I recently talked with one of my closest friends who is struggling with the age-old question, “should I stay or should I go?” Although she isn’t happy in her marriage to her high-school sweetheart and hasn’t been since almost the very beginning, she doesn’t believe that she has to strength to walk away for numerous reasons.
My friend isn’t the only one who is going through this predicament. Time and time again, I have a similar conversation repeatedly with my clients who stayed in unhealthy and unhappy marriages.
Although I have been in toxic relationships, I managed to walk away before dealing with marriage commitments. That being said, I can empathize with these women's stories because I understand that leaving is always easier said than done, and love can blur our vision of what we actually want until it feels like it’s too late.
Here are the stories of three women why stayed in their marriages at the expense of their own happiness.
“He was going through too much for me to walk away without feeling guilty.”
For over a decade, I was with my high-school sweetheart, whom I married right after my eighteenth birthday. Even though there were times when he would tear down my looks and go through extreme mood swings, I loved him. Finally, there was a job opportunity that was going to put me elsewhere for a few months. Deciding it was perfect for a break, I packed my things and took off. Within the first couple of weeks, my boyfriend’s best friend ended up in a critical condition in the hospital due to a car accident. My boyfriend called me, and I dropped everything to rush back to him. When I saw the distress he was in, I realized that I couldn’t leave. I stayed in that relationship for another decade and didn’t realize until later that I ended up putting his needs before my own.”
“I thought that it would be better for my children to have their parents together.”
My ex-husband and I were married in our mid-twenties. Although we were happy initially, as time went on, our differences became more and more blatant. The subject of divorce came up regularly in our first couple of years of marriage, and then I got pregnant. Suddenly we had a daughter, and then a few months later, I was pregnant with our son. We settled into a sort of understanding, we had children, and there was no point in separating as it would cause them to have a lower quality of life. Although the first few years weren’t as hard, as time went on and I realized that I wasn’t true to myself, I felt lost and depressed. Finally, when my children were almost legal adults, my husband and I split. My daughter told me something I will never forget, “Mom, you staying with dad in an unhappy marriage only showed me an example that I don’t want to follow.” Her words caused the heartbreaking realization that my decision to stay for my children ultimately showed them a relationship that didn’t include love.
“Everyone said my husband and I were perfect together, and I didn’t want to let them down.”
When I met the man I was going to marry, my family couldn’t have been happier. I had been in a series of toxic relationships, and Bruce was everything I could have ever wanted. As we dated, there was a tiny voice in the back of my head that said we weren’t right for each other, but I pushed it down. How could I be pickier? There was no one else that would offer as much as bruce did. I tried to tell my family that I was struggling with my conflicting feelings. They all said that I was silly and that I would never find someone as amazing as Bruce. Their invalidation of my feelings created a doubt that was the final confirmation that I needed to walk down the aisle. I remember feeling an emptiness I couldn’t describe on my wedding day, but our photos were elegant. Our guests couldn’t stop gushing about how “in love” we looked. Bruce never did anything wrong. The reality is that we weren’t compatible and that I didn’t feel how I should have a romantic partner. I eventually asked for a divorce but wish that I would have listened to my gut early on instead of what everyone else thought and wanted for me.
From a very young age, we are told that marriage is sacred and meant to last forever. When a marriage doesn’t last forever, which is almost fifty percent of the time, society makes us feel like we failed.
When reflecting on my friend's words, there is one key factor in her decision-making process. Everything is centered around what her partner wants instead of what she wants. She is so incredibly blinded by the fear of starting over or being alone that she chooses to live with regret and resentment.
If you are continually telling yourself that happiness doesn’t matter, I want to remind you that life is too short to carry regrets that we didn’t live to the fullest.
Remember, there will be ups and downs in any marriage as it is simply part of life, but there should also be joy and happiness.