Deciding whether to stay in your miserable marriage or divorce isn’t the no-brainer you might think. There are so many factors to consider, not the least of which is the nature and degree of your “misery” itself. Throw in children, finances, length of marriage, religion and other influencers, and your decision just got tougher.
When you feel paralyzed by a seemingly impossible decision, it’s only natural to want a superpower force to swoop in with the answer. But we all know that rarely happens. And when faced with the decision to stay in your miserable marriage or divorce, you are likely to get more questions than answers. Even Glenda the Good Witch would point her starred wand at your feet and remind you that the answer lies within you.
In other words, you got yourself into this marriage. You have to do the painful work of deciding whether and how to stay in it. Help is always available for those who seek it. But only you can decide to accept it.
(However, there are certain circumstances that demand you divorce. Find out what those are in this article: How To Know When You MUST Get A Divorce.)
Every marriage is as unique as the partners entering into it. Each spouse comes to the altar with a life history full of experiences that either strengthen or weaken a marriage. And the marriage becomes the stage on which those strengths prove their worth and those weaknesses rear their ugly heads. It is both sanctuary and healing ground. But it is always a place to learn and grow.
As you take stock of your unhappiness, it’s important to remember that all love relationships navigate through predictable stages. John Gottman consolidates the journey through love to three stages. Other sources expand to five, seven, or even twelve stages of love.
The “aha” moment in all of these explanations of love’s course is that too many people give up too early. They stop at the disillusionment stage – right when reality sets in. This is the time in a marriage when the hormonal veil of “he’s so perfect…she’s an angel” evaporates. And now the real fun begins.
Or at least the work.
There are many signs of an unhappy marriage. You may have a few or you may have many. But chances are you have at least one. No relationship survives unscathed. Stretch marks, after all, are a sign of growth.
So, when deciding whether to stay in your miserable marriage or divorce, try to filter the signs of discontent through that reality check.
Here are some of the biggies when it comes to signs of an unhappy marriage:
- Sex has all but disappeared.
This is important because intimacy is what distinguishes romantic love from all other relationships. Even the lack of visible affection – hugs, kisses, hand-holding – can be a sign that something is very wrong.
- You fantasize about a happy life with someone else.
The mental escape into a fantasy of happiness that doesn’t include your spouse is the start of emotional detachment. Even if you don’t have a specific person in mind, the fact that you have excluded your spouse is telling. It’s a way of starting the numbing process so that the pain of possible separation in the future won’t be as great.
- You don’t feel heard and/or you don’t listen.
We all hunger to be heard at a deep, soulful level. Feeling heard is equivalent to feeling validated. Feeling validated is equivalent to feeling valued. And feeling valued is equivalent to feeling loved. Indifference or disregard is like a stripping away of that value…and ultimately of love.
- There is abuse.
This sign of marital unhappiness stands apart from all the others because it requires immediate intervention and separation.
If you are being abused – physically, verbally, emotionally, sexually – you need to get help. Even if your abuser refuses to get help, you need to secure safety for yourself, your children, and any pets you may have.
There is no amount of your “being better” that is going to make an abuser a better spouse. Abuse is a cycle with deep psychological roots, and it needs the help of trained professionals.
- There is addiction.
Regardless of the source of addiction – alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling – you run the risk of codependency if you stay. Even if you do stay, you will both need to get help for your individual roles so that you can lead a healthy life without enabling the addict.
Because addiction is often interwoven with violence and other forms of abuse, it is a valid ground for separation or divorce.
The majority of reasons for marital unhappiness center around communication and unmet expectations. Couples don’t know how to express their feelings and needs, so they detach or act out.
You have to believe that “if you knew better, you would do better.” That is both logic and wisdom that comes with maturity. But couples rarely invest the time to “know better” before entering into marriage. After all, they are both “perfect” in one another’s eyes, so, therefore, their marriage will always be perfect. Or so they hope and hold onto believing.
There is no magic formula for helping you to know if you need to stay in your miserable marriage or divorce. But if you haven’t examined the source(s) of your unhappiness and how you reached that point, then you have work to do.
Research has shown that people who report unhappiness at some point in their marriage almost always end up happy if they stick it out. In other words, unhappiness is rarely permanent.
The deciding factor is first deciding that the unhappiness is temporary and approachable. The next step is using the unhappiness as a springboard for growth, however inconvenient that may be at the time.
Did you go into marriage assuming you knew all you needed to know about communication and relationships? If so, go easy on yourself – most of us do. But use the wake-up call as a motivation to get counseling and invest in the dynamics of a healthy marriage.
Think about how different your marriage would look if you both knew effective ways to express your concerns, needs, wants…and love. Think about what your parenting skills would look like if your marital skills were better. What kind of relationship modeling and stability would you provide your children if you were first better spouses?
Ultimately, the only way to know if you need to stay in your miserable marriage or divorce is to examine what you have done to save it. No one said that would be easy. But the real reason you married in the first place is that, deep down, you knew it would be worth it.
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