Stuck in Relationship Purgatory

September 18, 2018




Hey you!  Yeah, you.  The one who wonders if you should end your relationship or not.  Why haven't you made up your mind yet?  Why is it that you feel confused?  I'll tell you.  


It's called relationship ambivalence.  It's a shift of your energy from being in the relationship to wondering if you should be in the relationship.  You spend a lot of time and energy trying to decide what to do.  And despite all of this, despite looking at all of the evidence, you just feel more confused.  


There are some good things about your relationship.  Maybe sometimes you guys laugh, or have good sex, or you worry that you will be more lonely single.  But there are also times when your relationship sucks.  Maybe you fight a lot, or you spend money differently, or you hate the way they parent.  


Sometimes your relationship sucks for a long time.  Week after week or month after month, things are bad.  And you are close to acting on it.  You tell yourself, okay this is it, I can't take this anymore. I'm done.   Then suddenly there is a shift.  Things improve.  Maybe you aren't happy but all of a sudden, you aren't as miserable as you were.  Then you think that you shouldn't leave.  You second guess yourself.  You think maybe this relationship can be saved.  


But that only lasts a little while and old problems or annoyances creep back in.  The relationship shifts back and you start the whole agonizing over what to do again.  This can go on for years.  In fact, for many people it does.  Research has shown that 1/5 of people in relationships are currently thinking about leaving. 


Why is it hard to figure out what to do?  It's because we all use a pros and cons way of looking at a relationship.  We act as  a lawyer for both sides, arguing the case for staying or leaving and then we try to be the jury as well.  This process just doesn't work.   Instead we need to take a doctor's way of diagnosing to figure it out.  When you are diagnosing a relationship, you aren't making a list of all the good things and the bad.  Instead, you are looking for the sources of pain and then finding solutions to stop the pain from happening.   


Why does the pros and cons method not work?  It's because your relationship is constantly changing and the situation is constantly changing.  Relationship situations are too complex to have a neat list of pros and cons.  What may be a pro in one situation, may be a con in the next.  


Here is an example.  The other day I was reading stories on weddings gone wrong.  In one of them, the groom pushed the bride into a pool.  She got really angry and left.   This really got me thinking!  I have a friend who jumped into the ocean with her husband on their wedding day.  She was hesitating, but laughing, and he grabbed her hand and sort of yanked her in and they both embraced the moment.  They were so happy and the pictures are amazing.  Yes, her dress and hair were ruined but she didn't really care.  If you were to ask her about it, she would tell you that is one of the most amazing moments of her life because she felt like they were celebrating and being spontaneous and crazy, together.  When I read this story about the groom pushing the bride into the pool, I didn't think "man, she should have just embraced it like my friend."   I thought, "damnnnnn, sounds like she perceived that push to be cruel and was not feeling connected and like they were doing a fun thing together.  I'd be pissed too."   See how one thing (spontaneity in this example) can be both a pro and a con?  So a list just doesn't help.  In fact, I would argue it harms.  It complicates things further.


A diagnosis is a method of questioning to find the source of pain.  It's nuanced and takes into account different scenarios.  It looks beneath the surface for the source.  Through diagnosing, you would find out that it's not the spontaneity you should be thinking about but rather the feeling of connection and doing something together.  When that is absent, that's when there is pain.  


This is the process that is used in a discernment counseling session.  In just a 2 hour session and through a method of questioning, a discernment counselor helps a couple get a clear diagnosis on their relationship.  And in doing that, helps them end their ambivalence of what to do next.  


So if your relationship sucks, sometimes, now you know why it's hard to move forward.  It's complex because people are complex, relationships are complex and situations are complex.  What might be happening today in your relationship might not be what's happening tomorrow, and that can be confusing.   Instead of using a pros and cons method that adds to confusion, use a method of diagnosing to find the source of pain and end the confusion.  


If you are looking for clarity, please reach out.  A lot of times, people feel better after just having a free consultation on the phone.


Corrin Voeller is a relationship therapist in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.  She does in-person and online counseling and coaching with couples and individuals to improve the relationships in their lives.  She lives with her husband, children, and extremely fat dog. 

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