Note: This is the first of a three-part series.

How and when does one decide to leave a relationship that is no longer working, and what are the implications of making such a decision?

“I have lived the past 25 years with my husband in a loveless relationship,” writes a woman from Milwaukee.  “I grew beyond him and he chose to not grow.  I’m working on a way out:  a solid, financially secure job [while] finishing my college education.  He’s a hard worker at his job, but not at our relationship, and a paycheck is a poor substitute.”

Gaynor B. of Christchurch, New Zealand, addresses a similar issue from a different angle.  “I have been going out with a fellow for over four years and I would like to move on, but I have been so hurt in the past, I am scared to.  We have no ties, but I feel trapped in this situation.  It’s like a marriage but with no commitment, monetarily or emotionally.  I would like to go out with other people, but because I have a fear of loneliness and of meeting yet another poor example of the male species, I can’t seem to pluck up the courage to move on.”

Obviously there are differences between being married and not being married, but I almost always advise people in both situations the same way:  first, do everything you can in order to make your current relationship work.  Give it your best effort, and give it everything you’ve got.  If it makes your relationship better, problem solved.  If it doesn’t, you will feel better about yourself and have a cleaner conscience for having tried everything.

If you are facing the decision of possibly leaving a core relationship, here are some guidelines to assist you in weighing out the choices and consequences:

  • How will this impact your sense of self?  Will you feel better or worse about yourself for having made this decision?
  • What have you done to communicate your dissatisfaction to your spouse, and how hard have you tried to repair or change your relationship so that it could work better?  Might there be a way to resolve the difficulties and create more closeness?
  • How much hurt will this decision create?  Who will get hurt?  How badly?
  • Would this decision violate your value system, sense of right and wrong, your honor, or your integrity?
  • How will your relationship with your children, grandchildren, in-laws, family, extended family, friends, neighbors and standing in your community be affected?
  • What are the financial implications?  Are their dramatic financial consequences?
  • How will this affect your lifestyle?  Will you live at home or have to move somewhere else?  Would your level of material comfort change?  How drastically?
  • What are the legal implications?
  • What are the moral, ethical, spiritual and religious consequences of this choice?  Do you believe that God will punish you, or that there will otherwise be hell to pay?
  • Will anyone’s job or career be impacted?  How severely?
  • Will you regret your choice if you wind up without anyone?
  • What does a vow or a commitment mean to you?
  • To what degree is guilt a factor in this decision?  How guilty would you feel?  Toward whom?  And about what?
  • Are you hoping for someone to rescue you from your life and make everything better?

Has your relationship turned cold and distant? Neil’s book Love, Sex, and Staying Warm can help you rekindle your passion.

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