We deserve more than just seeing ourselves and our relationships as commodities that can be negotiated.
“I have put too much time into this marriage for it to end.”
“If we split, all those years together will be a waste and will mean nothing.”
I remember telling myself the lie that sounds like truth to so many of us when we are hurting, agonizing over the end of our marriage.
It was a long and miserable December. My marriage was on life support, and in my heart of hearts I knew it could not be saved. And yet I remember walking the slushy streets to work, desperately repeating lies to myself, hoping I would believe them.
Years and what seemed like a lifetime later, I had forgotten about those thoughts, until one day I was having lunch with a group of girlfriends. One of them was going through a rough patch with her husband, and separation seemed inevitable. As we sympathetically listened, she said something that stuck out.
“I have sacrificed way too much and invested way too much time into this relationship. I’m not just going to walk away from it.”
“I have worked way to hard for this relationship to just end. That would be a complete waste of the past five years of my life.
It took hearing those words to come out of a friend’s mouth for me to realize that we all do this: when we are about to call it quits but may be afraid of what will happen after the split: we try to reason with ourselves that we should hang on to a relationship as if the time we put into it is like a non-refundable down-payment that we don’t want to lose, so we’ll hang on to the investment even though it may not be in our best interest.
Viewing relationships as a time investment, when those relationships no longer serve us in a healthy and loving manner, serves no purpose but to cause suffering. It is this myth of marriage as time investment that we must debunk, so that we can learn how to rebuild our lives and give ourselves the chance to move on and be happy.
Quit treating the “time we put in” to our marriage like it’s money we put into an investment, especially if the investment is one that no longer serves a healthy, loving purpose for all investors (a.k.a. both partners).
The years we have spent dedicating ourselves to a marriage helped build a life together with someone we loved. Good memories, building a family, and living comfortably. And for a while, that time together and those years spent were great.
Once things start to fray and the foundation cracks, we cannot invoke those years spent as a justification to stay in a relationship, especially when the relationship has broken down and both partners are no longer invested. Unless we are learning to play the piano, or we are an athlete who must train 8 hours a day to keep in form, or we are hand-painting the Sistine Chapel, we must erase this false narrative that time put in = a guaranteed return.
We deserve more than just seeing ourselves, our relationships, and our future happiness as commodities that can be negotiated. When we see our marriages as merely investments of time and treat them like a justification for staying in something that is no longer healthy, we only hurt ourselves.
Acknowledge those years in the relationship for what they taught us, not what they owe us.
Most of us have some great memories from our marriages. It is important to acknowledge those times, for they are what gave us happiness at that moment in our lives.
But we must also recognize that the months and years in between those memories, the ones that maybe weren’t so good, are not collateral to be used as an excuse to remain in a marriage that is no longer working. We may have been in a marriage for 5, 10, 20 years, and we may have made many sacrifices during that time. There are moments when we think that we are owed something because we spend so many years in a marriage that is on its way out. But to treat that time put in as a guarantee that we are entitled to something because of it gets us nowhere.
If it is time to part ways, or if the split has already occurred, we must think of that time as experience for the things the marriage taught us about relationships, about our families, and about who we are because of that time in the partnership. But we must leave it there, and not attempt to use that time as some sort of bargaining tool to say we should remain in something that is no longer sustainable. To do so denies us the opportunity to move on.
Recognize that we are using the myth of time investment because we are scared.
The time we have put into a relationship, even one that we may have not been happy in, was at least time in which we may have been comfortable. We are afraid to start over, and the unknown forces us to go “back to the beginning”—whatever that means—when we think we are too old, too financially unstable, too emotionally distraught to do so. But we need to give ourselves more credit—we must recognize that we are smarter, more organized, more adaptable, and much stronger than we can even imagine.
It’s okay to feel scared about starting over. The fear is what makes us human, but it’s the courage to start over and give ourselves another shot at happiness that makes us truly remarkable. And our ability to acknowledge that we are wavering, using the excuse “but I have put so much time into this marriage” and get past that fear and bargaining is what can help us start over.
Time invested in a relationship does not guarantee happiness. But we can learn to be happy ourselves.
There comes a time when we realize that the marriage has run its course, regardless of the years and effort we have put into it. It’s okay to move on, okay to start over, and okay to find happiness on our own terms.
Here is where time spent does become our responsibility. As we start or continue to make a new life for ourselves, we are given a choice about time. We may choose to spend our time angry or bitter or we may choose to invest time in ourselves. We are not destined to live a life of hurt and misery. However, we can be destined for greatness and become stronger, more compassionate, and happier people. Putting energy into that happiness is time well spent.
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