You don’t need to stay stuck in an unhappy marriage. You can choose to be happy again.
Spouses who are in an unhappy marriage but are afraid to leave will question not only their marriages, but themselves. And, while outsiders may be quick to judge those who linger in misery, the cleaving is rarely simple.
Marriage doesn’t bask forever in wedding day euphoria, though it may be healthy and happy. It has its proverbial ups and downs, and sprinkles even the happiest partners with periodic longings for independence.
When marriages take on the dark cloud of being unhappy or even toxic, however, countless descriptors come up:
- anger issues
- drug/alcohol abuse
- improper/abusive parenting
And yet, when people are in an unhappy marriage but are afraid to leave, their reasons for not leaving can almost skirt the gravity of their unhappiness:
- staying together for the kids
- not wanting to part with money
- not wanting a lesser lifestyle or loss of home
- overwhelmed by the divorce process
- fear of loneliness
The underlying resistance to leaving an unhappy marriage, however, almost always comes down to fear.
- The prospect of divorce feels shameful and embarrassing.
- The thought of court, conflict and expenses creates panic.
- The person can’t envision a future.
- There is fear of financial deprivation or loss.
- There is worry about the welfare of children.
- Low self-esteem breeds fear of never being loved again.
What, then, are you to do if you have an unhappy marriage but are afraid to leave? What if you know things are not going to get better, and that you are just living out your days? What if, deep inside, you know that you are staying married in name only, and for a list of people that doesn’t include yourself?
Obviously the decision to stay or leave is one that only you can make. And that decision can be made only as a conclusion to an authentic questioning of your own heart.
- Are you happy with the life you are living?
- Years from now, perhaps after your children are grown and gone, will you regret staying or leaving?
- Are you staying because of what others might think?
- Is your partner committed to making your marriage work, or are you both in a marriage alone?
- Is there abuse or any other reason to fear for your safety or that of your children?
- Has your social and support circle diminished?
- Have you made every effort you can to save your marriage from getting to this point?
- Do you feel dead inside?
If you know you are in an unhappy marriage but are afraid to leave, you will have to come to grips with the ultimate personal sacrifice. For each day that you stay in a toxic environment, you lose a little more of yourself. And your life becomes a slow emotional and spiritual death.
It may sound nonsensical, but embracing your fears is an important step in rising past them.
The process is both as simple and difficult as facing each fear on its own and countering it with facts and action sufficient to release it.
Become a detective on your own behalf. Collect information. Weigh all your options. Consider all your possible losses in light of all you stand to gain. In the final analysis, what carries the greater weight?
Worried about your financial survival? Start looking for ways to increase your income. Even part-time work can forge confidence in your ability to provide and to survive independently.
Need education or training to guarantee the right job for you? Start researching classes, or simply begin exploring topics online. Not only will your financial confidence increase, but your self-confidence will, as well.
If you have children, securing an attorney with a specialty in custody can help you navigate one of your most justified fears — the welfare of your children.
The fear of losing your kids can be paralyzing. But a good family attorney can relieve a lot of that anxiety by looking out for and maximizing your time with them.
The fact that a marriage is unhappy, let alone toxic or dangerous, doesn’t mean it is easy to leave. Quite the contrary, actually.
Such a marriage tends to be more complicated to leave, not less. Relationship patterns become ingrained, and money and children take time and conscientious handling when dividing a home and family.
If your marriage is in any way toxic or abusive, and you know you need to leave, your preparation will be especially important.
First and foremost is safety. Always. Secure in advance safe housing and protection (if necessary). Tell one to several people whom you trust exactly what you are intending to do, and keep them informed as you go through the process.
Begin the process of creating financial independence. Understand your finances, and, if possible, find a financial planner to help you create a plan and a way to manage it.
Seek professional help. When you are in an unhappy marriage but are afraid to leave, it is especially important to have knowledge, wisdom and objectivity on your side.
By having a divorce coach, therapist and trusted family attorney onboard early in the process, you will add to your circle of those who know your intentions and can support you.
If you are married to someone who is manipulative, threatening or dangerous in any way, stop any direct communication after separating. Communicate through your attorneys, or directly only as is necessary for children involved. You will need clarity and only those influences with your highest good at heart.
Finally, begin doing those things that bring you joy. Come back to the feeling of doing things you love.
Marriage in and of itself will ask the best of you. But an unhappy marriage can rob you if it, then demand it as you try to find your way out. It sounds unfair, if not impossible.
If you are in an unhappy marriage but are afraid to leave, know that you do have choices, and you can rise to happiness. Take a deep breath and calmly weigh the value of your life against the price you are paying by not living it.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a life and divorce coach helping people just like you who are looking for advice and support in deciding what to do about their unhappy marriage. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. And, if you’re ready, you can take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach by scheduling a private consultation.
Looking for more ideas for what to do about your unhappy marriage? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Unhappy Marriage.
Rebuilding your life isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, but if I can do it so can you.
When I was dealing with my divorce, I never thought I would get to this place — this vantage point of talking about “rebuilding my life after divorce.” When I say I was “stuck,” I was stuck! Add “spiraling” to the mix, and I’m sure you get the ugly picture.
Divorce is traumatizing on just about every level. The shifts in finances, custody and other pragmatic matters can be seismic in their effects. And the emotional upheaval can leave your life shattered when your world comes crashing down.
You would think that the person initiating a divorce would skate through the process less scathed than the other — at least emotionally.
But it really doesn’t matter if one person initiates the split or both partners come to the table with the same mindset. It sucks. It hurts. It turns your life and your sense of self inside out.
Little did I know that rebuilding my life after divorce would be just as difficult as living in an unhappy marriage. The defining difference was that one scenario was a slow, hopeless death of my spirit, and the other was a slow, eye-opening re-emergence into life.
Both were agonizing. Both were my choice. But only one gave me hope.
There is a fine line in marriage between forming a union between two whole people and losing yourself to an enmeshment or subordination. And no matter what the unspoken paradigm of the relationship is, the marriage will always have an identity all its own.
For a person already struggling with his or her self-identity and -esteem, hiding behind the “us” identity can be an easy escape. For a while, anyway.
When I married the first time, I was young. Too young to know myself, let alone stand up for myself. I was, however, old enough to believe in the power — and obligation — of my word. Even though I knew before my wedding day that I shouldn’t be doing what I was doing, I had given my word. And at that point in my life, keeping my word to someone else was a sign of maturity and fidelity.
Sadly, I allowed my faithfulness to someone else override my faithfulness to myself. My promise, in my mind, was my dying obligation. And I was dying to keep it. Literally.
Little by little I gave away pieces of myself — pieces seemingly small enough that I assumed I wouldn’t notice. And yet, I was giving them away in hopes that my husband would notice my commitment and even my compliance.
I couldn’t live and thrive within my marriage. How could I imagine rebuilding my life after divorce? My health suffered. TMJ made it all but impossible to open my mouth, speak or chew. My self-esteem was tanked. I lost several loved ones to death in a two-year period of time. I had a miscarriage. And two severe car accidents left my body broken and in pain.
But sometimes life has to deal a hard blow to get our attention. I hadn’t listened to my inner knowing. I had shut off my hearing and my connection to wisdom. I was miserable because, in essence, “I” didn’t exist. “I” went through the motions of “keeping my word,” but to something that wasn’t authentic because I wasn’t authentic when I said “yes.”
And then September 11, 2001 changed everything. For America. For the world. For me.
Getting a divorce was only the unlocking of the cage, so to speak. Rebuilding my life after divorce was the real test of my promise – this time to myself.
Just because the cage is unlocked doesn’t mean the one inside walks right out. And I didn’t. I hurt so much that I thought I would die. I replayed all the tapes of disapproval and unlovability that I had listened to throughout my marriage, and I manifested them by starving myself and making a new promise: that I would never get married again.
Rebuilding my life after divorce was really about building my authentic life for the first time.
I had to undo a lot of damage; but that damage was nothing more than a stark reflection of a deep and neglected voice to which I had failed to listen. Now I was listening, but didn’t know how to recover, let alone become “lovable” again.
It was a good year after my divorce began before I started my rediscovery process. I had been waiting for someone else to rescue me, to lead me out of the pain and into hope. But the moment came when that sequestered voice within me spoke up loudly and clearly: No one is coming to your rescue. You have to rescue yourself.
One of the first bold moves I made was to bring competent and compassionate professionals into my life. I had neglected myself physically, and needed to hear the raw truth about my anorexia and overall health. Food had been the one thing I could control in my out-of-control world, and I had to make friends with it and stop using it as a weapon. Hiring a personal trainer was a statement of self-worth, even as I was still struggling to feel worthy.
I also hired a stylist to help revitalize my appearance and my self-confidence. I had dumbed down my expectations both of and for myself, and I needed to see all that I could be. Sometimes having another person who can see beneath the veil of despair and resignation can change the way you see your own reflection.
Perhaps the most important person who helped me rebuild my life after divorce was my therapist. I will always be grateful for the compassion and objective guidance I received during a time that felt so desperate and lonely.
Despite the progress I was making in the years after my divorce, I still wasn’t ready to back out on my resolve never to marry again. Even after meeting and dating a man who loved me and whom I loved, I couldn’t push past that one last promise: I will never get married again.
If you have followed my blogs, you know that I did, eventually, push through that block. I realized that I was holding onto a fear created out of an old self. And I had worked so devotedly to give voice to a wisdom and self-knowing that had been stifled since before my first “I do.” I was now a person with something valuable to give to a marriage. I was also now a person capable of expecting and receiving something just as valuable.
Rebuilding my life after divorce wasn’t easy, but the effort was worth it.
And it all started with two little words to myself: I do.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help people with rebuilding their lives after divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.
Looking for more information about adjusting to life post-divorce? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Life After Divorce.
Be prepared, these reasons may infuriate you or produce feelings of empathy.
It’s a common question today that seems to go hand-in-hand with the questions about respect between the genders that we’re still struggling with as a society: Why do married men cheat and still stay married?
In my years working as a divorce coach, I’ve met several men who fall into this category. These men have a paramour that their wife doesn’t know about. And these men choose to stay married despite their infidelity and the fact that something must obviously be missing from their marriages.
What I’ve discovered is that there are three main reasons why married men say they cheat and yet remain married:
- Some unfaithful men still love their wives and yet need something more.The something more they crave could be excitement, support, sex or any other need that they believe their wives are just not able to provide.
In some cases, they have asked their wives for what they need. And for some reason, these men – either correctly or incorrectly – believe their wives have denied their requests.
In other cases, the men have not asked their wives. And the reason they haven’t usually has to do with pre-judging their wives coupled with a fear of being judged and denied their needs in an unpleasant way.
- Other men are afraid to hurt their wives.
Each and every one of the men I’ve met who fall into this category realize that if their wife discovered their infidelity that she would be very hurt. And so, they are reluctant to admit to their affair because they believe it would cause their wife unnecessary pain.
- They don’t want to deal with the financial implications of divorce.
These men fear that their wives will divorce them when news of their infidelity is revealed. So, rather than come clean, they choose to continue having a relationship on the side.
Are these good reasons for why married men cheat and stay married? It’s not my job to pass judgement and it’s not the purpose of this article either.
The fact is that the men in this situation consistently give these reasons for why they do what they do instead of coming clean and dealing directly with their spouses about the repercussions of their choices.
What I think these reasons point out is a serious breakdown in communication between the couples. And I believe this reflects the miscommunication and lack of respect between genders (and gender orientation) that is sadly still prevalent in our society.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help people make it through their divorce journey and create a happy post-divorce life. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.
Looking for more information about the repercussions of cheating? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Surviving Infidelity.
Tips for getting over the practical and emotional challenges of an unexpected divorce.
No one walks down the aisle wishing there were a rewind button. And no one says “I do” while secretly worrying about how to get over an unexpected divorce in the future.
It can seem absurd, if not surreal, to look at your life in review from the middle of a divorce. How did you go from the assurance of a happy life to the gut punch of having it ripped away?
It was only yesterday that the diamond ring was dangled. Now you’ve been served with divorce papers, leaving you to figure out how to get over an unexpected divorce.
It’s bad enough to be forced into a divorce you don’t want. But there is an extra sting, a piercing shock, when you didn’t see it coming. Wham! You’re thinking it’s time to add to the family or renew your vows, and your spouse has one foot and a suitcase out the door.
No matter how you got here or what role you played in the decision, the process of divorce isn’t easy. You will need the best of yourself in the game — alert, prepared, well-advised.
The question of how to get over an unexpected divorce starts with asking yourself if it is truly over. If you were broadsided by your spouse’s decision and believe that he/she is even slightly unsure, it may not be.
If it’s possible to negotiate a separation, you may both get the needed space to re-evaluate before throwing your marriage away.
If this is not possible, regardless of the torch you may still carry for your spouse, then you have a choice. You can either fight the divorce — at great emotional and financial expense — or you can prepare to move on.
There will be both emotional and pragmatic considerations in a divorce. And for the person still shell-shocked by the decision, it can be challenging to isolate the two. Even if you are both committed to parting with at least a modicum of maturity and amicability, you will still need objectivity.
An essential step in successfully navigating the divorce process is surrounding yourself with a strategic and compassionate support system. And first on that list, harsh as it may sound, should be an attorney.
Figuring out how to get over an unexpected divorce isn’t as simple as one person keeping the house and the other getting a posh new pad across town. In a very real way, divorce is a ripping apart of everything that represented a unified existence. And that goes for children, pets, dreams, expectations and assets.
Even if you do not intend to fight your spouse’s decision, there are long-term and often complicated decisions that need to be made. If you have children, there will be the obvious issue of custody and living arrangements.
That out-of-state move you had hoped you would make as a family may not even be allowed for you if you want to see your kids. And things like tuition and college-expense planning may get a little more burdensome when added to the heap to be divided.
We all know how inadvisable it is to make major decisions during emotional times. Stress hormones, lack of concentration, and the flooding of memories and their accompanying emotions can wreak havoc with decision-making. And a decision made in the moment can change the course of your life.
That’s why the detached counsel of a divorce attorney can be crucial to the divorce process. In a meltdown moment of thinking, “I don’t want anything! He/she can take it all. I can’t handle this!” a divorce attorney can reel you back in with a reality check on reactionary decision-making.
Be prepared to show several years of tax returns, bank statements and investment statements in order to paint a complete picture of your assets. Consider, as well, that one or both of you may lose access to your private health insurance (if provided through a company) and may have to distribute retirement funds.
If one of you was not a major breadwinner, it will be extremely important to have clarity around going forward with financial security. Entering the job market after years away is fraught with learning curves, earning curves and inequality in future earning potential. You will need to take all of these factors into consideration when committing to a fair division of assets.
While trying to keep your wits about you to deal with pragmatic matters, you will obviously have the emotional weight of your divorce to deal with. And when the divorce is both unexpected and unwanted, feelings of isolation, loneliness and a parched self-esteem can run rampant.
Now more than ever it is important to create a circle of loving support around yourself. You may be surprised that some of the family and friends you thought you could count on part ways when you and your spouse part ways. It’s okay. Let them go. Your life is in flux, and that doesn’t have to be all bad. Welcome new friends, immerse yourself in relevant support groups, and make sure you have those sacred few with whom you can talk about anything.
As with any loss, divorce carries a dance card with “grief” written across the top. Give yourself a time limit, but don’t sit out the dance. It’s cathartic. It’s insightful. It’s healing. It’s essential. And it will lead you, so you can follow.
The hopeful side of divorce — let alone one that is unexpected — is that you have the opportunity to do for yourself what someone else can’t do or won’t do. Reacquaint yourself with the small, lost-in-the-shuffle sources of your happiness. Rediscover your passions…and pursue them. Give yourself the gift of time to heal. And let romance sit on the sidelines until the big breaks are nothing more than light-revealing cracks.
Sometimes we are forced by life to look for ourselves in the darkest places. While we have no power to keep someone else’s promises to us, we do have the power to keep our promises to ourselves. And what matters is that we promise not to stop looking until we are found…again.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. If you would like additional help in learning how to get over an unexpected divorce, I can help. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. And, if you’re ready, you can take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach by scheduling a private consultation.