Here’s the key to free yourself.
Living in an unhappy marriage is horrible. You wonder what’s the point of continuing to live with the person or ogre or idiot or baggage or whatever name you currently use for the one you used to happily call spouse.
Yet, despite your obvious misery, you choose to stay. You choose to remain in the prison your marriage has become.
WHY?! You don't deserve to settle for a miserable marriage (or life).
Look, I’m really not judging you or beating you up. I get it because I’ve been there. I lived as a prisoner of an unhappy marriage for more than a decade before I found the courage to change things.
I don’t want you to waste another minute stuck in an unhappy marriage.
The challenge is I don’t know why you are doing it. But what I do know are the top 10 reasons people stay in a miserable marriage. So I’ll address each of these reasons and hope that one of them speaks to you.
- You have too much to lose. If you are staying married because you have too much to lose, then you need to get busy figuring out how to make your marriage better right now.
Don’t squander another precious second being unhappily married. Talk with a couple who is happily married and ask them their secrets. Read everything you can get your hands on about making marriage work and then do what the authors suggest. Go to couple’s therapy. And if your spouse won’t go, get therapy for yourself. Go on a marriage retreat. Talk with a coach.
I don’t care exactly what you choose to do. I do care that you get your butt in gear today and start doing everything you can to make your marriage (and life) better.
- You’re worried about the impact divorce could have on your children. If your marriage is miserable because you or your children are the victim of abuse, your spouse has untreated addictions or your marriage is so volatile that you’d never want your children to have a similar marriage, then let me tell you that staying married is having a much more negative impact on your children than divorce ever could.
If you’re in an unhappy marriage for other reasons and you’re only staying because of the impact divorce could have on your children, then you need to get educated. Become a researcher and investigator.
Scour the internet for everything you can find on how divorce impacts children. But don’t just look at the headlines, look deeper than that. Who exactly were the people studied? Who exactly did the studies? Do they have an obvious bias?
Ask other people about their experiences. Talk with all the single parents you know and ask them how divorce has impacted their children.
Talk with experts. Notice that this is plural. Talk with more than one expert and get their opinions about how divorce could affect your children.
Then, after you’ve collected all of your information, revisit your reason for remaining in your unhappy marriage. If you’re convinced that remaining is in the best interest of you and your children, then do everything you can to make your marriage better. (If you need help to know what you can do, see 1. You have too much to lose above.)
- You can’t afford to move out or live on your own. The first thing you need to do is figure out what it would take for you to afford to live on your own. Once you understand what it would take from a money standpoint, ask yourself how you could earn or create that kind of money. If it would require you going back to school or reentering a career you’ve been out of for a while, then get busy researching institutions or start networking and letting people know you’re looking for employment.
If after doing your research, you don’t have any options at all for how to afford to live on your own, then you don’t have to remain in an unhappy marriage. You can throw your all into making it better again.
- You can’t afford to go through a divorce. The first thing you need to do is figure out what it would take for you to afford the divorce. Brainstorm ideas for how you could save the money you need. Maybe you need to get a second job. Maybe you need to improve your employability. Maybe you need to get a little cash back every time you go to the grocery and put that money someplace safe. Maybe you need to ask your family for a loan.
Chances are that you have options to explore for gathering the cash you need over time. Then once you have the money you need you can proceed with leaving your unhappy marriage and get a divorce.
- You want to give it some more time before making a final decision. What are you hoping will happen by giving it more time?
This sounds to me that you have hope for your marriage getting better. If that’s the case, please refer to 1. You have too much to lose above.You deserve to know that you’ve done everything possible to save your unhappy marriage before calling it quits.
- You want to avoid the stigma of divorce. For some cultures the stigma of divorce is unbearable. For other cultures the stigma is much less than it was.
If your culture is one where the stigma of divorce is greater than the toll living in an unhappy marriage is taking on you, then do everything within your power to make your marriage better or at least more bearable for you.
If your culture is more accepting of divorce, then I wonder if this is just an excuse to not take action because you’re afraid of how divorce could change your life. If this is you, then do some research and find out how divorce impacts people like you.
After you have this knowledge, you might uncover another reason why you’re willing to stay in an unhappy marriage. If you do, then you can refer to this list again and see what might be your next course of action.
And maybe, after you have the knowledge, you might decide that divorce is preferable to remaining in an unsatisfying marriage.
- You stay only for your partner’s money. Seriously?! You’re complaining about being in an unhappy marriage when you’re only in it for the money?
I find that incredibly sad for your spouse. If you’re using your spouse for the lifestyle they can provide for you, then you need to figure out how to get happy and, even better, how to make your spouse happy too.
- You’re worried about how you will manage contact with the children. Parenting plans help divorcing couples figure out how to manage contact with their children. If you have minor children, your attorney should help you put together a parenting plan.
If your children aren’t minors, then you’ve got a few things to do. First, build a personal relationship with each of your children that’s independent of their other parent. Second, realize that there will be special occasions in your children’s lives that they’ll want to have both of their parents attend; so build a workable relationship with your soon-to-be-ex that will allow you each to put your children’s best interest ahead of any squabbles you may have with each other.
- You’re worried you won’t meet anyone else. This is a natural worry when you’re contemplating the end of an unhappy marriage. The question you need to ask yourself is if you’re willing to stay with the person you’re miserable with or are you willing to take a chance (maybe even visit an online dating site) on finding someone new or even being happy by yourself.
Look, if this is your only reason for staying, then you could use a boost to your self-esteem. Make a list of 10 things you like about yourself and remind yourself of these qualities on a daily basis. Update your look with a new haircut and outfit. Lose weight and get fit.
Do something that makes you feel good about you. Then, once you feel better about yourself, see if your worry about whether or not you’d meet anyone else is still your reason for wanting to stay in an unhappy marriage.
- You and your spouse have too many shared financial interests. If money and finances are so important to you, then you need to figure out how to make your marriage (and life) better. Refer to 1. You have too much to lose above and get into action to improve your miserable marriage.
Look, I know it’s very, very difficult to decide whether to stay in or leave an unhappy marriage. But the one thing you can’t do is what I did – just hope that things will get better by sticking it out. You’ll just feel more wretched and depressed if you do.
I want you to notice something about each of the suggestions I gave for the top 10 reasons people stay in an unhappy marriage. They each involve you taking action. And this is on purpose.
You can’t change a situation unless you take action. No one else is going to change it for you. Even if your spouse changes, you’re going to have to adapt to their new behaviors which obviously means you’re changing.
So roll up your sleeves and stop being willing to settle for the status quo. You don’t have to remain a prisoner of your unhappy marriage. You can do something about it so you can feel happier whether you choose to stay or go. You have the key to freedom from your unhappy marriage. You just have to choose to use it.
Looking for more help with your marriage? Read more advice in Unhappy Marriage?
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and personal life coach helping people just like you who are wondering if staying married is the right answer for them. 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.