The human mind is amazingly enabling. We can use it to justify our behavior, to avoid the pain of facing that we’re not doing what we know we should be doing to improve our lives. We’re not perfect and so we don’t have sufficient courage to always act on what we know deep down is good for us. When we don’t want to face inconvenient truths, we camouflage the nagging pain of not listening to our inner wisdom by overpowering it with superficially convincing rationalizations.
I can’t exercise because I’m too busy.
I can’t eat healthfully because it’s too expensive.
I can’t go back to school because I’m too old.
Nobody likes their job; that’s why they call it work.
And so on.
The more a prospective change requires of us, the more likely we are to make excuses to keep that change at bay. And so it makes perfect sense that people in bad marriages find all sorts of reasons to avoid the daunting work of divorce.
Here are some of the most common excuses people give for staying in a bad marriage, along with reasons why it’s easier in the long run to stop making them:
I can’t leave my marriage because it’s not the right time. Being sensitive to your spouse when you’re planning to divorce is the decent thing to do. Only an insensitive jerk demands a divorce on their spouse’s birthday, on a momentous holiday or anniversary, or just before their spouse takes a major exam. The mature thing to do is make your announcement when nothing big is happening. Because divorce is never fun, there is never a perfect time to bring it up, and you can spend the rest of your life finding reasons why you need to wait. Eventually, if you want your anxiety to go away, you have to settle on a relatively neutral D-day, take a deep breath, and bite the bullet.
I can’t leave my spouse because they need me. Ending a marriage is particularly challenging when you perceive your spouse as overly dependent on you – because, after all, what nice person wants to reject someone vulnerable? Two important things to remember here: 1. You’re actually not being nice by staying with someone out of pity or obligation. To the contrary, you’re preventing your spouse from moving on, growing, and hopefully meeting the right partner someday. 2. Staying with someone because they supposedly need you is a handy way of making yourself look strong and thoughtful when you may actually be the needier partner; presenting this façade takes a tremendous amount of energy that could be better spent on facing that your marriage is over and learning to find your own way.
This is just what marriage is like. When you’re unfulfilled in your marriage and reluctant to go through the pain of divorce, it’s tempting to believe that all marriages are miserable and so there’s no point in going to the trouble of ending it. You can tell yourself that all couples have terrible problems and act disrespectfully toward each other behind closed doors, and only those too weak to accept that reality get divorced. You can keep on presenting yourself as tough and devoted by broadcasting your capacity to stay committed to your spouse no matter how awful your marriage gets. Again, though, it takes lots of energy to cast yourself as a high and mighty martyr. Accepting that your unhappy marriage is not the norm and ending it will free you up to find marital harmony in your future.
I’m staying married for my kids. If you’re a parent, keeping your kids at the forefront when making major life changes is the right thing to do. But make sure you’re not using supposed parental responsibility as a way to dodge decisions you are afraid to make. Yes it’s certainly true that children are better off growing up with their biological parents in the same house, but only when those parents are in a thriving partnership. Kids see right through parents pretending to be happy, and that experience can cause them long-term emotional damage. If you and your spouse move through divorce in a way that protects your children from antagonism, they are very likely to be stable and secure being co-parented by the two of you in separate homes.
When you get down to it, pretty much every excuse in the book to not get divorced (when you’ve tried everything to save your marriage and you know divorce is the answer) just creates greater turmoil for everyone involved. The longer you sidestep what you know needs to happen, the more you are preventing you and your spouse and kids from having the life opportunities you all deserve.
So be honest with yourself: are you putting off divorce because you’re not psychologically prepared to handle it? If so, summon the courage to take action – and you’ll soon find that the anticipation of divorce causes way more dread than getting on with it.
About the Blogger:
Psychologist Amy Wood, Psy.D. helps adults to articulate and accomplish their own unique versions of success through psychotherapy, executive coaching, speaking, mediation, and collaborative law coaching. A pragmatic optimist, she is known for her capacity to simplify complexity and see manageable solutions amid the overwhelm of modern life and work. Dr. Wood is the author of the award-winning book Life Your Way: Refresh Your Approach to Success and Breathe Easier in a Fast-paced World, a founding member of the Maine Collaborative Law Alliance, and a member of the Maine Association of Mediators Board of Directors. She earned her doctorate from the Adler School of Professional Psychology, graduated from the College of Executive Coaching, and is a certified mediator. Visit her website at amywoodpsyd.com.