As a Relationship Counsellor it’s a question that does come up every now and then – Joel, should I stay or should I go?
Of course, it is not my place to tell you what to do, but I do have an exercise that does tend to help people potentially move towards making a decision about the future of their relationship, should they be seriously considering pulling the plug.
It comes back, somewhat, to one of the cornerstone foundations of the communication theory – Transactional Analysis (or ‘TA’).
As explained here, TA works towards growing awareness and understanding of what is called our ‘Dominant Ego States’.
Basically, through testing and talking therapy, TA theory identifies our Child, Parent, and Adult aspects.
What are the Child, Parent and Adult in TA?
- Parent Ego State – Behaviours, Thoughts and Feelings copied from parents and parent figures
- Adult Ego State – Behaviours, Thoughts and Feelings which are direct responses to the here-and-now
- Child Ego State – Behaviours, Thoughts and Feelings replayed from childhood
Utilizing these ego states is the lens that I use in regard to helping people possibly work out a way forward when that big question of leaving a relationship comes up.
Naturally, most people who are asking this question really have thought through their options. They’ve tossed and turned (sometimes for years) and are struggling to know what to do.
So, looking at things in regards to Child, Parent, and Adult can sometimes help give a little clarity.
To explain, I might ask the client to go back to their partner (often someone who isn’t also attending Relationship Counselling) and try and move ahead with their issues/concerns by way of utilizing their ego states.
So, try using the different ego states to see if you can improve the relationship or situation.
In other words, approaches using the Child (emotional), Parent (rules-based), and Adult (the negotiator) – in no particular order.
For example, you really want to convince your partner that they are working too much and neglecting themselves and the relationship.
Utilizing the Child or emotional approach, the person might cry, get angry, or name-call in a bid to get their partner to shift.
If this doesn’t work, you have two options left to see if things might change.
The Parent approach would be to lay down the law with the person.
Perhaps give a deadline or an ultimatum and threaten repercussions if your demands (and the new rules you are implementing) aren’t met.
Maybe Child and Parent haven’t got you anywhere, even though you’ve given it a really good go.
You have only one option left – the Adult.
This approach would see you try to reason with the other person.
You would attempt to explain the way you feel, bring up some possible strategies that might help, and maybe try to negotiate to a happy medium that you both can accept.
Attending counselling would also be an Adult approach to the issue(s) if it is clear that the partners are stuck in a stalemate.
If these three very different approaches don’t work, especially if your partner hasn’t validated your feelings and needs/wants, well, you are probably out of options and that’s sometimes where relationships come to an end.