It seems like there are two different types of divorces:
1. Those that last decades, fighting tooth and nail over every spoon, chair, and penny, and
2. Those that seem to simply dissolve quietly before our eyes, as if it had all only been an illusion in the first place.
The first type may end up in the media – depending on how extreme the fighting gets, or how much money is at stake –and second type leads us to believe that divorce is simple and routine – like laundry or grocery shopping. No matter how easy someone may make it look, the pain, disappointment, and sense of failure are the same for everyone.
Not every divorce is caused by some big life changing event such as infidelity or abuse. It may simply be the realization that your life isn’t going the way that you want it to, and your current situation doesn’t allow you to pursue happiness in the way you desire. You are living with a feeling of mild discontent that is exacerbated by the arguments and disagreements you have. We stay in unhappy marriages because they don’t seem that unhappy – until one day, we realize how unhappy we really are.
Some of us spend our marriages in a constant state of “will-they, won’t-they”, riding the highs and scraping by during the lows. You fight and argue, and sometimes it feels like the end of the world. Sometimes that feeling grows as your patience shrinks. And sometimes, you decide, “This is it, I’m really done this time!” and then… something happens. You have a wonderful family day at the zoo, or a romantic dinner at your favorite restaurant for your birthday, and it feels like old times. But that day out or date night was an anomaly, and you quickly drop back into your regular routine of quiet unhappiness.
Whether it is your brain or your heart that ultimately makes the call, you decide to stick it out a bit longer, because things will get better – or be different – soon. Right?
Why We Stay In Unhappy Marriages
Whatever our brain decides is the is primary justification for remaining in unsatisfying or downright miserable relationships, there are really only a few reasons why we stay in unhappy marriages. Here are the top three.
1. We Stay In Unhappy Marriages for Our Children
Many people in self-proclaimed unhappy marriages say that they stay with their spouse for the sake of their children. They don’t know how their children will respond, don’t have a clear understanding of how child custody will work in their case, or are scared of losing their relationship with their children post-divorce. Once we become parents, much of our decision-making is focused on how a particular decision will impact our children. Nobody wants to see their children upset and scared.
The fact is, however, that in order for your children to have healthy relationships, they need good examples of what healthy relationships should be like. If you and your spouse are constantly fighting, then the example you are setting for your child is that being unhappy is ok. It is your responsibility as a parent to value your happiness, as a model for your children and the standards they should set for their own relationships.
2. We Stay In Unhappy Marriages Because of Happy Memories
The funny thing about memories is that we only remember certain things – the really good things and the really bad things. All of the middle moments just sort of blend together. So when you look back at the life you have built with your spouse, there are a few key memories and moments that spring to mind, and since the actual emotions you felt are long passed, you have ghost emotions that are typically much stronger one direction or the other than it was during the actual event.
For example, if your honeymoon was mostly pleasant, with only minor bumps along the way, chances are you will remember it down the road with the softened lens of time. The details and negatives fade out and the memory becomes more positive than the initial experience actually was.
Our brain can use this to trick us in a couple of different ways. It can cause us to wonder how things got so bad when they used to be so good, or it can convince us that things will be good again, if we just put in enough time/effort/energy/patience. We let our perception of past events control our future, instead of critically looking at our goals and making a educated decision on whether our current path will allow us to accomplish them.
3. We Stay In Unhappy Marriages Because of Fear
Regardless of what other reason your brain may generate for you, the #1 reason why we stay in unhappy marriages is fear. Fear of change, fear of loss, fear of what their future will be like without your spouse. You shouldn’t be ashamed of being afraid. Fear is what keeps us from making really bad choices in our lives. You didn’t jump off a bridge, even though all your friends were doing it, because you were afraid of the consequences. In this instance, your fear was justified and helped to preserve your life and health. That is what fear is for.
Fear can be a great thing, as it is your brain’s way of protecting you from potential hazards. It is when you become immobilized by fear that things get tricky. Inaction is the best friend of fear, and they love to work together to keep you from moving forward. You have done new and scary things your entire life, from taking your first steps to rebelling against your parents, even getting married! The fears that you have overcome have defined who you are as a person, and those that you allow to rule your life do the same.
Knowledge: The Key to Overcoming Fear
People have the ability to strap themselves into a harness and jump off a bridge with just a single rope attaching them because they understand exactly what will happen, when it will happen, and what safety measures are in place to protect them from damage. They have researched and weighed various factors, and have decided that the potential outcome is worth the risk.
Those people we see who seem to have it all together as they seamlessly navigate divorce with no second thoughts have a secret. They have struggled with the same emotions that you have, but they have decided that they are worth more or their life can be more that it is in their current situation. So how have they gotten to this point of quiet confidence?
Reach Out to an Expert for Help
They have most likely reached out to an expert to explain the process and help them understand what divorce can mean for them, their finances, their family, and their future. If that’s not enough, they have reached out to a therapist, or maybe joined a support group for help dealing with the emotional impact of divorce.
A family lawyer does more than assist you with filing paperwork. Reaching out to a lawyer when you are considering divorce can help you to understand what life could be like outside of the restraints of your marriage. Many divorce lawyers work to expose the unknown so you can be confident you are making the right choice for you and your family, regardless of whether that means you will be pursuing divorce or not.
A divorce lawyer can fully explain all the options available to you, recommend counselors, answer all of your questions, and address any concerns you may have about the divorce process, child custody and support, or any other aspect of your life post-divorce. You then have the knowledge you need to weigh those options, look at the different potential outcomes, and can decide to pursue divorce, wait for a better time, or maybe even come to the realization that your marriage isn’t so bad after all.
The Moral of The Story
Don’t let fear, memories, or even your children keep you from pursuing your best life possible. Speak to an experienced divorce lawyer who can help you understand your situation, and get a full analysis before you do anything. You just may find that – with some concerted efforts, or a few sessions of marriage counseling – you could already be living your best life. An outside perspective may help you recognize and appreciate what you have, and what your marriage could become with some time, patience, and support – or you may gain the knowledge and tools you need to overcome your fears, enabling you to leave your unhappy marriage and start a new, better life for yourself.
Tracy Mccole is a legal researcher and writer from sunny Orlando, FL. When she isn’t assisting Family Law Attorneys Grigaltchik & Galustov or providing advice to those considering divorce, she is attending law school to become a family law attorney herself after completing her education.