Between our own inner thoughts and the mixed messages we receive from our family, religious organizations and society, it is not surprising that we can feel confused about what to do when it comes to whether or not we should stay or leave a marriage.
In my experience as a Divorce Coach, it seems the women who struggle the most with whether to stay or go are the wives who are in marriages where there is no clear cut, society-supported reason to leave. These are the wives who feel under-appreciated, unloved and disillusioned. Some have described themselves as feeling as if they are invisible to their husbands.
If a woman is in a marriage where she is being physically abused or her husband is drinking excessively, gambling away their life savings, having an affair or snorting cocaine, she may feel she has society’s blessings if she decides to end the marriage. On the other hand, if he belittles her and ignores her most of the time, but supports her financially or is sometimes nice to her, it can cloud her feelings and cause her to doubt herself. She may say things like; “Maybe, I’m expecting too much from him.” Or, “No marriage is perfect”.
It is not uncommon for women to resign themselves to spend the rest of their lives in marriages in which they feel lonely and unhappy. If a woman has children or if the she is not financially independent, she may stay in the marriage because she feels trapped. Some women have ideas about God that lead them to believe that God wants them to stay in their marriages no matter how miserable they may feel or how badly they are being treated. In addition to staying for the sake of the children, financial concerns or religious reasons; women might also be fearful of being alone or they might stay because they want to avoid feelings of embarrassment or failure.
Divorce is not the only answer. Many marriages that were teetering on the brink of divorce, have been saved because the wife or the husband had the courage to be direct and honest with their partner. It is not an easy road, but if you think your marriage can be saved, you owe it to yourself to exhaust all your options before you decide to divorce. If you want to give your marriage a chance to succeed, I recommend you seek support from a good therapist, coach or counselor. These professionals, will be objective and help you find the best approach for your particular situation. Their support will be very valuable to you as you make courageous changes in your life.
If you do decide to stay in your marriage, do so because you are going to put all your energy toward changing the dynamics from unhappy and disappointing to happy and fulfilling. If you remain in the marriage because you feel trapped or afraid, you are doing a great disservice to yourself, your spouse and your children. Consider attending free Al-Anon or CoDA meetings to help you gain clarity. If you really want to benefit from the experience of attending Al-Anon or CoDA, go to at least 6 meetings.
Do not pressure yourself to make a quick decision. If you are really feeling confused about whether to stay or leave and if you feel safe doing so, stay where you are for now. Spend a few minutes every day writing in a journal. It’s an effective way to release internal stress and gain clarity. Free Al-Anon or CoDA meetings can also be helpful in this situation. Stop trying to get validation and affection from your spouse. Instead, use this time to look for ways you can show love and appreciation to yourself.
Another reason to stay for now, is to give yourself time to explore your own issues and your role in the marital problems. Otherwise, you will take those behaviors into your next relationship and you’ll find yourself feeling lonely and disillusioned with someone else a few years from now. Spend a few minutes every day writing in a journal. Journaling is an effective way to release internal stress and gain clarity. Free Al-Anon or CoDA meetings can also be helpful in this situation.
If you feel that your relationship is irreparable, and you decide to end the marriage, do it in a way that is as self-honoring and harmonious as possible. Your personal boundaries will be tested. Feelings are going to be hurt, angry words may be said and there will be discomfort for everyone concerned. Remind yourself that this is all normal and temporary. Recognize that your spouse is an adult and he will work through his feelings in his own time and in his own way. You can be compassionate without taking responsibility for his feelings. Your focus must be on caring for yourself and if you have them, your minor-age children.
If you have made a decision to divorce your spouse, consult an attorney and a financial advisor. You may also want to find a good therapist, counselor or coach you can meet with once a week. In many cities, there are non-profit, divorce support groups that provide great resources, many of these resources are free. Ask a trusted, divorced friend or family member who they used for their divorce. Or, contact a local divorce support group and ask to meet with someone to find out what steps you should take to prepare yourself emotionally and financially. Interview the professionals you need to guide you through divorce and choose people you trust and feel comfortable around.
It takes courage and persistence to make changes in our lives, but the rewards are usually well worth the temporary discomfort. If you are feeling unappreciated, unloved, disrespected or ignored, within your marriage, you are the only person who can change the situation. You have to stop talking about and thinking of yourself as a victim so you can begin to see your options. If you have children, consider the lessons you are silently teaching them. Are you teaching them to be victims and to settle for mediocrity or showing them how to live life in a powerful, fulfilling and authentic way?
Whether you end the marriage, or stay and take on the challenge of reviving the relationship, it won’t be easy. It is extremely important that you exercise great self-care during this time. Surround yourself with loving and understanding people and call upon them when you need emotional and moral support. Through it all, be gentle and loving with yourself even when you don’t do everything perfectly.