So you’ve lost that lov­ing feel­ing—is your re­la­tion­ship worth sal­vaging, or is it time to call it quits?

Canadian Living - - Contents - TEXT SARAH TRE­LEAVEN

Four women ex­plain why they ended things with their ex amid re­la­tion­ship am­biva­lence

Ro­man­tic un­cer­tainty of­ten presents as a swing­ing pen­du­lum, a back-and-forth be­tween rea­sons to tough it out as well as those to pick up and leave.

The nag­ging in­ter­nal cy­cle that en­sues may leave you choos­ing be­tween buy­ing a new sofa with your part­ner and fun­nelling your money into an es­cape fund. Or you may find your­self scrolling through real-es­tate list­ings, look­ing for the per­fect lit­tle nest for a newly sin­gle woman, all the while plan­ning the next hol­i­day with your in-laws. You may even con­tem­plate what ro­man­tic fu­ture might await you out­side of your ex­ist­ing re­la­tion­ship—is there some­one out there who can re­vive the but­ter­flies in your stom­ach?

Re­la­tion­ship am­biva­lence is more com­mon than one might think. In a 2017 study out of The Univer­sity of Utah, re­searchers sur­veyed adults who were con­sid­er­ing leav­ing their part­ner and found that ap­prox­i­mately 50 per­cent demon­strated pro­nounced re­la­tion­ship am­biva­lence; in other words, they felt they had strong rea­sons both to stay in the re­la­tion­ship and to end it. The top rea­sons to stay in­cluded the com­fort of emo­tional in­ti­macy and a sense of obli­ga­tion. Among the top rea­sons to go were con­cerns about their part­ner’s emo­tional with­drawal, a breach of trust and per­son­al­ity is­sues. Fur­ther­more, mar­ried re­spon­dents in­di­cated that ex­ter­nal con­straints—such as fi­nan­cial de­pen­dence, a shared home and con­cerns about chil­dren—played a key role in con­fus­ing their de­ci­sion, while those who were sim­ply dat­ing were more likely to be in­flu­enced by pos­i­tive rea­sons to stay, such as at­trac­tion to their part­ner and en­joy­ment of time spent with that per­son.

“It’s com­mon that peo­ple have good rea­sons to break up with their part­ner and good rea­sons to stay,” says Sa­man­tha Joel, the study’s lead au­thor and a psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor now at Lon­don, Ont.’s Western Univer­sity. “It’s very com­mon to feel torn, and we know in­vest­ment is a ma­jor fac­tor. The longer a re­la­tion­ship, the more tied you are to your part­ner and the harder it is to break away.”

Daphne de Marn­effe, a San Fran­cisco Bay Area–based clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist and the au­thor of The Rough Patch: Mar­riage and the Art of Liv­ing To­gether, sees am­biva- lence as part of hu­man na­ture and says the real dan­ger oc­curs when cou­ples won’t face their is­sues and stay in a state of limbo. “Peo­ple can get to a point in a re­la­tion­ship where the struc­ture works but the emo­tional part doesn’t, and they feel wor­ried to con­front it,” she says. “When they don’t con­front it, they stop reach­ing out, stop de­pend­ing and stop want­ing. They stop feel­ing close.”

Chronic re­la­tion­ship am­biva­lence can re­sult in more than just con­fu­sion. A 2014 study pub­lished in Psy­cho­log­i­cal Sci­ence showed that mar­i­tal am­biva­lence may be detri­men­tal to car­dio­vas­cu­lar health—pre­sum­ably be­cause re­la­tion­ship un­cer­tainty causes anx­i­ety and, in turn, risk of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease. Af­ter all, much of the rhetoric sur­round­ing mar­riage—the no­tion of soul­mates, for ex­am­ple—stems from our de­sire for cer­tainty.

But de Marn­effe says it’s a mis­take to view hu­man at­tach­ment as a fait ac­com­pli. “With lit­tle kids, you don’t just hug them once; you have to hug them ev­ery day. It’s the same in adult re­la­tion­ships,” she says. “Un­less cou­ples can keep turn­ing to­ward each other for com­fort and sup­port, it will be hard to feel close and lov­ing. Un­der­stand­ably, a frost sets in that con­trib­utes to re­la­tion­ship am­biva­lence.” In many cases, peo­ple be­come con­flicted about even want­ing to try, but the most im­por­tant piece of manag­ing this tug-of-war, says de Marn­effe, is that “it takes guts to be vul­ner­a­ble, to open your­self to want­ing love and to have the hard con­ver­sa­tions about whether that’s pos­si­ble. If you can start to go down that road, you re­ally can feel [that con­nec­tion] again—even if you haven’t felt it in 10 years.”

Re­la­tion­ship am­biva­lence can feel like an emo­tional see­saw. Whether the un­cer­tainty is pri­mar­ily due to in­ter­nal con­flicts, re­la­tion­ship con­flicts or both, you need to work si­mul­ta­ne­ously on your­self and your part­ner­ship to gain clar­ity as well as to un­der­stand—and live with— the de­ci­sion you’re mak­ing. Here are some first­hand ac­counts from women who made the de­ci­sion to go—and how they feel now that they’ve come out on the other side.

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