When You Are Ambivalent in All of Your Relationships
Sometimes relationship ambivalence is about you and not the other person. There is help.
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I first purchased Mira Kirshenbaum’s Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay in 2014. The title says it all really. My marriage, at points, seemed really good, too good for me to end it. We knew how to laugh together, great big belly laughs, but at…other points, like when my husband broke our dining room table in front me, it was obviously too bad for me to stay in.
People close to me told me to write a pro and con list, which seemed ridiculous. A list was going to seal the fate of whether I should end my marriage or not? A LIST?
I did write out one once, but how can you really rate “makes me belly laugh” vs. “calls me names?” At the time, him making me laugh actually tipped the scale in his favor because I was so deluded. It’s painful for me to write that I gave more value to the fact that he could make me laugh over him abusing me.
Relationship ambivalence is chronic uncertainty, a constant internal battle over whether you should stay or go.
When I told my current partner, the man I am marrying next month, about purchasing this book for my previous marriage, he told me what most people probably think: “If you have to purchase a book like that for your relationship, you probably shouldn’t be in it.”
That was true for me. I was questioning my marriage because it was all wrong. No abuse is okay, and I lived with it and justified it for years, always putting more stock in the times that we shared that were good over the times that weren’t. I know now that I felt I didn’t deserve any better, and I was too scared to leave because I felt like I had it the best I could ever expect to have it.
But I don’t believe questioning or doubting whether you should stay in your relationship is necessarily a bad thing. It can also simply be a YOU thing and not have anything to do with your current partner.
I’ve had two serious relationships since I left my ex-husband, and I have had relationship ambivalence with both. Surprise, surprise. Wherever I go, there I am.
Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay provides solutions for relationship ambivalence with a set of diagnostic tools. The author tells you clearly whether you would be happier if you left or stayed based on your answers. I have worked the book with both of my post-separation/divorce relationships. One I left. One I am staying in.
I am glad I worked through it both times. It’s helpful having something that outlines exactly whether I would be happy or not if I followed a specific course of action since I’m still working on trusting myself.
The first relationship I had after my separation was laughably wrong for me.
One of the diagnostic questions is:
- Would you say that your partner is basically nice, reasonably intelligent, not too neurotic, okay to look at, and most of the time smells all right?
I could not answer yes to this. Just a couple of months into us dating, my partner had become repulsive to me. The human heart is very forgiving. I could have overlooked his physical imperfections if he’d had an attractive personality, but there was too much I disliked.
He always needed to be the center of attention and couldn’t stand silence. He was a shameless brown-noser. He disdained other people’s bodies, especially women, who happened to be overweight while being overweight himself. He was cheap and vain, only allowing photos of himself to be taken from the neck-up or at high angles. He lied constantly about things that mattered and things that didn’t. He was also moody, resentful, and vindictive.
As the book states, “You just can’t love someone who’s mean, dumb, crazy, ugly, or stinky.”
And it was right. I was happier having left him.
My ambivalence with my current relationship was driven by a friend of mine. She told me constantly that I deserved better, that he was mistreating me. After being married to someone abusive whose actions I had justified for years, I didn’t know what to do about my friend’s condemnations. I felt like there must be something I wasn’t seeing. I doubted my own feelings and my own reality.
I chose to work through the book again. Like every relationship, my future husband and I have our problems, but answering a specific diagnostic question with “yes” or “no” doesn’t function as a certain “you must leave,” except for certain dealbreakers (like physical violence within the relationship).
There were no questions I answered that specified that I would be happier if I left my current relationship.
The book told me exactly what I already knew, so reading it was not a guarantee that I shouldn’t be in my relationship.
I’ve included a few of the questions that were unambiguous “yeses” for me below:
- Do you feel that your partner shows concrete support for and genuine interest in the things you’re trying to do that are important to you?
- Do you feel willing to give your partner more than you’re giving already without any expectation of being paid back?
- 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?
- In spite of all the ways you’re different, would you say your partner is someone just like you in a way you feel good about?
- Does your relationship support your having fun together?
For my current relationship, the book assured me that I would be happier if I stayed. It also helped me see that I would be happier if I left that friendship.
Breaking Up With a Friend
Relationships can last for a reason, season, or a lifetime. The friend that carried me through my divorce will not…
After recovering from a painful marriage, I’m not surprised that I still struggle with trusting myself and feeling ambivalent in my relationships even when they’re doing just fine. I’ve needed this book as a tool to work through my own issues, and I’m grateful to have it.
Read more about Relationship Ambivalence here: