What It Takes to Stay

what it takes to stay

I’ve been thinking lately about how there is a lot of interest in “finding” in our culture: finding the right mate, finding the right job, finding the right pair of shoes. There are endless articles, techniques, and ideas about how to find that right thing.

Much less attention is paid to staying, how to sustain the goodness of what you’ve found. How do we help good things continue to be good, over the long haul?

Staying with lots of resentments, with the feeling that you’ve settled, with a litany of complaints…all of that is easy, and it’s common.

Staying with continued feelings of gratitude and joy, navigating challenges in a way that creates even more love for what you’ve chosen; that takes serious strength and skill.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not an absolutist about staying. As a coach, every day I help people leave jobs and relocate and let go of what’s not working for them. But just as often, I help people see the possibilities for how they can work within their current situation to get what they want.

Here’s what I think it takes to stay with a good relationship—whether that relationship is with a workplace, a friend, or a life partner:

1. Be Willing to Look at Your Crazy

No matter how perfect that thing or person you’ve chosen, you (yes, you) are going to start doing your crazy stuff as you move deeper into relationship. Your fears, limiting beliefs, and patterns from childhood will start showing up. To stay, you’ll need to be willing to look at those crazy spots in you. You’ll need to be willing to take the ego hit of being honest about them. You’ll need to be willing to do your own personal growth work to mitigate their effects.

2. Know That This Too Shall Pass

Some days you are going to be dancing over moonbeams with joy about your relationship. Some days you are going to cranky and hopeless. Some days your connection will feel incredible, some days you may be wondering, “who is this person, and how did I get here?” Staying comes from knowing that this too shall pass and from not taking the mood of any particular day too seriously. I’ve become fond of the term “mental weather.” Some days I’ve got rain, some days sun, but quite often, I need to do nothing more than wait, and the poor weather clears.

3. Have a Full Life

Don’t ask your spouse to be your primary source of emotional sustenance. Don’t ask any one friend to be your source for all friend-needs. Let your job be your job. Have a full, rich life where your needs get met in lots of different ways. This allows you to liberate each person and relationship in your life to be just what it is, and nothing other than that.

4. Bring It All Back In To The Relationship, Again and Again

When we feel hurt or disappointed in a relationship, the natural reaction is to retreat and to make up a negative narrative about the way that person “just is.” The hard thing to do is to bring our feelings back into the relationship by talking about them with the other person. This means trusting that your relationship—and the other person—are not static, but able to evolve.

5. Contribute Good Ingredients to the Stew

Imagine that every day, there’s an empty pot on the stove—and you and the other person in your relationship are going to create a soup together. Your business, on a daily basis, is to worry about what ingredients you put in. How are you contributing to the deliciousness of the soup today?

6. Take Responsibility for Your Experience

Nobody, nobody, nobody can give you the relationship you want. You can be well-matched, but even then, you’ll have to play an active part in co-creating the relationship you want. That requires knowing what is important to you, articulating it, and making requests. That’s what it means to take responsibility for the quality of your experience in your relationships.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts: Do you agree that we in the personal growth world need more talk about staying, and less about finding? And what do you think it takes to stay?

Photo by Sean McGrath

41 thoughts on “What It Takes to Stay”

  1. @Tara: Nice ideas in this post. I’ll comment on each one individually:

    1) Be Willing to look at your crazy: It’s funny because I have to admit I’ve never done this. To me it’s always the other person who is crazy and not me, but this is a great point. Accepting our own flaws and embracing them as part of who we are tends to make life flow so much smoother.

    2) This too shall pass: I remember reading the story of a ring that was given to some king with these words inscribed on it in an Eckhart Tolle book. It’s really hard in the moment of trauma or despair to embrace these words, but the more we can, the more everything in our lives become so much easier.

    3) A Full Life: I know so many people who end up in co-dependent relationships and when those relationships end, they seem to find themselves in a really empty place. I’ve always been a strong believer in having a good balance in your life when it comes to a relationship.

    4) Responsibility and good Ingredients: Blame is easier than responsibility which is why not as many take responsibility. But, once we can learn that we are in control and start to learn how to shape our world as we see fit, endless possibilities open up. As far as good ingredients, that one’s a no-brainer.

    I think staying and finding have equal importance in many ways, so I can’t say that one trumps the other.

    1. Thanks Srinivas, for sharing your thoughts. I especially like your candor about #1 here!
      Yup, finding and staying are both important….and to me it feels like the personal growth world needs a more balanced conversation that really explores both.
      Warmly, Tara

  2. Wonderful post, Tara. The other thing that hit me is that we need to be willing to accept the other’s “crazy”. To be a loving wall of calm and accptance that doesn’t contribute to their crazy but helps them contain it.

    1. HI Melinda

      I totally agree. However, we also need to accept our own crazy. Some we might change but some will always stay and I think that is totally fine too. Important is accepting them and be aware of them.

      Thanks for the great post, Tara.

  3. Hi Tara,

    Great post. I agree, we need to work more on staying. Sometimes in a relationship it is easy to say, sod it, I’m off when there is a difficult period, but like anything else, these difficult periods lead to a deeper, more meaningful, and stronger relationship.
    If you talk to people who have been happily married for many years, they have all been through bad patches. Years ago, this was considered normal and people worked through them, now people don’t want to put in the effort and will just let it go.
    I was talking to my mum about this the other day, her and my dad have been married for nearly 30 years and she said the relationship they have now provides a source of contentment which is hard to describe. It actually made me quite envious!
    So yes, I completely agree and thanks for bringing this to our attention – it is definitely something which is not talked about enough,

    Best wishes,

    1. Thanks Kate, I’m glad you enjoyed this. You point about the generational difference is really interesting. We do have more social acceptance around leaving relationships but I think we also have more unrealistic expectations and unfortunate relationship-fleeing.

  4. What a great post! I often think that my generation is too quick to “leave” or find something new. I have FAR too many friends that got divorced in their late 20’s, early 30’s. Relationships are hard work – my husband and I work on ours every day – but we’ve decided that “staying” is important so we make it work. You’ve raised some great points in this post – ones that I’ll be sure to remember in the future :)

  5. Great post Tara on staying in a relationship. I liked tip number two and how you explained that this too shall pass. Me and my girlfriend have good days, but we also have bad days where we don’t talk to each other. I’m sure sometimes we both think if we just have that “perfect partner”, everything would be fine. But a perfect partner is an illusion in my opinion. It takes courage to accept the other person’s imperfections and work them out with them by expressing yourself fully. This is how we take responsibility to creating a relationship that we want.

    1. I agree. I’d go so far as to say a perfect partner is one that we not only connect with and have fabulous times with, but one who really stretches us to deal with our own crazy, and gives us some difficult crazy of theirs to learn how to live in response to :)

  6. Dear Tara,

    I just loved this post. I have been married for 20 years, and I think it boils down to both partners putting the health of the relationship ahead of their own need to win or be right. No one will be the “perfect” partner, but a partner who is willing to communicate in a mature and healthy fashion goes a long way. Good communication bathed in kindness and respect is crucial. And a willingness to apologize when you lose sight of that!

    1. So glad you enjoyed it. I totally agree about putting the health of the relationship ahead of our ego needs. I remember when I first got married, having this new feeling of there really weren’t any win-lose situations anymore – only win-wins or lose-loses – because the health and wellbeing of this other person was so connected to my own health and wellbeing.
      And yes, apologies are crucial!!!
      Warmly, Tara

  7. Tara,
    #2 is essential to remaining married. Marriage is full of ups and downs. Not every day will be a honeymoon. Some days it will feel like you have been banished to hell but this too shall pass.

    I struggled in my marriage for a number of years due to my wife’s problem with addiction. I thought that we would never have a good marriage but almost three years ago my wife was able to be come clean. I am now happier than I have every been in the marriage.

    1. Mike,
      It sounds like you’ve been through some tremendous trials. Being in relationship with someone in in an addition puts questions of staying in a very different context.

      I am so glad to hear you are in a good place with your relationship now, and I wish your wife many, many more happy years in recovery.

      Warmly, Tara

  8. Thank you for a great post. I’ve been looking for a change in my work situation so I read it in that context. It’s helpful to think of my work as a relationship between me and the job, as well as between my colleagues and me. Your suggestions will help me make sure I’m taking responsibility for my own role in these relationships, and give me a more constructive way to approach my colleagues. I’m not sure I’ll be able to achieve what I need in the long run by staying, but at least I will know I did my best to make it work.

    1. Oh that’s great Sara, I’m so glad to hear it! I think there’s a lot we can gain from thinking about more areas of our lives in terms of relationship – being in relationship with our workplaces, with our bodies, with money, etc. Its a framework that always helps me see new possibilities for my own action, and it also always helps me soften into a more compassionate approach somehow.

      And yes, whether or not this workplace is the right long-term one for you, thinking about it as a relationship – with your contributions and theirs, your ability to be proactive and impact the relationship, etc. can improve experience in the short-term while you also explore other options.

      Good luck with it! Warmly, Tara

  9. My husband and I will be married 33 years on June 25, 2010. This length exceeds either marriage’s length for both of my mother-in-law’s unions, and also both of my father’s. Weird.

    I can understand how the uncouplings due to divorce came about. I have vowed never to get a divorce – though that does not preclude giving one.

    I cannot speak for my spouse, only for me. I am not happy. Nor fulfilled, nor abused. Stifled, probably. A coward, because of not taking a chance on going. Ultimately lazy to the nth degree, because when you’ve been married this long, you are “used” to each other, and to one degree or another, comfortable with one another. Predictable.

    I have come to the place of staying, and it does include most of the points you mention. Sigh…

    1. Trece,
      This is not the way marriage should be. I understand that your not in a good place with your marriage right now but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can be married for a very long time and still experience love.

      One of the things I found out is that love is a verb. You need to love your husband through actions not just expect some great emotion to over take you. I think you will find this will change your relationship.


    2. Trece,

      Of course, this is a huge, complex topic, and it feels silly to try and respond in a blog post comment.

      But what’s coming to mind is this….as a suggestion….please take or leave as you see fit.

      Where in your life (not in your relationship but in your life with your own passions, authentic self, loves, etc.) are you stifled? Where are you settling? Give your attention to changing that, to living bigger and more authentically and being more of you. When you are feeling fully alive there, turn back to your relationship and see what you want to do next in that domain.


  10. Being in my twenties, the idea of staying is something very foreign. I think for a lot of us. I think we focus to much on what we want and how the other person makes us feel. How rare it is that we look at what we can do for the other person, how we can give to the relationship, and how we can be more loving.

    #6 – taking responsibility for your experience. Is huge. We create our lives, our reality. When we take responsibility for our experience we stop looking for others for happiness and we stop blaming our sadness on others. Every relationship starts getting exponentially better.

    I also believe that every relationship we have with others is a direct reflection of our relationship with ourselves. Being able to stay still with yourself is something many of us have a hard time doing. We fill our lives with distractions to avoid our crazy.

    1. Amy,
      Yes, there’s so much in your comment I’m glad that you added to this discussion. It’s true – most of us have trouble staying with ourselves – and staying in relationship is actually about staying with ourselves, as we are, in messy reality, vs running off in distraction with the next search.
      In fact, now that you put it that way, its interesting how we could look at the six things above as ways of staying with ourselves.
      And yes, I agree about the huge importance of taking responsibility for our own happiness in our relationships. That doesn’t mean to me that we can be happy with any relationship, but that in even the best of relationships we have to each do our part of identifying and articulating our needs, making clear requests about those, and filling our own cup, our own lives, so that we aren’t looking to any one person to bring us happiness.

      1. You really can look at the 6 points in regards to staying with yourself. I think it all comes down to looking inward for your happiness and contentment.

        I hear the comment all to often that you shouldn’t be with so and so because they do not make you happy or that I should leave them because they do not make me happy.

        That is a bad situation to be in, because no one can ever make you happy.

        Great job, reminding us that.

  11. Really well written, I agree, no one can give you your emotions, you have to find your own light and when you feel it appreciate it fully. There are many ways we fill the cup of our soul and staying in the experience takes a lot of maturity and resolution.

    1. Thanks Julie, I’m glad this resonated with you. I love your point that other people don’t “give us our emotions.” They can provoke all kinds of things in us, but what exactly they provoke has everything to do with who we are and how we see the world. Tara

  12. I absolutely agree that we put so much focus on how to obtain something, but
    forget to focus on how to sustain something. As hard as it may be for some of
    us, we have got to know who we are as individuals. We are quick to point things
    out about others, but do we ever come to the realization of how we are or the things
    that we do? Some of us jump from one relationship to another without ever taking
    the time to know who we really are for ourselves.

  13. gr8 one Tara
    especially this point: have a full life
    people depend on one thing to meet their needs and then when they lose it they feel down
    thanks for sharing :)

  14. Loved this post. Love it so much I wrote a response post with three additions to your great list. (You can see it in the trackbacks below if you’re interested.

    This was quite a refreshing change from the very “what’s in it for me” view. I’m about to celebrate my 25th wedding anniversary and could not be happier about the man I’m with forever!

  15. Somewhere in my 30 years of marriage it occurred to me that the every other person on this planet is a nearly completely unknown universe unto themselves. Sometimes we are so narrow in thinking, “I would never do that, what’s wrong with him?” or some version of that. It is an incredible opportunity to explore an unknown universe, to really try to understand the other person’s experience, views, way of doing things, timbre of voice. Gradually this idea has helped change my frame of perception of the whole marriage experience.

  16. Both have to have desire to stay. If one is a quitter, it’s so difficult. Some people just never want to stay or belong or be committed. Finding a willing partner, a right partner, a loving partner is a half battle, would be easier to stay. Personal decision for everyone.

  17. Hi Tara,
    Good food for thought here.
    1. Be Willing to Look at Your Crazy
    I’ve come to realise the self development is important in my life. Staying stuck in old habits of thought processes is energy draining.
    2. Know That This Too Shall Pass
    Indeed it does, despite the pain of going through it.
    3. Have a Full Life
    Restricting ourselves to”living each others pockets”, be that a personal relationship or one with work traps us and makes us insular. As another person here said, we become co-dependent and lose confidence and self esteem. Until now, I hadn’t thought that a job can too become co-dependant. I guess it can apply to a leisure activity or “club” too. That’s ok to a point, but it needs re balancing at times.
    6. Take Responsibility for Your Experience
    Taking responsibility needs confidence and an awareness of self.

    Those were the points that struck me in your blog.

    Thank you.


    MEETing people

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