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One day my sister called me up and asked me, “Julie how did you know to leave your ex?”

Decisions are rarely easy. Most of the time they are difficult. The decision to stay in a relationship is not easy, nor is the decision to leave. Four times I’ve been the one to “make the decision” to leave a long term relationship or marriage. I’ve learned a lot about knowing whether or not I should leave a relationship. The first time was a good choice, the second time it was unclear but with hindsight I know I made the decision prematurely. The third time the decision should never have been needed to be made, and that said the decision to leave should have been made much earlier. The fourth time was very tough to say “I’m sorry, I’m leaving.” Knowing to leave or not came down to the answer of one question.

To answer my sister’s question I socratically asked her a really big question, “Can you imagine him never being in your life, ever again?” Her reply would help her answer her own deeper question of “How do I know if I should leave him?”

Answering the question myself about my first long term relationship, when I was eighteen, I would say, “Yes, I can imagine him never being in my life again.” We were good for each other at the time. It was a critical life learning. And there were no regrets escaping that relationship.

To answer the question about my first husband I would say, “I’m not sure…” We had had some tough times because of some of his health problems. A divorce was probably premature, but he felt he was holding me back from growing emotionally and professionally. And I was without outside emotional support. The divorce was a mutual decision. I moved away during the divorce process to move back to town a year later. A teeny part of me had hoped that he would still be around that we could check in and see where we were each at. My dad’s cousin had remarried his wife after about ten years of being divorced, so why couldn’t we? He had moved and we completely lost contact after our divorce hearing.

Answering the question about my second husband “Yes, absolutely yes I can imagine him never being in my life ever again.” Initially I had thought there would be things that I would miss, in particular his companionship. I married my best friend and that is how we should have remained. However it was a good decision, as the divorce was not as amicable as I had expected. It was difficult logistically and financially, but I had gone through one divorce and I was in a better place professionally the second time around. I leaned on my friends and family for support; I’d get through it.

Answering the question in relation to leaving my second long term relationship, who wasn’t a husband “No I can’t imagine him not being in my life.” I had a deep desire to be married. Yes I wanted to be married again, for a third time. It took me over eighteen months and some therapy to gain any understanding why I had this need to be married. It was not a religious living-in-sin type of feeling. I felt a deep sacred need to be married, one that is beyond logic. This did not meet his needs. It was a non-negotiable for me, so I had to say “Goodbye.” And I’m glad I did because a few months later I met my champion, now husband who is so very happy that we are married.

If you can imagine him never being in your life anymore, then it very well may be time to leave.

If you can’t imagine him never being in your life and there are non-negotiables or deal breakers that are not being met, I would suggest you explore the situation as thoroughly as possible.

If you can’t imagine him never being in your life again, and there are no deal breakers, keep working at it. Hindsight is very difficult.

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How have you known it was time to leave?

What has helped you decide to stay or leave?

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From where does the spark come? What creates that spark that you feel when you connect with someone?

Perhaps it is a passing glance or brush of the shoulder or hand, a few comments exchanged through email or a phone conversation.

Is it something karmic? Is it in the stars or destiny? Is it the scent of the cologne or shampoo that attracts you? Is it the twinkle in his eye? Her smile?

While going through a divorce, I stumbled upon two vastly different books on my mother’s bookshelf. Why she had John Gray’s Mars and Venus on a Date I will never know. (She died before I could ask her.) She and my father had been divorced for about ten years and she had sworn off all men. To put it bluntly my mother hated my father and hadn’t been on a date since before she met him in college. Why did she have a book on dating? Even though it was fairly outdated, I was curious about the Mars/Venus phenomenon. I had not had a chance to read any of Gray’s work. I hadn’t been on a date since high school. Considering that I would be back on the dating scene in due time, I was curious to read what Gray had to say.

The other book was Anam Cara a book of Celtic wisdom by John O’Donohue. Philosophy has always interested me, so the book on Celtic wisdom was intriguing. There were a number of sections that I really enjoyed in O’Donohue’s book. What really struck me was that each book mentioned the same thing regarding relationships.

Gray and O’Donohue each said that there are four things that are required in a “good” relationship: physical chemistry, emotional chemistry, intellectual chemistry and spiritual chemistry. Both mention that a relationship strong in all of these aspects is vitally important; I totally concur.

Emotional chemistry (how we feel about another in loving caring manner) can be developed and created.

Intellectual chemistry (interests in things – art, music, discussions, etc) can be developed and created.

Physical chemistry (sexual attraction, pheromones, etc.) and spiritual chemistry (a spiritual connection) both are either there or they are not. They can not be created from nothing. They can be revitalized but they had to be there in the first place.

After reading this in one book and then again in the other, it hit me really hard that this was the answer to the frustration that I had been feeling about my marriage to my second husband, soon to be ex. It explained a lot. We had the emotional and intellectual chemistries right from the start. But the physical and the spiritual chemistries were never there. They never would be. This was why I felt that something was missing. This explained why I felt we were out of synch, that something was wrong. I had married my best friend at the time, to whom I should have remained in a platonic relationship because the true spark was never there. And it never would be. The shared intellectual and emotional interests were not enough to support us through the struggles we had.

Thinking more about this, I came up with the analogy of a seed. A seed contains a vitality, life force or spark within it. When it is given the right conditions – soil, adequate water, the proper temperature and a good amount of sunlight – the spark within it will stimulate the growth of a plant. If the plant has one of these conditions withheld then it will start to wither and fail. If the plant is nourished, even after being stressed, as long as the proper conditions are provided, the plant will continue to grow and hopefully flourish. However all of this can only begin to happen if the vital chemistry (physical and spiritual chemistries) is already inherently contained within the seed. The seed will only sprout if those two chemistries are already there, they can not be created.

So where does the spark that ignites an attraction come from?

I believe the spark is ignited by the initial physical chemistry of pheromones and appearance, combined with a deeper, subtler spiritual connection that allows two souls to recognize the other as a place where their heart can be at home. (O’Donohue discusses Euripides’ and Plato’s descriptions of the connection of two hearts in a section entitled “Love as Ancient Recognition.”) From there two people can forge a strong relationship in the flame of their connection, fueled by emotional caring and intellectual sharing.

“As Euripides said, ‘Two friends, one soul.’” (From Anam Cara by John O’Donohue.)

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What are your thoughts?

What do you think ignites the flame?

What do you think keeps it going?

And if you have met your champion, whether or not you’ve completed all 14 steps and 3 tests, please post in the comments below your good news.

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