Love relationships and marriage can be complicated—so much so—that they test every fiber of our being.

During difficult times partners teeter on the brink of ending their relationships; often, unhappy couples bounce between the choice of staying or leaving, between hope and desperation.

While struggling with such a choice, partners may live with unexplained emotional fluctuations and turmoil, a symptom of the battle between the head and the heart.

To determine their best course of action, an individual will ask themselves, “Should I be true to my needs, or stay true to love?” It’s during this emotional struggle, the juxtaposition of two commitments becomes evident; loving a partner versus the obligation to love ourselves. Swinging between these values and stuck in indecision can torture a partner, causing emotional instability. As outlined below, three factors can help a partner struggling with relationship uncertainty and aid in making the all-important decision: “Should I stay, or should I go.”

With marriages, dissatisfied partners need to earn a ticket out. Our love relationships serve a deeper purpose that gets little attention: the facilitation of our growth. If we do not do the work, we set ourselves up to repeat the same life lessons in our next love relationship—similar to the movie Groundhog Day.

The first element is growth in the personal areas of the relationship. By focusing on this obligation, we fulfill the underlying purpose of choosing a partner and forming a relationship. Once the work of growing is complete, we become released, and our emotional bond is loosened. By personal improvement, an individual can show they are ready to be partnered in a healthy and satisfying relationship.

Element two is the elimination of our contributions to a relationship’s problems. Only through rigorous self-scrutiny, and asking ourselves, “How much do I contribute to the issues,” may we understand and own up to the influence we have on the relationship’s discourse. Through strength and action to eliminate our impact on the relationship’s difficulties, may we be more precise about ourselves.

A third element is giving our best effort to the relationship. Partners in trouble are easily controlled by their hurt and anger; an offended person gives less than his or her best shot. A poor attitude, combined with negative behavior, is sure to produce a deprived relationship.

Our best means being non-judgemental, patient, and showing acceptance of a partner; not taking the partner’s limitations personally, but to act compassionately, and show understanding—these are essential ingredients in loving generously.

When we make a full commitment to consistently deliver our best, we are then ready to internally set a generous enough deadline that our best efforts may produce a positive result and improve the relationship.

In the end, if the predetermined interval hasn’t achieved success, then it is likely time to call it quits, and partners are free to go separate ways.

Conversely, the partner’s efforts to improve and make a go of the relationship are more attractive and satisfying.  

Loving ourselves means always putting ourselves in a good position, and by going through these steps—regardless of the outcome—we will feel good about ourselves.

Andrew Aaron, LICSW, is a sex and relationship therapist who practices in the New Bedford Seaport.