It’s never black and white when it comes to staying or leaving.
We know that if a woman is being abused, she should remove herself from that situation immediately; but what if she is just unhappy? The general consensus seems to be that if your marriage makes you happy, you should stay, and if you’re unhappy you should walk out. Sometimes we even turn up our noses at those who stay despite being unhappy; they’re either hypocrites, or they are slaves to society’s idea that an unhappily married woman is “still better” than an unmarried one.
Sometimes though, that’s not the case. I asked some women who chose to stay in their marriages despite being unhappy or unfulfilled, and here’s what I got:
1. They want a two-parent home for their children: You may have heard someone say, “I was better off with two separated happy parents than I was with unhappy parents who stayed together, but hey, that’s just me.” Yes, that’s just you. Not that you are alone, but I’ve met many others who remain grateful to their mothers for choosing a two-parent home for them, instead of walking out. One actually told me he believes he would have turned out horribly had she not made that sacrifice. I don’t know his story so I can’t say I understand, but I can certainly relate.
2. They need someone to share responsibilities with: From decision making to child discipline, two heads are often better than one. This is especially true when the owner of that head knows you and your kids very well, and knows enough of your history that you can get to the solutions part without first having to explain and provide back stories for context every time something comes up.
3. They need the extra money: Some women simply can’t afford to maintain the lifestyle they currently enjoy without their husband’s money. And they want to maintain it. Yep, let’s just put it there as it is. This isn’t always about being materialistic; it’s just about being practical sometimes. Comfort is actually nice, you know?
4. They need a sexual partner. And they already have a lover who’s probably good, so why give him up because one is unhappy? This may not make sense to some of us, but the truth is even if you’re tired of the way he’s always “disturbing you for sex” you would actually miss it if you didn’t have it anymore. And in case you’re thinking one can always get another lover, when you consider all the things people go through with new sex partners (people are walking around with emotional baggage, STDs, baby penises, monster penises, overly kinky sexual preferences…ugh!) staying with the tried and tested one you are married to makes sense.
5. They don’t have the energy for divorce. This is valid, honestly. Until you have attempted to legally unravel a life built and led in tandem with someone else, you may not understand just how traumatic (not to mention expensive and time-consuming) it can be. Not to mention post-divorce issues— fighting over who keeps the kids at Christmas and during the holidays, helping the kids deal with new lovers and new family routines, etc. Sometimes the thought of all the stress just makes your current dissatisfaction seem like a light affliction in comparison.
6. They don’t want to grow old alone. As you grow old, it’s nice to have your lifelong companion by your side, caring for each other when sick, rejoicing at your children’s weddings and grandchildren’s naming ceremonies and birthdays together, and all those other things that become more important than the things that made you discontented when you were younger.
Staying married even though unhappy isn’t such a bad idea. The key is to work at the marriage instead of just “staying”. I believe this is what actually makes the difference. Marriage teaches us to be less selfish, to be considerate, to compromise and meet our partner halfway, to forgive, and above all to persevere.
Very importantly, remember that your happiness is your responsibility because you can actually choose to be happy. Are you expecting your husband to make you happy? Could it be that with a little more understanding and better management of your expectations, your marriage could be healthier?
I’ll leave you with a tweet from @SheilaGregoire which I often refer to as “the tweet that saved my marriage”: “78% of marriages that felt themselves awful 5 years later rated themselves very happy. So if your marriage is in the toilet, don’t flush it.”
Now that’s something to think about, isn’t it?