Living With a Partner Who Can’t Decide if They Want to Stay or Go

by May 6, 2022Conflict, Marriage, Relationship

An Uncertain Partner Creates a Threat Response in You

When you have a partner who is very uncertain about the relationship, they go back and forth on whether they want to be in the relationship or not, this kind of ambivalence creates uncomfortable situations in your relationship. In fact, it often creates a threat response – they are essentially threatening to leave the relationship, and you feel that the relationship is threatened, and then you feel threatened.

Our brains are wired to have these types of threat responses, and in times of danger, in times when you need to think fast, it’s very helpful. It’s meant to keep us safe. But we also have this threat response in our brains when we feel emotionally or otherwise threatened. When your partner is ambivalent, you feel that you are going to get hurt. You don’t think “Are you going to hurt me?” – You think “When are you going to hurt me?”

Related: Always Assume the Best

The Drawback of the Pro and Con List

When we’re in a state of ambivalence in our relationship, we sort of create a mental pro and con list. We may not even realize we’re creating this mental list. But when we make this list, we forget that these things, the good things and the bad things about our partner and about our relationship, are not weighted equally. We have to take a look at our own part of the equation. How are we relating to certain characteristics of our partners? How are we contributing to the conflict in the relationship? It’s rarely just one person contributing. You can also ask yourself: What about my partner’s behavior is completely unacceptable? What are my relationship no-gos, or dealbreakers? If certain things are no-gos, you have to know this about yourself! What lines can’t be crossed? Why are those things important to you? And how will you use this knowledge in the future? While our partner is making this decision on whether to stay or go, we need to understand what our behavior is and how we are relating to them. 

Taking Separation or Divorce Off the Table

I often ask my clients, “Are you willing and open to take separation or divorce off the table for 90 days?” If you and your partner are willing to take this option completely off the table for a set time period, then this gives your relationship the space it needs, the safety and security you need in order to get rid of that threat, to calm things down, and to actually learn about your relationship. You can also take the time to figure out and be honest about your own responses, and how you contribute to the conflict of the relationship. With this space, you can learn to manage conflict more effectively.

Are You Ready to Make Your Love Work?

This LoveWorks is more than therapy, it is a process of relational transformation that takes advantage of the most relevant, accessible, understandable and up-to-date information available. This LoveWorks programs use innovative relationship building techniques built on the latest research and scholarship to train couples how to have a thriving relationship. 

Interested in seeing what you can do to transform your relationship? Make an appointment today.

In the following video, I go into what this threat situation does to your relationship and how you can give your relationship the space it needs to take the threat level down, so you can work together to manage conflict more effectively