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To Stay or Leave with Love

I believe in love. I believe that love can prevail even in the worst of situations. I believe that the force of love can create a forgiveness and trust that can heal the deepest of conflicts. I believe that love is the light for which we all wait, hands outstretched, wanting to feel part of, wanting to create. This is the motivation we have when we begin relationships. Few of us believe these things at the end of relationships. Many completely opt out of relationships entirely because after several slides down the slippery slope of becoming involved, the love part seems to get smaller and smaller until there is no light between you and your partner at all.

At a recent international conference of relationship and sex therapists, I met many of the best known therapists in the country. I had even read the books of several of them. When I asked one woman about her own marriage, she said “Some do, some teach.” I know for me it has always been true that “we teach best what we most need to learn.” One therapist who is known as much for his arrogance as his brilliance, commented that after 26 years of seeing couples, usually he just feels like saying to them- “Why did you even get together in the first place.” He looked me squarely in the eye and said, “Most relationships are a mistake that people are trying to find their way out of…” I thought I should tell him to find a different vocation, instead I said, “My, you are jaded.” and he said, “I earned it.”

So I think on this frequently and wonder if my premise is faulty. I am not naive. I know the statistics on relationships and I know more people who have left, and are leaving relationships than stay in them…But here’s the thing- the question is not whether to stay or leave a relationship. The question is, are you able to stay loving whether or not you stay or leave.

If leaving the relationship is the most loving thing to do and you do it with love- this is rare, but I have witnessed it. I have a dear friend who has for the last couple of years been separating from her 20 year marriage with more love than she gave to it during the last years in the marriage. Leaving was the most loving thing she could do, and the most difficult. It was also the most clarifying, healing thing she could do- giving herself the space to love.

Leaving a situation without loving is a loss for everyone. It also tends to attract similar and repeating situations. Sometimes people tell me about the end of their relationship, and although the story is a painful one, they are grateful and remain open to love for having experienced it in both its height and depth.

More often I hear the stories through a lens clouded with bitterness and anger. No one has any memory of love. Maybe those are the people that the therapist mentioned- the people who are looking for their way out of a mistake. But I don’t think so, I think they are people who are afraid to love, afraid to be hurt, afraid to trust.

When forgiveness is out of the question, blame and disdain live between them. The question of staying or leaving is almost moot. It doesn’t change the relationship. Some thirty years later, my parents are still in this very relationship with each other. The story becomes the truth. There is no room to believe in love when you are bedfellows with disdain, blame and mistrust. Neither of them have ever found a satisfying love relationship since.

Whether you stay or leave, work to find the love.