Last month I published another blog post that was intended to help you understand whether you should stay in your relationship or get out. Since then, a therapist friend of mine recommended the book “Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay” by Mira Kirshenbaum to help answer this question and bring some clarity to the debate that is constantly raging in your head.
For people who are on the fence about whether to stay or go, Kirshenbaum refers to this as “relationship ambivalence”. When you are ambivalent about your relationship, you will distance yourself from your spouse, whether consciously or not. You talk less, and when you do talk it is about less important topics. You spend less time together, you stop touching, and your relationship becomes devoid of emotion.
Kirshenbaum offers a series of diagnostic questions that will help anyone who finds themselves in this state of “relationship ambivalence” to determine whether or not their relationship is worth saving. The benefit of reviewing these questions and answering them truthfully to yourself is that you will gain a deeper understanding of whether you should continue to work on the relationship or you should end the relationship.
In her book, Kirshenbaum offers 35 diagnostic questions to work through systematically, together with guidelines and real-life stories from people who have grappled with these issues. In this post, I wanted to review 10 of the questions that I found the most illustrative of whether your relationship can be salvaged or not.
These questions are the “big picture” questions that Kirshenbaum asks. I follow each question with my own personal opinions and thoughts on each question and why it is important.
The 10 Questions to Diagnose Your Relationship
In Ms. Kirshenbaum’s book, she has 35 questions. I’ve pulled out the ten that I think are most illustrative and helpful into determining whether you should stay in your relationship or not.
#1 – Think about that time when things between you and your partner were at their best. Looking back, would you now say that things were really very good between you then?
This is what Kirshenbaum would call a “foundational question”. For some people, answering “no” to this question may be as far as you need to go. The rationale for this is that if things were never that great in your relationship, even at it’s best, then there is no reason to think that things are all of a sudden going to get better now. If your relationship is broken, you can fix it – but if there never was a solid relationship at all, there is nothing to fix.
#2 – Has there been more than one incident of physical violence in your relationship?
This is another foundational question. If you are the victim of domestic violence, then you must leave the relationship for your own safety.
#3 – Have you already made a concrete commitment to pursue a course of action or lifestyle that definitely excludes your partner?
This one is tough, and needs a little context. A “commitment to pursue a course of action or lifestyle that definitely excludes your partner” could include any of the following:
- Having an affair
- Taking a job in another city
- Taking a job that requires extensive travel so that you are rarely home
- Signing a lease for a separate apartment
- Hiring a divorce lawyer to draft a separation agreement
#4 – In spite of your problems, do you and your partner have even one positively pleasurable activity or interest (besides children) you currently share and look forward to sharing in the future, something you do together that you both like and that gives both of you a feeling of closeness for a while?
I love this question because it truly provides a litmus test for where your relationship is at the present moment. Regardless of how bad things might be right now, if you still have an activity that you enjoy doing together then there is still hope that you can work things out. On the other hand, if you can’t think of anything that you enjoy doing with your partner, then your relationship is probably in trouble.
#5 – Would you say that to you your partner is basically nice, reasonably intelligent, not too neurotic, okay to look at, and most of the time smells all right?
This is another great question to gauge whether there is hope for your relationship. If you think your partner is mean, stupid, crazy, unattractive and stinky – I don’t know anyone that would stay with someone like that. And if you think your partner is nice, smart, sane, attractive, and smells ok, then there is hope for your relationship. However, this isn’t an all or nothing question – you might find your spouse attractive but at the same time think they are mean or crazy. Or you may think they are a nice person but not very smart (according to your standards for intelligence).
#6 – In spite of admirable qualities, and stepping back from any temporary anger or disappointment, do you genuinely like your partner, and does your partner seem to like you?
I suspect that many people who read this question may need to pause for a moment to properly reflect on what Ms. Kirshenbaum is asking. First, do you like your spouse? And second, do you think that they like you? There are going to be some good days when you can honestly say that you do like your spouse and vice-versa. And then there are going to be other days where the opposite is true.
If you are having a tough time with this question, might I recommend that you keep a log of your response to this question every day for a couple of weeks and see how things shake out. If you are finding that 75% of the time you are answering one way or the other, then it is a pretty good indication of whether you like your partner or not.
#7 – Do you feel willing to give your partner more than you’re giving already, and are you willing to do this the way things are between you now, without any expectation of being paid back?
Before answering this question, you may be wondering what “giving” looks like in this situation. According to Kirshenbaum, it doesn’t have to be much. It could be something as simple as smiling at your spouse when you see them at the end of the day, or picking something up for them that you know they would like while you are out shopping, or conceding a point of contention in an argument. If you are willing to give in this way, then your relationship may be worth trying to work on.
#8 – Do both you and your partner want to touch each other and look forward to touching each other and make efforts to touch each other?
Many times “touching” is the last shoe to drop. When people stop touching each other, or wanting to touch each other, the relationship is in jeopardy. If you find yourself in a situation where you no longer want to touch or be physical with your spouse, but you still want to save your marriage, then you need to take action fast. If this continues on for several months and nothing changes, it’s very possible your relationship cannot be saved. You need to have a conversation with your spouse (if this is possible) or seek out a couples therapist that can help.
#9 – Does your relationship support you having fun together?
This question is really asking “is it possible for you and your spouse to have fun together?” Fun is the bedrock of the love in your relationship. If you are at a point where you can no longer enjoy each other’s company or have fun with one another, then it might be time to leave.
#10 – Do you currently share goals and dreams for your life together?
Do you and your spouse want the same things out of life? Do you share the same goals and ambitions and passions? If you do then it is a good sign for your relationship. If not, then you are likely to be happier if you leave.
Final Thoughts on These 10 Questions
If you are interested in digging deeper with these questions, reading real life stories from people who have grappled with these questions, as well as, getting insight from an additional 25 questions that will help you decide whether to stay in or end your marriage, then I highly recommend “Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay” by Mira Kirshenbaum.
And if you really need some help deciding whether to stay or leave your relationship – you need to talk with a professional therapist. Don’t trust friends or family members with this conversation until you have first discussed it with your spouse and you are both on the same page about your next steps.