When Should You Stay in an Unhappy Marriage?
You hear it all the time.You and your girlfriend are at lunch and quibble about the irritating things her partner did that morning: “He only made one cup of coffee, when he knows I take a roadie with me to work. He never acknowledged the lunch I packed for him. He comes home from work and is too tired to talk. And don’t even get me started on how I’m the only one who listens to the kids read each night. And then I have to hear him whine about how we never do it anymore. I’m exhausted by the end of the day.”
And when guys, on their commute home, complain with their buddy over Bluetooth that their wife complains about all the things he hasn’t done. “She never acknowledges the things I do complete. For instance, I saw a stain on the kitchen floor after she went to bed, and mopped the ceramic tile on the entire downstairs. I went over it twice—even put all of the chairs on the table like they do in restaurants. I never heard one word.
I transferred the laundry she started, dried it, folded it, and all I heard was some knit top wasn’t supposed to go in the dryer. When Dylan asked me a question about his math homework, she shooed me off and said she wanted the tutor to help him so I wouldn’t confuse our son. I can’t win, man.”
Are these scenarios deal-breakers? No, not necessarily. It’s important to know what’s going on in and around these scenarios. Are they one-off bad days? Or are they chronic grievances for which there is no cure? Are they unhealthy or merely unhappy?There is a big distinction between an unhappy marriage and an unhealthy marriage. An unhappy marriage you can manage because the work is on you. An unhealthy marriage is more complicated, especially if there is addiction, abuse or mental illness. If you are one who has challenges with any of the the three, its up to you to make the decision to seek help, support, and if necessary, treatment. If it’s your spouse, it’s sometimes an experience in futility to believe that you can wrestle away someone else’s demons. It’s not your work. Its your partner’s. Ultimately, whoever has demons, must take them on themselves.
Here are the 10 reasons you might stay in an unhappy marriage:
1) You have financial security.
If you and your partner both value financial assets above all else, and cannot imagine splitting or reducing accounts, you may choose to keep the status quo in your relationship. Say your partner works long, hard hours, yet is not a particularly warm fuzzy, you see past the lack of gooey accolades because you appreciate the financial well-being he/she provides above all else. In this case, money does buy happiness.
2) You appreciate the social status you and you partner have created.
When you both have established a rich social network, perhaps with an illusion you don’t want to surrender, the thought of being shut out from social gatherings, cliques and clubs, may be inconceivable.
3) You think the kids are better off with you both married.
If it’s unhealthy, please rethink this one in depth. If it’s unhappy—you are not demonstrating contempt or abuse, but instead are sort of comfortably numb—you might choose to stay. The caveat here: know that you are role modeling civil but disconnected behavior. Your children will learn this and undoubtedly seek future partners from what they learned from your home. And, maybe unconsciously, you do not want to be that single parent and split off from your extended social network. Own this and then make the decision that you choose to remain married. Not only accept this decision, embrace it, free from anger or resentment. Disparagement of the spouse is not allowed. Ever.
4) You feel comfortable enough.
Barry Manilow, in his hit, Ready to Take a Chance Again: “No jolts, no surprises. My life goes along as it should. It’s all very nice but not very good.” If Barry is singling about you, and if your relationship is good enough that you choose to stay, make the best of it. If you’re unsure of why you and your spouse do not connect, look at your Myers Briggs preferences to further understand his/her personality. Look only for the positives in your partner. Listen more. Share more. Respect more. Appreciate more. Repeat.
5) You know that divorce is out-of-the-question.
Perhaps you were raised in an environment where religion or family values dictated that divorce was unacceptable.
Or you’ve married before and you don’t want a string of marriages and divorces to your name. We counseled many people who fear divorce because of their lifelong perspectives. The stigma of divorce is still alive and well in the 21 st Century, and you don’t want to be “that” couple. Look deep within. Many people associate end of marriage with being a quitter or a failure. If this is an anathema to you—an unspoken tenet to which you ascribe—then you should stay in your marriage. Perhaps your priorities are of marriage above all else, and your relationship just needs a fresh coat of paint. If there are some minor tweaks here and there, you should stay in the marriage because other aspects of the relationship far outweigh the minor annoyances. However, if there is abuse of any kind: emotional, physical, sexual, substance, please seek professional guidance.
6) You value belonging and companionship.
You are a connector. On Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Love and Belonging are right above Safety, and speak to the connection need of all human beings. The dread of being alone might be greater than an unfulfilling relationship. If connection is paramount to you—you love being a couple—then recognize this need, and embrace the happy satisfaction you feel from belonging to someone.
7) You have similar values.
When you and your spouse value trust, love, kindness, fidelity, commitment, accountability, honesty, devotion to family, communication, respect, and gratitude, (to name a few), you should stay in your marriage. These eleven examples of shared values could very well override intimacy or excitement. You might be married to your best friend.
8) You believe he/she is a good parent.
We hear this all the time. We’ve asked couples who have been married 40 years; those together 27 years, and pairs married 18 years, and we often get the same response to our query: “What is the one thing (if you had to pick) that you value most about your mate?” 8 out of 10 of them say, “He/she is a good father/mother.” And the physiological reveal on their faces illustrates their authenticity. They have a flush come over their faces, one of loving admiration and respect. If this is you, appreciate that you have a devoted co-parent.
9) You are grateful that you have heart-healthy communication.
You can share everything and anything with your partner. You are vulnerable without the least bit of trepidation. Although you might have individual interests that are incongruent—you like the arts, yoga and book groups—he enjoys hockey, his historical society groups, and watching C-span 24/7. While your activities and interests do not overlap, you both have the willingness and courage to openly communicate.
10) You appreciate humor.
If you find yourself in a continual state of laughter in your relationship, you’re golden according to University of Kansas Department of Communication Studies, Jeffrey A. Hall, PhD., whose groundbreaking new research: Humor in romantic relationships: a meta-analysis (March, 2017) indicates a positive satisfaction in romantic relationships. Of the more then 15,000 participants in Hall’s just-published study, making your partner laugh—as you laugh also—showed high levels of relational satisfaction. Shared laughter then, is a laughing matter.In any marriage, there are crests and troughs that couples navigate. And yet, a happy relationship always comes back to you. We create our own happiness. Our dear mentor, positive psychology colleague, and ‘happiness guy,’ Martin Seligman, suggests that we discontinue our undesirable habits, “savor” our experiences, and embrace mindful practices to expand our happiness. Are you down a quart and want to check your happy level? Take the Happiness Quiz.
Ultimately, you alone, have the secret to happiness in your marriage and in all of your relationships. You’ve been wearing the ruby red slippers all along.