What Makes Them Stay?

She had been in a loveless marriage for years – decades maybe. If asked, she talked about it openly, and even those who didn’t know somehow knew. A mutual friend approached me, “it’s become the elephant in the room,” she said. “She can’t see how much this is impacting her.” Over the years, this relationship had stolen her joy, her beauty. It was making her bitter and angry – her sense of self was seeping out at the seams. There is nothing quite as lonely as being in a lonely marriage.

“I cannot imagine what is making her stay.”

I sat quietly for a moment on this one – such a loaded question - a question with no right answer.

Life has given me a crash course in relationship. Over the past several years many people (both men and women) have discussed openly with me the measures of unhappiness in their marriages. Some of these are close friends, others just acquaintances – but the stories are all the same.

If asked, my advice is solid– do everything you can do to save your marriage.  And, whatever you choose to do, whatever the outcome, fully accepting your decision is the key to future happiness.

Why do people stay in unhappy, unhealthy situations?

The women say it’s about financial security and the well-being of the children. Plus a very real and legitimate fear about going back into the workforce – especially for those who have chosen to stay at home to raise children for an extended period of time. For me, it was the dream – I didn’t want to give up the dream of the perfect, whole family I had conjured in my head, even though my reality was far from it. I was terrified for the kids of course; we’re all terrified for the kids.

The men have surprised me. Mostly, because it is highly unlikely they are sharing this honestly with their wives. The irony being of course, if they were – their marriages probably wouldn’t be so bad.  For them, they say it’s a matter of logistics, they don’t want to upset the status quo – almost all of them have expressed they don’t want to do their own laundry.  Seriously.  And that they don’t want to give up the ‘daily living’ of family life – naming house, dog, kids - sometimes in that order.

While jobs and kids and dogs and houses are important, I don’t think that’s the real reason people choose to stay in unacceptable situations. It goes much deeper than that.

There are only three ways to correct any uneasiness in your life: you can change the situation, you can leave it, or you can accept it. Anything less creates unhappiness and steals your joy.

There are many people in this world who aren’t happy unless they’re unhappy. They wouldn’t tell you this of course, mostly because they don’t understand it themselves. They’ve identified with their pain in such a way that it’s become a part of them – so a life without it would seem mostly like a death. To feel alive, they re-create this pain a little bit every day. This is done one choice at a time.

Their partners are forced to find satisfaction and fulfillment outside of the marriage – in affairs, in kids, in work and in hobbies. Once one partner has an out in the relationship, the other must find an equally weighted out in order to stay in the union – otherwise, it breaks apart.

This creates what I like to call ‘the spin cycle’ – where life is filled with emotional turmoil to such a point that there is never any time to think about – and deal with – the real issues. This way of living robs you of your peace and your sanity.

But you have a choice – there is always a choice to change your current situation; if you want to.

No one is a victim -   

Here’s to making it great.