Too Good To Leave, Too Bad To Stay By Mira Kirshenbaum

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Image credit: photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash.

It’s one of the hardest questions you can face in a relationship: Should I stay, or should I go. Sometimes, it feels like there are too many unpleasant feelings to stay in a relationship.

  • There may be tension, or bitterness, or a severe break in communication.
  • One or both partners may feel lonely, unhappy, and frustrated.
  • However, oftentimes the good isn’t entirely gone – there are still moments of laughter and love that remind you why you’re still holding on.

This relationship ambivalence is enough to make anyone feel exhausted and confused. Luckily, Mira Kirshenbaum’s Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay offers some guidelines to start your search for answers.

A Step-By-Step Approach To Clarity

For those who seriously doubt their relationship, making a list of pros and cons may seem like a valid step in the right direction.

Kirshenbaum disagrees. She believes that this “balance-scale” approach serves only to confuse you further.

After all, you may have more listed in the “negative” column, but what if one positive bears more weight than a negative?

Approaching your relationship confusion this way only serves to compound your ambivalence further.

Rather than using a “pros versus cons” approach, Kirshenbaum:

  • Employs the use of relationship diagnostics to guide the reader through the web of their own entangled ambivalence.
  • Offers 36 guidelines that get at the heart of your relationship’s foundations. With each guideline, the reader can decide what is truly too important to leave – and what’s too important to live without.

Getting Down To The Heart Of The Matter

When asked what is most important in a relationship, you might answer with “trust,” “communication,” “love,” or “intimacy” – but how do you quantify these feelings and experiences?

Kirshenbaum outlines concrete ways of measuring the presence of all these factors, as well as the potential they have to heal or grow.

As she puts it, you can fix something that’s broken, but you can’t fix something that never worked in the first place.

By assessing the true substance of your intimate partnership, you can gain insight into whether or not you can heal together – or if it’s beyond repair.

Some Guidelines Kirshenbaum Offers Include:

#1 - When your relationship was at its “best,” did things between you feel right or work well? As she writes, “If it never was very good, it’ll never be very good.”

#5 - “Do you and your partner have even one positively pleasurable activity or interest (besides children) you currently share and look forward to sharing in the future?” Some examples included were cooking together, cuddling, talking politics, and reading together. These loving experiences bring you closer, which mean that there is still substance under the pent-up tensions and shutdowns.

#11 – All anger and resentment aside, do you genuinely like your partner as a person?

#36 – “If all the problems in your relationship were magically solved today, would you still feel ambivalent about whether to stay or leave?”

Each guideline is explained in an accessible, sympathetic way that discusses the numerous factors that can cause a good relationship to sour, or an unhealthy one to stay together.

By discussing emotional shutdowns, differences in communication, and realistic expectations, Kirshenbaum provides the information necessary for a couple to evaluate the bigger picture, and decide how to move forward.

Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay includes stories of couples from Kirshenbaum’s own experience that illustrate the principles of each guideline:

  • For many couples, the decision to part ways was difficult, but ultimately was the best choice for them.
  • An equal number, however, found that their relationship was better than they had realized underneath the stress and hurt that masked the true value of their relationship. These individuals were happy to rediscover the love and closeness they can come so close to losing.

The Bottom Line: What You Need To Be Happy

Through her experience as a couples counselor, Kirshenbaum draws on research and cases that exemplify what’s important to the foundation of a relationship.

By working through relationship ambivalence, you can open yourself up to recommit without doubt to healing your relationship – or take comfort in the knowledge that leaving is what is healthiest for you and your partner.

In the end, what truly matters is not what’s on paper, but that you have enough substance at the heart of your relationship to rebuild and be happy.


Deciding to stay in or leave a relationship is often a difficult and painful one. With the help of a couples therapist, you can take the first steps toward finding clarity. Contact Nassau Guidance & Counseling today at (516) 221-9494 to find out more information.

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