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.