Sometimes leaving during a fight allows you time to cool off and come back when level heads prevail. But threatening to leave as a way to get back at your partner is never a good idea! Especially when you just say “I’m sick of this, I’m leaving!” Are you leaving for 10 minutes? Are you breaking up with or divorcing your partner? Your partner may not know what you’re talking about, and it’s hurtful.
There are productive ways to take a time out during an argument, but holding your partner’s feeling hostage by saying you’ll leave if they don’t give in to your demands isn’t the way to go. Here are five reasons you shouldn’t just threaten to leave when you’re upset in your relationship.
1. It Can Open Abandonment Wounds in Your Partner
If your partner already has fears about being abandoned, perhaps because of a relationship with a parent or former partner, using the threat of leaving to get a reaction opens old wounds. This not only damages your partner, but also your relationship. To put it plainly: It’s pretty cruel (even if you don’t mean it to be). If you are committed to your relationship, you should reinforce your long-term investment during a fight more than ever – not threaten to give up.
2. It Harms Your Secure Attachment
Related to abandonment, saying you’re going to leave your relationship makes your partner doubt the security of your attachment to them. The only time you should say you’re ending the relationship is if you’re actually prepared to do it. Saying you’re “done” or “over it” and threatening to leave will make it harder for your partner to believe you’re committed if you end up staying together once things blow over. Using leaving as a threat sends the message that you’re always one foot out the door.
3. It Breaks Trust
You don’t want to undermine your partner’s trust in your relationship. When your secure attachment is weakened because you turn to “I’m leaving” as a default, your partner starts to think they can’t trust you to stay – or even to say what you really want. It makes things really confusing. Saying you plan to leave when it’s really just a threat means you’re saying one thing and doing another. How can your partner trust that you know what you want or understand when you’re being serious about wanting to end the relationship?
4. It Escalates Things Quickly
Any time you throw out the threat of leaving – for the night or forever – it takes things to a new level. Often, you’re just saying you want to leave out of hurt and you really want your partner to fight for you. Threatening to leave to get your partner to beg you not to go is a type of manipulation. It’s ultimately harmful to your relationship in the long run. You should stay and fight for your relationship instead of escalating things to a breaking point.
5. It Doesn’t Provide Any Resolution
You don’t fix anything by using leaving as a threat. And if you actually walk out the door — leaving indefinitely means things wind up right where you left them. Nothing gets resolved. You might feel better for a moment that you stood your ground and threatened to go, or that you stormed out, but you’ll have to deal with the underlying issues eventually. Threatening to leave shuts down communication without resolving a thing!
Alternatively, do you say “go” when you really mean “stay?”
Do you push your partner away when you’re in trouble? Sometimes when one partner is in pain, they will tell the other person to leave. Especially if your partner is threatening to leave, your hurt feelings may lead you to react by saying: “Fine, just go!” You might mean that you want them to leave for the night or forever. In reality, many times when this happens you actually want your partner to stay and fight for the relationship – you don’t want them to go at all!
Why do people say “go” when they really mean “stay”? Here are 4 things to keep in mind if this is happening in your relationship. Once you’ve read the article, check out the music video below for “Now I’m All Messed Up.” It illustrates how we can sometimes tell someone to go, or start threatening to leave, when we really love them and want them to stay with us.
1. Get clarification first!
If your partner threatens to leave, what exactly does s/he mean? Does it mean s/he is breaking up with you? Threatening a break up is a pretty serious card that can’t be played all the time. Or, does s/he mean s/he is leaving for the night? Either way, you need clarity about what your partner’s leaving means before you become reactive so you can better understand what to do next.
2. Don’t push your partner out the door.
You can’t force your partner to stay, but you don’t have to push them out when all you want is for them to stay. If you want the relationship, fight for it. Don’t give up! Share that you want the relationship to last, even if it feels very scary and vulnerable. Take the risk. If they are walking out, there is nothing else to lose.
3. Work to rebuild a secure attachment.
When you see your partner upset, threatening to leave, or emotionally distancing, this can be very scary. The security in your attachment to each other becomes unstable. Instead of pushing them out to “rip the Band Aid off”, reach to your partner and try to find closeness again.
4. Don’t confirm your partner’s fears.
Your partner may be at wits end, not knowing how to make things change. They might be threatening to leave because they fear things can’t get better or aren’t sure how to start the journey of making things better. If your response is to say “go,” it only confirms that there is no hope left. It makes them feel unwanted and uncared for if you can opt out that easily.
How to Responsibly Pause During a Fight
Sometimes you might need to leave during an argument. First and foremost, if you’re feeling unsafe, you have the right to come up with a safe exit plan. Even during an argument and even if it leaves things unresolved. However, if the reason you want to leave is just to cool off, don’t just yell that you’re leaving and grab your keys.
It’s good to put a time limit on how long you’ll be gone (either in the other room or out for a walk, etc.). This lets your partner know that you are just instituting a temporary pause. Then, most importantly, you need to come back in the time frame you agreed to. This will show your partner that you are not abandoning them and helps build trust.
Do you keep threatening to leave your partner in an argument? Or maybe your partner does this to you? The help of a therapist can strengthen your connection and teach you how to break bad habits. Therapy helps couples develop a more secure attachment and build trust. Contact Our San Diego office to see how we can help you and your partner stop pushing each other away!
About Jennine Estes, MFT
Think of me as your relationship consultant, I'm your neutral third party that can help you untangle the emotions and help you figure out what's really going on. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego, CA. Certified in Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples. Supervisor. I write relationship and self growth advice for my column Relationships in the Raw. Creator of #BeingLOVEDIs campaign. MFC#47653