At some point in time you’ve likely thought about ending your relationship with your addicted loved one. Your current partnership may be very different than when you first started dating. Instead of laughs, hugs, and loving words, your relationship may be filled with ways to avoid your partner, with heartache, with negotiations to get your loved one to stop using, and with fights. You might be thinking that the relationship you had with your loved one is no longer possible. The decision to stay or to leave is not easy, and may be one of the toughest decisions you’ll have to make in your relationship. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this difficult question. Although we can’t make the decision easier, considering certain factors might make the answer a littler clearer for you.
In the last post we talked about boundaries. To review, boundaries are the limits we place on what behaviors we determine are okay and not okay. Although we all have boundaries, the boundaries you choose are up to you. Deciding to stay or leave your relationship includes thinking about your boundaries in the relationship.
In addition to examining what boundaries you would choose to hold the line for in your relationship, below are some other factors to consider when making the decision to stay or leave a relationship with someone who is struggling with addiction.
5 factors to consider when thinking about ending the relationship:
- Think about your past attempts to work on the relationship. If you’ve tried to work on your relationship in the past (e.g., couples counseling, working through a self-help couples book), how did these attempts go? What worked? What didn’t? If something worked in the past, it may be worth it to try it again to see if it can improve your relationship. If nothing seems to have worked, do you feel like you actually gave it a real shot to make it work or were you just going through the motions? What would it look like to actually work on the relationship?
- Consider your partner’s willingness and ability to work on the relationship. How open do you think your partner is to working on the relationship? Do you believe that he/she has the emotional resources at this time to do some potentially hard work to change the relationship? It will take time, effort, and energy to change the course of the relationship. Do you think he/she is willing and able to do the work? If not, do you think that you can convince him or her to work on the relationship? Or is all the hard work going to come from you?
- Are you willing to put in the time and energy to work on the relationship? To change the relationship, it will require that both you and your partner put in the time and work. In addition to assessing your partner’s ability and willingness, it is important to take time to think about your willingness and ability to work on the relationship. Are you open to do the hard work? Do you have the emotional resources, energy, and time to do the work needed to save the relationship? Are your efforts to make the relationship work based on a “should” (“I really should at least go to a few sessions of couples therapy before I leave”). What would you actually choose to put your efforts into working on if it wasn’t just about a “should” but rather about something you would choose?
- Outline your beliefs about what you feel needs to be done before moving on. You may also have your own personal, spiritual, or religious beliefs about if and when to end a relationship, or about what type and amount of work you need to do before you leave a relationship. Now some of these beliefs might take the form of a “should” (i.e. something that someone else believes and tell you is “right” but may not really seem right for you). Remember, there are going to be plenty of people out there who will tell you that they know what you “should” do! So first, see if you can separate those “shoulds” with those things you really feel would be important to you based on your own beliefs, values, or morals. Outline those things that you personally feel you would choose to do before you felt okay about ending the relationship. Actually writing down those things might be helpful so that you’re clear. In this process, also consider whether your expectations of yourself are realistic. Are your expectations of yourself realistic or are you needlessly chaining yourself to an unworkable relationship? If not, then are there more options to try before you give up?
- Consider your safety. According to experts on domestic violence, one of the most dangerous times in a relationship is when the abused partner leaves the relationship. Remember, if there is any danger of domestic violence, always take precautions and actions to ensure your safety and the safety of your loved ones (e.g. children or pets living in the home). We have several resources on domestic violence that you can access if you are in or thinking about leaving an abusive relationship.
Making the decision to stay or to end a relationship can be incredibly difficult and heartbreaking. Taking time to think about the above factors, as well as the factors discussed in last week’s post may begin to give you a sense of direction and help clarify what is important to you and your family. You can also download a worksheet that will help you think through some of the factors listed above.