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The Wrong Reason for Staying Married

The institution of marriage should be intended to enrich our lives. Certainly we might agree that the purpose of marriage ought to be to enhance our life and further our sense of meaning, purpose and gratification. Yet this expectation meets with an incredible rate of disappointment, if not outright failure. Ironically, marriage often becomes the justification for people’s unhappiness.

The fact that more than fifty percent of marriages end in divorce is actually the lesser of the problem. The greater difficulty lies in the fact that the majority of intact marriages are far from joyful. And many people regrettably live out their lives that way.

Remaining in the discontent and lethargy of an unhappy marriage, dulled by the absence of a more hopeful vision, can be downright depressing. And yet, so many people resign themselves to such lives.

Many individuals in such relationships merely give up and don’t work on improving their relations. They stay stuck in their unhappiness due to their fears. Divorce, although tumultuous and potentially scarring, at least provides the possibility of better days. I’m not glibly promoting divorce but suggesting that we do every thing in our power to awaken our relationships and live more meaningfully. Let’s take a deeper look at this dilemma.

The Fear Factor

Fear is the greatest impediment to growth in our lives. Very often, people are literally afraid of sharing their true feelings with their partners. They go silent and angry rather than expose their more vulnerable feelings. The fear may run the gamut: the fear of divorce and its incumbent anxieties or simply the avoidance of coming to terms with a relationship that may be lacking in intimacy, passion or respect. Another poignant fear may simply be the anxiety of being alone and starting life over again..

When you stay married out of fear, the emotional paralysis that pervades further poisons the relationship. Staying together out of resignation – due to fear – results in an enigmatic dilemma. Such people won’t consider divorce, and yet they are convinced that their marriage won’t improve, so they don’t work on the relationship. This is the worst of all possible scenarios.

If you find yourself in this place, it’s essential that you address your fears. The fear of divorce paradoxically eliminates any chance of improvement in the relationship. It produces a state of inertia, and the ensuing stagnation and frustration make mediocre marriages even worse. They become imprisoning.

If we can work through the fears around separation, then we are electing to stay in the marriage not from fear but from choice. This movement begins to unburden the chronic state of unhappiness, and genuine marital therapy may begin. In other words, processing the fear of divorce is not necessarily for the purpose of divorcing; it is for the purpose of clarity. Am I staying married for the wrong reasons?

Fear filters our perceptions and participates in constructing our reality. The ways in which you see your partner are very much informed by your emotions, particularly anger. This anger may have arisen in part because you’re feeling mired in a hopeless relationship.

Getting unstuck permits you to either create a healthier relationship or to move forward. Either choice may be preferable to remaining unhappy without a glimmer of hope. Fear should not be a factor in your choice. Ultimately, the question is how much happiness you feel you deserve. It is not selfish to deserve happiness. In fact, to forgo your own contentment becomes a model of unhealthy self-sacrifice for your children – who will likely suffer in their own self-esteem by having parents who betrayed their own fulfillment.

For the Sake of the Children

One prevailing theme related to fear of divorce is that the act of divorce, in and of itself, will damage the children. People research multiple studies to substantiate this concern. By all means such an upheaval in our children’s lives should not be taken lightly. Divorce needs to be well considered, and navigating the children through this process should be undertaken with insight, reflection and empathy.

Yet, very few people consider the consequences of children growing up in unhappy yet intact homes, as they witness conflicted, unloving and uncooperative parental relations. Children tend to model what they see in their parents’ relations. Certainly, as parents we want better for our kids. Yet, the likelihood is that such children will incline toward similar marriages. Worse still, many parents claim their kids really don’t know anything is wrong with the marriage. The irony is that they will therefore normalize what may be a mediocre, disappointing or conflicted marriage. At least the kids ought to know that the marriage is indeed falling short of the mark. In that way, they can note the failure and aim higher for themselves when they come of age.

The legacy of unhappiness

Is this the legacy we want for our children? To be the best we can be as parents we need to model a level of authenticity in our lives. One in which we face our challenges and struggles and don’t succumb to fear. Isn’t that what we’d want for them? If you choose to stay married, commit to the process and model that commitment for your children. If your marriage precludes the opportunity for happiness, have the courage to face your fears. Let’s not claim that we’re protecting our children by exposing them to unhealthy relations. We need to face our fears, embrace them and choose to stay married from a healthy place of growth and hopefulness, not succumb to the deprivation of a joyless life.

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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

should-i-stay-or-should-i-goCountless people struggle with the answer to this most daunting question. As our relationship hangs on the precipice of making this decision, how we go about making the “right” choice is critical. Committed relationships are typically fraught with challenges and much emotional and psychological upheaval. Yet, these challenges are rife with opportunity at the same time. The opportunity is for our individual growth, and possibly, the growth of the partnership. Let’s look at what’s necessary for making an enlightened decision about the future of our relationship.
Anger
We should never make any life-altering decision from anger. Our wrath may feel justifiable and we need to appropriately express our feelings, but beneath the anger lays deeper and more authentic emotions, such as fear, sadness or pain. Try getting in touch with your more vulnerable feelings and take the risk of expressing them to your partner. Articulating what feels vulnerable is not weak; it’s just the opposite. It’s authentic. Love can flourish with vulnerable communication. Defending against our hurt feelings erects a barrier to true emotional intimacy.
When two individuals communicate their vulnerable side to each other, so much becomes revealed. It’s where our genuine self resides and it needs to be heard. If your partner is the “right” partner they’ll be listening and caring when you reveal your softer side. If they turn a deaf ear, you may have your answer.
Fear
Critical choices are often made or avoided from our fear of the consequences. I’ve seen numerous marriages remain intact due to a multitude of fears: being alone, concern for the children or financial consequences. Staying in a relationship because of fear is often ruinous for it imprisons the future vitality of the relationship. Resentment and anger are the byproducts of staying in a relationship due to fear, as both people stop hoping for a better tomorrow. And they therefore stop trying.
We often worry about the consequences of our actions. We should also contemplate the consequences of our inactions. Work through your limiting fears and you’ll be in a clearer place to come to your decision.
Am I part of the problem?
Can I say I’ve looked at my part in the relationship struggle and tried to see myself as my partner sees me? Have I moved past the right vs. wrong debate and tried to empathize with how they feel? Have I engaged in couple’s therapy and/or individual therapy? Have I tried to be the change that I’m seeking in them? If your answer is yes, then you may be ready to make your choice.
Ultimately a primary purpose of a relationship should be to enhance your life. Hopefully your union began that way. Over time the challenges that relationships stir up may cause us to feel diminished. This in turn fuels frustration and resentment and the energy of your relationship spirals downward.
To turn the tide of negativity in your relationship try to shift the energy that you’re both experiencing. In the downward spiral of negativity, our reactions and criticism of each other quicken.  When a client shares with me in therapy a positive feeling they had about their partner and I inquire if they shared that with the other person, the answer is typically no.  Criticizing and blaming each other become familiar, but ironically if we have a warm or positive feeling about the other, we resort to silence. Come out of the rut you’re stuck in and present your best self. If you partner is “right” for you, they’ll do the same.
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For the Sake of the Children

divorceI’ve often heard people in conflicted and unhappy marriages claim that they are staying together for the sake of the children. Their implied message is that their children will be better off being raised in an intact family, spared from the negative effect of divorce. This position really requires deeper consideration.

As with many commonly held beliefs we owe it to ourselves to really examine them to determine if they’re valid. Often, they don’t really hold up under scrutiny. This may well be the case here. Several questions come to mind: Are we really staying together for the sake of the children, or are we fearful of coming to terms with our own lives (and in that case using the children as a scapegoat)? Second, is divorce necessarily harmful to children? Last, what are the effects of remaining in an intact family in which the parents are either conflicted or simply loveless? Let’s take a look at these questions. Read more

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Raising Resilient Children

Resilient ChildAs parents, no matter how devoted and nurturing we may be, our children often struggle with low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and a host of other challenges. Some of these disturbances are simply life experiences that they may regrettably have to experience. Our goal is to feel confident that they will overcome these obstacles and that our kids will even grow stronger for that success. To achieve that end, we need to provide them with the skills to be resilient, to bounce back from these assaults on their wellbeing and ultimately to thrive in their lives. We can provide them with the foundation to do so if we rethink our relationship with them. If our best intentions are not producing the expected results, we need to examine our operating beliefs. We may be playing from the wrong game plan.

We’re typically comfortable sharing our strengths, values, and ideals with our offspring. We assume that doing so will enable them to follow our guidance and propel them in the right direction. But the tendency for many parents is to openly share their positive attributes but withhold the personal history of their life’s struggles and upsets. We may say that they don’t want to burden our children with our problems – past or present. Or we simply don’t want to present ourselves in a way that is inconsistent with what we try to model. Ironically, when we share only the good with our children, we deprive them of a realistic expectation and preparation for what likely lies ahead.

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I’ll Be Happy When…

What is the source of happiness? We tend to assume that happiness will come from a future event. It typically depends upon something else happening. The script often reads like this:

I’ll be happy when… I fall in love.

I’ll be happy when… I get married.

I’ll be happy when… we can buy our dream house.

I’ll be happy when… we can furnish the house.

Still, the anticipated happiness is elusive so we tie it to more future events.

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When Doing the Best You Can Becomes a Compulsion

Is it always a good idea to do the best you can do? This question came up recently in a therapy session and catalyzed me to look more deeply into the nature and implications of this common assumption.

The man with whom I was working felt it essential that he always do his best. In his case, this inclined him to constantly measure himself as to whether he had acted at this optimal level. He confessed that very often he was stuck in analyzing the past, debating whether his words or behavior were the very best choice. When he wasn’t stuck in that groove, he was typically fretting over future decisions, concerned that they also might not be the very best choice. The nature of his inner voice was highly self-critical, addicted to measuring his actions.

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