Learning to Stay

“If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking.”  ~Buddhist Proverb

Working as I have for decades on learning how to sustain and nourish lasting relationships has brought me continuously back to the same question of how to learn to stay both in my own relationships as well as in many others that I have counseled. Usually the question is a reflection of the viability of the relationship itself. We look at our partner and ask if they can change or whether the relationship will improve. Generally the question is provoked when we are in the midst of painful times. We don’t wonder about staying when things are easy and predictable. It is when things fall apart that we doubt whether the work that our relationship or other life commitments is demanding is worth it.

I have crossed this bridge in my thoughts thousands of times as I have worked through the hard places in my marriage, with my children and in my business.  Many times, the voice of reason, or at least the loudest voice I could hear, had sound justifications for leaving, for separating myself from people in my life, or for quitting my work. I could not see how the relationship could become workable for me. The pain I felt was too acute, the discomfort and anxiety were lasting too long, the instability and my own insecurity were etched too deeply in my psyche to listen for anything else.  I couldn’t bear the idea of holding the space for another minute, let alone another day. I wanted to escape.

I am not alone in this desire to escape. We live in a society of escape. Our culture is replete with easy outs for our discomfort and endless media schemes to support these choices. Staying with our internal discomfort and relational conflict, both of which are requisite growing pains of maturity is not a shared cultural value. Many of us never get the message that facing and working through painful passages as we reach towards our aspirations and hold fast to our promises is how life teaches us and shapes us into the best form of ourselves.

Developing the skill to stay is an inside job. It begins with reframing the question of whether to stay, to examining how to stay. Just by looking for the how, you take your foot out of the door and show up inside your relationship with new eyes. The other magical thing that happens when you switch your focus to looking for how to stay is that your awareness of the relationship issues get larger. Instead of going over the same old story lines in your head, engaging in a process of how to deal with an issue often will loosen the grip that fear and anxiety have held over you and your relationship.

It is in these small moments of recognizing our problems as opportunities to discover our own courage, creativity and love that we get the real gifts of learning to stay. Ultimately, it is our own ability to think that is transformed in the work of learning to stay. Little by little, the thoughts that have trapped us in our relationships have less sticking power. We start to grasp how much more space we hold in our mind and in our hearts. This is why I think I have always come back to staying with my relationships and my work, because in the process of learning how to stay, I have found over and over that the real gift of life is that it is almost always workable.

It might not work exactly as I would have it, and I don’t always remember this truth when I am swimming neck deep in my own fears, but increasingly and with deeper recognition, learning to stay has helped me learn to trust life and my ability to love as the only real anchors I need. I often repeat this quote by Calvin Coolidge when I am finding my way back to staying: “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.  Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”


Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener5 years ago


Sue Matheson
Sue Matheson6 years ago


Angela N.
Angela N6 years ago

Positive article :)

Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran6 years ago


Parvez Zuberi
Parvez Zuberi6 years ago

Very interesting article thanks for sharing

Eddie O.
Eddie O6 years ago

cont. - Along with this, anything of value takes effort to build/create. And, building a long-term, love relationship, may be one of the toughest thing people do, as it requires melding two lives together, in spite of; sensitivities, arrogance, egos, no good role models, lack of wisdom, jealousy, insecurities, and possibly tons of baggage of varying degree and nature.

The greatest benefit, however, can come from working through the obstacles and challenges. To work through obstacles with our partner not only increases our own sense of pride and accomplishment, but it can do wonders to strengthen our closeness through the process of supporting and being supported by our partner.

Another favorite saying is: “so much is lost for the fear of trying”, and often times people quit because they’re afraid they will fail if they continue trying in a relationship, and of course, it’s so much easier to just walk away and blame the other person.

Eddie O.
Eddie O6 years ago

Wonderful article, that truly addresses a major deficiency in our society. For many years I’ve been referring to it as “living in a throw away society”. We don’t repair anything any more, we just throw things away and buy new. Sadly, many people carry this over to the realm of relationships.

On top of that, many people think it’s their partner’s responsibility to make them happy. And, so, when their partner is no longer “making them happy“, and they’re so use to throwing things away, someone readily, and sadly, hit’s the door. And, sometimes this may be the only, or best, option, but many, many, times people may be throwing away something that could otherwise be incredibly special.

A much better approach than coming towards each other head on, expecting our partner to make us happy, would be to walk side by side towards the same goal, realizing that it’s our own responsibility to make and keep our own selves happy.

A great Buddhist quote that I love states:

“the journey from Kamakura to Kyoto takes twelve days. If you travel for eleven but stop with only one day remaining, how can you admire the moon over the capital?”

Of course, this was in days of old before molecular transport, but the point being that we can lose out in a major way if we quit before we reach our goal.

Along with this, anything of value takes effort to build/create. And, building a long-term, love relationship, may be one

Chad A.
Chad Anderson6 years ago

Is it healthy? Is it good for you? Is it good for your partner? Why are you leaving? Why would you stay?

Jean W.
Jean Wall6 years ago

I assume that the article is dealing with relationships that are fundamentally healthy.
There are some circumstances that one SHOULD leave and ponder later : if there is violence,coercion, criminality, if you are being deprived of your freedom to make a decision about being part of a relationship (partner controls access to outside friendships or family , controls access to modes of communication,transportation, finances, ).People who go to these kind of measures are also likely to undermine your reasoning about the situation. Just hum to yourself a rendering of Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" and get to safe turf .

Despina V.
Despina Vekris6 years ago