Should I Stay or Should I Go?


Remember that chorus? The English punk rock band The Clash became something of a one-hit wonder with their 1981 catchy “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” success.

I can’t say you’re missing much if you don’t remember precisely, but aside from a certain beat—‘and you can dance to it!’—the song had moments of therapeutic insight even its composers might have been surprised to have realized. Remember:

Should I stay or should I go now?

Should I stay or should I go now?

If I go there will be trouble

And if I stay it will be double. . .”

And, ah, isn’t THAT the rub?

[By the way, you can enjoy the further profundities of the song, if you like, at http://www.lyricsfreak.com/c/clash/should+i+stay+or+should+i+go_20031789.html.]


Before we come to leaving a marriage, let’s think for a minute about what marriage is–and what it isn’t. I went through a list in my head of what I thought were fundamentals in a marital relationship, and this is what I came up with. I’m open to other suggestions–or to disagreements–but I felt it boiled down to these–somewhat disjointed–components:

  • Spouses will have some sort of fundamental trust in each other, and will not betray each other, either to the children, or to people outside the marriage. This trust includes that one partner is not lying to or hiding things from the other.
  • Spouses will have some sort of financial understanding or cooperation.
  • One spouse can count on another for basic needs–if s/he needs a trip to the emergency room, has got a flat tire, needs someone to get them from a bad area when they’ve taken the wrong train. In short, the spouse is the first person the other spouse would, generally, call if there’s some trouble.
  • A spouse believes his/her spouse wants what’s in their best interest and don’t resent each others’ successes.
  • The couple should have an agreement about how they treat family, both their own families of origin and their own children.
  • There is a general agreement that there will be an intimate sexual relationship, hopefully satisfying to both partners.
  • Most relationships depend on monogamy. If you choose to have an open relationship, it has to have an honest basis.

I may not have hit it all, but please note what I didn’t say. I did NOT say that you would share interests, or that you’d like the same movies, or want to travel to the same places. In short, sharing hobbies in common does not create a marriage.

So if you’re thinking of leaving because he loves downhill skiing and bunji-jumping and you’re petrified of heights, you’d most likely better think again.


But my guess is that most people do know that, and do have an idea about when it’s time to think about parting ways.

So let’s say that the time has come to think about possibly leaving, a painful decision that will almost always be fraught with internal conflict. People need to–and usually do–break down this decision into three component questions:

1. Do I want to leave for myself? Do I know concretely what is missing in this marriage that would be better–for me–outside it?

2. Do I want to leave (or, in fact, stay) for the kids? If so, is that the right thing to do for them?

3. How do I expect, with practical steps, to improve my situation in the future?

Let’s keep these questions in mind as we start by taking a look at four structures of marriage that almost inevitably lead to trouble.


I help adults and adolescents through the particular struggles of our time: tension between couples, parenting frustration, blending new families, separation and divorce, (un)employment, cancer, and loss. When relationships come to an impasse, I use mediation techniques to try to ensure that each party will have his/her needs heard and accounted for in a dignified way. In addition to talking, listening, and reframing, I utilizes the tools of metaphor, active teaching, role-playing, visualization, and hypnotherapy.for families and businesses, as well as in cases of divorce.


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