Staying with your partner should include a conscious decision on both parts that you will both make the marriage work. You always hear that marriage is a 50/50 partnership – and that is so wrong, on so many levels. Marriage requires 100% commitment on both sides. Anything less will cause friction, sooner or later. And one, or both, partners may be committed to getting through that friction because its expected. You may be a military spouse, or married to a person that is super successful and spends most of their waking hours working. There are many marriages that have survived and thrived in these circumstances – and some don’t.
So then you have divorce which is much more than just a word. It’s the stripping of lifestyles, promises, and wishes. It can create heartache, as well as relieve it. Before you take the giant, humongous step that is divorce, really think about what you’re doing, especially if you have kids. Because once you have kids, you’re tied to your partner until death, regardless of a split-up. You’ll be seeing them at school events, graduations, birthdays, weddings, etc. Plus, you’ll be doing handoffs with the kids on a regular basis if you’re sharing custody. Let’s talk about some of the reasons to stay.
Companionship: You’ve been with your partner for how many years? You’re accustomed to each other and you’ve been physically close to this person for a long time. You made promises to this person about loving, cherishing, and forever. What has broken down, is it fixable? It’s definitely worth a try.
Kids: That’s the big one. I once consulted a divorce mediator, and he told me to wait until the kids were out of high school to initiate divorce proceedings. Kids are better equipped to handle adult concepts when they’re adults. And to a certain degree, that’s true. But it doesn’t hurt them any less, regardless of their age.
Finances: You have shared assets, like a home, cars, furniture. You also have shared debt – a mortgage, car payments, credit card payments. Will splitting up make life unlivable? Will keeping the marriage intact so greatly improve your lifestyle that you are unable to leave? This is a hard decision. Does delaying a divorce make sense if your circumstances will improve in the future? It’s a hard-hearted choice, but it may make a difference for you and your children.
Social Standing: Will breaking up destroy your social life as you know it? Are you willing to establish new friends, a new support network if you lose your current peeps? Unfortunately, friendships can wither up and blow away at the drop of a hat. What do you stand to lose socially when you divorce?
Religion: Will you be ostracized or excommunicated from your religion? This can be a devastating effect of divorce. Think this through carefully. You need to decide – does your religion define you? Or do you define your own sense of religion? Finding a different house of worship can sometimes be easier than sticking around to be judged by people you thought were your friends.
Counseling: There are all flavors of counseling. The best counselors will see the partners individually to get both sides of the story, and then bring the couple together to resolve differences. You can find professional counselors that charge all ranges of prices, and some communities and states offer subsidized counseling (it’s in the best interest of everyone that people stay married). Seek couples only counselors if you can/ They will only see the couple together, which can stifle some revelations from the individual partners. Also, using a religious counselor can sometimes lead to one partner being “shamed” for not kowtowing to the other partner’s every whim and desire, and for not doing all of the menial work of the relationship. You may have to see that person socially. Do you want the person who knows your dirty marriage secrets to be close to all of your friends and family? Probably not.
Find a Mutual Hobby: Find ways to spend time together without the kids. Take classes on cooking, couples massage, or budgeting. Read books together and talk about them. Find a social group of other committed couples to hang out with. Do things that you did when you were courting each other. This is key; NEVER stop courting each other! I once heard a joke about a man never saying he loved his wife. His response was – “I told her once, why do I have to keep saying it?” Never stop courting your partner! Do nice things for them, surprise them. Be kind and gracious to them.
Kindness, Respect & Consideration: In my home, these are the core values of all interpersonal exchanges, whether adult or child. Before you speak to your partner, or take action for or against your partner, ask yourself: Is it kind? Is it respectful? Is it considerate? Answering yes to all three of these questions gets BOTH of you on a path that leads to a more harmonious married life.If you or your partner are being disrespectful, unkind, and/or inconsiderate, talk it out. Point it out, using sentences that start with the words “I feel this” rather than “You did that”.
“I feel frustrated when you break a promise to take out the trash.”
“I feel humiliated when you joke about our marriage in public.”
“I feel hurt when you come home late from work without calling me.”
Own up to your faults with your partner, and ask them to own up to theirs. If you find speaking to your partner difficult, then go back to the Counseling route. Let someone else talk for you.
If you’ve thought about it, and tried to save it – yet nothing has changed – these are some reasons to leave. You’ll note that these are the flip sides of the reasons to stay, there’s a reason for that!
Lack of Companionship: If you’re getting flat out nothing from your partner, it may be time to cut your losses and move on. Do not feel like you have to “save” them by staying with them. People have to save themselves – if you’ve been giving them what they need and they are still behaving poorly, it’s time to go.
Kids: Your marriage serves as an example to your children. When the relationship has broken down to the point that it’s painful to be around the both of you, they will believe that marriage is a trap, and something to be avoided. Don’t leave them with that idea. End the marriage and move on. You may end up in a relationship that is beautiful and amazing, and your children can model their perception of relationships in a fresh, new way.
Finances: As much as many people stay together to preserve their union of financial assets, it’s just stuff. You can always buy more stuff. You can find a different place to live and you can live well on reduced means. Millions of people have decided that their own personal integrity and emotional well-being is more important than their possessions. Don’t let money be your motivator to stay.
Either way you decide – to stay, or to leave – you have work ahead of you. Don’t just accept the status quo and remain in misery. Make a conscious decision to fix what’s broken, and then set a plan in action. And by fixing – that means improving your relationship with your spouse, or ending the marriage and fixing your own life.
Ambivalence is giving up a piece of yourself and letting someone else decide what to do, and how to behave. I leave you with a quote from a well-known movie.
“We accept the love we think we deserve.”
What do you deserve?