Just as deciding to get married is a huge step, so is deciding to end it. Even if things don’t work out the way you had hoped and dreamed they would, it is often not a simple matter to break up and leave. So what happens is that people stay and stay in unhappy relationships. Everyone around the couple can see that it’s just not working out well, but often the couple themselves can still manage to find all the reasons to stay, or perhaps the reasons not to go.
This article will discuss seven of the reasons people often give for staying. If you are in an unhappy relationship you may recognize some of these, and perhaps this may bring you some clarity as to whether staying is really worth it, and whether things are likely to improve over time or not.
1. “I’m afraid of what will happen if I leave”
Fear. Plain and simple fear is probably the number one reason which keeps people trapped. This is a very real and valid emotion, especially when it comes to fear of the unknown. For those in abusive relationships, it is well known that an angry spouse can seek revenge which can even cost the escaping spouse their life. There will always be an element of risk involved when you end a relationship, regardless of how unhappy it is. Therefore it is not a decision to be taken lightly, but to weigh up carefully in view of your options. Identify your fears one by one and try to let the fear of being in an unhappy relationship for the rest of your life override the others.
2. “It’s not that bad, really”
Denial is a favourite trick. If you just pretend it’s not so bad maybe you will feel better. And after all, every relationship has some struggles, so maybe your marriage is just normal anyway? Maybe it really is ‘not that bad’ in which case you could keep on going. But maybe there is a little voice somewhere deep down inside, straining to be heard as it says ‘surely this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be?’ If you feel like that, start doing some research. Ask around with your friends and acquaintances how their relationships are. Perhaps you will be surprised to discover that some of the things happening in your marriage are not at all “normal” and no wonder you are so unhappy.
3. “We have to stay together for the kids”
No matter how well you try to disguise it, your kids will know if you are unhappy as a couple. Children are extremely sensitive and perceptive, and they seem to have special highly developed radar for phoniness or hypocrisy. If you are trying to teach them “marriage is good and happy” while you are living “I hate being with your other parent and I’m just sticking it out” don’t expect them to get the message. They will no doubt learn that “every marriage is unhappy so I might as well resign myself to the same fate one day.” Weigh up carefully whether the physical, practical and financial benefits your kids may have if you stay together are not being undermined or soured by the lack of true love and the hostile atmosphere in your home.
4. “I will never make it financially if I leave”
Finances are another major reason why unhappy couples stay together. If you leave you will probably have to lower your standard of living and you will no longer be able to enjoy the lifestyle to which you have become accustomed. Perhaps your spouse has always been the main income provider, and leaving will mean that you have to re-enter the job market again after many years of home making. This is truly a daunting prospect which can understandably cause major hesitation. Or perhaps you are already paying maintenance and alimony from a previous divorce and you can’t afford another batch piled on top of that. These are very real concerns which need to be considered carefully.
5. “I’m still hoping things will improve”
It’s very good to hope and that’s what keeps us going through many a difficult patch. But if you are honest with yourself, can you truly see any signs, however small, of some positive changes in your relationship? Or are you having the same old fights over and over and over again. Have you seen a counsellor or therapist? Or does your spouse refuse to go for help because you are the one needing to change, not them? What will it take to bring an improvement in your relationship, and how long are you willing to wait?
6. “I can’t face the stigma of being divorced”
If you come from a conservative background where the word ‘divorce’ is almost a swear word, then the thought of being a divorcee yourself can seem like the worst thing that could happen. Somehow you could imagine that when you get divorced a big red ‘D’ appears on your forehead announcing to all the world that your marriage has failed. This is simply not true, and thankfully nowadays the stigma of divorce is fading fast. Indeed, divorce is a very humbling experience altogether, but when you know that you are doing it for you, then it doesn’t matter as much what others will think or say.
7. “I have too much to lose”
This is probably the bottom line question which you need to settle in your own mind. Take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. In the first column make a list of what you will lose if you leave, and in the second column list what you will lose if you stay. Now have a careful look at the two columns and determine which the weightier side is. It’s not about the number of words or entries. In fact there may only be one entry in the second column saying ‘my sanity’. Depending on which way the scale tips you will need to make a decision. Then go forward with conviction and determination, and don’t look back.