 1 and realize 2 was the best. You get the idea. You may have to compare the new “most likely” to many other things before you commit to it. But you’re thinking, you’re not stuck.
I still tend to look for alternatives to either/ors. I prefer to find a process, small steps I can take and see where they lead. While I’m filling in information, I can remain undecided. Yes, I like that.
Along these lines, the authors of the British manual,” The Book of Life,” offer us a check-list of questions to ask ourselves as we ponder whether to stay or go. These questions may apply to marrieds contemplating divorce, as well as anyone who is ambivalent but unready to leave a relationship.
Remember that you’re not necessarily always easy to be around. Is this person especially bad at putting up with you? Remember the annoying traits in other people you know, and in previous partners, that your current partner doesn’t possess. Count the ways you aren’t fighting. (Action step: go on an overnight trip with a friend and compare and contrast her tolerance for, say, your lack of punctuality).
If you have got a crush on a man at the office, get to know him better.
Talk to people who are dating and see if you’d like to be in their shoes.
Have a civil, calm conversation with your partner, saying how you feel and how sad you are about not feeling closer.
Ask yourself how much of your unhappiness “can be tightly attributed to this particular partner – and how much might it, as we risk discovering five years and multiple upheavals later, turn out to be simply an inherent feature of any attempt to live in close proximity to another human?” You might leave and find out after several years that you’re just unhappy in a new way.
On the other hand, you may begin to see clearly that your partner is hurting you — with insults, threats, secrets, drug use. Don’t underestimate denial — you may be systematically minimizing and ignoring ugliness. You may need help to get out of the mess.
For my part, I don’t want to be the pot calling the kettle black. If I think my partner is too frightened to confront difficult people in his life, I confront my difficult people. If I think he’s neglecting his friends, I try to do more for mine. If he’s neglecting his health, I make the mammogram appointment. If I think he’s spaced out when I’m talking, I try to listen more to him. If I feel neglected, I try to be more comfortable with time alone.
Sometimes we stay out of pragmatism. You may not be able to leave for financial reasons. Work on the finances. If you’re afraid of being single because you’re in poor health, ask yourself if you’re doing everything possible to improve your health. Get in motion instead of obsessing over your relationship. Try baby steps in the better direction and baby steps away from the source of pain. Ask for help.
When partners see changes in you, they respond. I believe in paying close attention to the response. You might see what you’re hoping to see — a lover or someone to leave.