How To Get Off The Fence In Deciding Whether To Stay Or Go

“You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by working; in just the same way, you learn to love by loving.” ~ Anatole France, Poet and Journalist

Sitting On the Fence Hurts

I do a lot of relationship coaching and people often spend a good part of their first session describing all the things that are deficient in their partner.

Or, they say their relationship with their partner is fine, but they are bored and feel like they have outgrown them. They think they “should” stay married, but describe the relationship as boring and unfulfilling.

Most people at this point are often at the brink of divorce or separation, but instead of making a decisive decision, they are on the proverbial “fence.”

Sitting on the fence or being indecisive is painful.

I was in this camp in my prior marriage. I thought I would find someone better for me, someone who would make me happier than my husband did. So I never fully committed to making the relationship thrive. This is more subtle, but still a form of sitting on the fence.

Sitting on the fence is not comfortable. In fact any time we have to make difficult decisions about anything: a new home, new car, new job, it is normal to procrastinate and sit on the fence.

In relationship, it is especially destructive to sit on the fence, because you cannot be truly intimate if you are just tolerating the other person.

You Have The Power

You have more power in this situation than you realize, because you have choice.

You can either accept him/her just as they are, deficiencies and all, or reject them and end the relationship.

Merely tolerating them is probably making you both miserable.

Prickly Pears Aren’t Huggable

Whether you have spoken it out loud to your partner or not, they know you’re on the fence. They can tell you are thinking of leaving and even if they don’t admit it, they are probably hurt and anxious.

Just like you would be terrified if someone you loved and built your life around was letting you know in subtle ways that they are leaving you.

The problem is when people are afraid, they get defensive and angry. When you are defensive, you are much harder to connect with because you have this overwhelming urge to fight or flee.

If the fence sitting has gone on for years, your spouse has probably been bracing themselves for the day you will serve them with papers and move out.

Their response to living with the constant threat of heartbreak could be depression, hostility, mistrust or rage.

I am not implying that it is your fault, since everyone has a choice in how they react.

But I am saying you are contributing to their feeling hurt, worried and afraid, especially if they have tried to get you off the fence.

The Power Lies With You

The power to restore your relationship lies with you.

Without safety, there can be no emotional honesty and no vulnerability, the two key ingredients for restoring connection and intimacy.

Even if you have not said it out loud, threatening to leave is one of the most severe threats you can make.

Many of my clients argue they would not be sitting on the fence if their spouse behaved differently. They point out their partner is making them hurt, angry and afraid too.

“Why can’t he/she do something to resurrect the relationship and improve the safety?”

But if you are the one on the fence, your partner can’t really do anything because the threat of ending the relationship is coming from you.

I’m not excusing any past damaging behavior, but in most cases it is repairable. Your relationship can heal and you can minimize any further damage.

The person willing to walk away from a negotiation always has the most power. Since that is you in this case, the responsibility for restoring the love and safety lies with you.

Should You Leave The Relationship?

Obviously there are plenty of things that are not working in your relationship, but you probably would not have lasted this long if there were not some good parts as well.

That is why you have had trouble deciding and have arrived in this no man’s land between commitment and ending the relationship. If it was so easy, you would have done it by now.

There is a very simple question you can ask yourself, “Are you leaving today?”

The question is not are you leaving next week, next month, next year.

Are your boxes packed? Are you walking out the door right now?

To me that means you still have hope and you are tired of being on the fence.

Hopefully that means you are willing to consider jumping off on the marriage side and are open to ways to make your relationship loving and connected again.

It Takes Courage And Patience

I had a client who had been sitting on the fence for years dating her boyfriend because she could not decide whether to marry him. He was confused and hurt.

When she first came to see me, she shared all the things that she did not like about him that caused her to sit on the fence for 7 years. He ate junk food, he played video games all the time, he was too close to his parents…it went on and on and her concerns were legitimate.

I asked her if she had ever had both feet in the relationship and she admitted she had not. I knew it had a lot to do with her own fears, not him, and so I challenged her…what if she put both feet in for 6 months?

Within 6 months they were married and today they have a 2 year old son!

Complaining about someone tells me you are just tolerating, not accepting or rejecting them. Rejecting means you leave.

So if you are not leaving your partner today, stop wasting your time and energy complaining and tolerating them.

Choose like my client did to be responsible for your relationship and focus on what you love about your partner. In her case and I am sure it will in yours, it lead her partner to feel loved and accepted.

Then on his own, he started doing better without her having to tell him what to do.

Choose Faith Instead Of Fear

If you decide to invest yourself emotionally, your connection will improve almost immediately as long as you honestly go all in.

Just like in poker, you risk everything by putting all your chips into the pot.

In relationship, going all in means opening your heart again, being vulnerable and risking everything.

It means when you are getting annoyed with your partner’s shortcomings, you force yourself to make a list of what you love about them, remember why you choose them in the first place and why you continue to choose them.

It also means you choose to accept their not-so-great qualities as well.

You stop hoping you will meet someone better, because you made a decision to see the good qualities in the person you are with.

This is entirely different thinking than, “I’ll see how it goes.” From my experience of working with so many couples this does not work.

Once you jump down you will probably be amazed at how quickly things change for the better. That is because you both can relax. There is not crisis or drama lurking in the background.

A Different Kind of Fear

You may experience a new kind of fear. The going all in probably will feel risky and not safe. “What if I am disappointed?”

In my experience, the risk of getting hurt by putting both feet in is smaller than the risk of staying on the fence. You are taking a reasonable risk for the chance of a huge payoff.

You are in relationship to a good, yet imperfect person, who is still committed to you even when you wavered. The odds are pretty good that the risk is worth betting on a person, who is loyal to you.

If you don’t put both feet in, you are guaranteeing a distant and disconnected relationship. That is almost impossible to sustain over time.

The reason you were on the fence is because it is less scary to sit there contemplating. Being vulnerable, taking control of the relationship on your side and going all in will seem scary and hard.

Need Help Getting Off The Fence

Give your relationship the best chance to succeed before you give up.

Choose to put your energy and faith into making the relationship work.

Learn some skills to make your marriage passionate and maybe even more intimate and connected than it was before.


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