How to leave your marriage – Why is it so difficult?

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Why can’t you leave?

Many people find themselves in unhappy relationships but just cannot seem to leave. Perhaps you are in this situation;  you have discussed it with friends, are having an affair and have been thinking about it for a year, maybe even more.  However, it is not uncommon to just not be able to bring yourself to do it.  You spend days, months and then years sometimes torturing yourself over this decision.  So what is stopping you leaving your marriage?

We are going to explore the reasons and different emotions that are stopping you moving on and keeping you trapped in an unhappy marriage.

Fear is holding you back

You are likely to have avoided taking the decision due to a range of fears:

  • fear of losing your children
  • fear you will not cope
  • fear of having no money
  • fear of losing friends/family/community
  • fear of being alone
  • fear of being judged
  • fear of hurting someone you care about
  • fear of uncertainty

Fear is useful, it makes you to assess the situation and plan to cope with eventualities.  However, the fear is less useful when you have made up your mind but you cannot move forward.

Fear of uncertainty is also powerful as it makes us all feel a loss of control.  People often hope that they will find an answer as to what to do.  They will run dilemmas past friends, or search the internet for articles such as these.  At the end of the day, you always feel slightly unsatisfied as there is no easy solution.

Stuck in the catastrophe?

As the fear takes hold, we can become unrealistically catastrophic in our thinking.  We might begin to start fantasising about being totally outcast, with no money and being totally miserable and eventually dying alone and penniless.  The problem with this is that (a) this is unlikely to happen and (b) you can fix things with time and patience.

So back to the worse case scenario of dying lonely and penniless……the truth is that you might struggle with money and some people might be angry with you, but others will continue to be your friend and you will find ways to adapt to your financial situation.  Even if you do make a mistake, this does not mean you cannot rectify it with time and adapt with time.

The reason you are leaving this marriage is because you are unhappy, so you need to rebuild your life anyway and it might be easier to do it away from the marriage without someone restricting your freedom, or undermining your efforts.

So reassure yourself by considering what is the worst that might realistically happen and how could you deal with this?


a man through a door into the wilderness to find himself faced with a number of other ports

Regret – Want to avoid responsibility for the years wasted

Are you someone who thinks that leaving now, will mean that the last 10 (or however many) years of the relationship will be wasted.  On this basis, every day you stay will get harder.

One way to look at this more helpfully, is that staying in a situation in which you have invested a lot in is normal.  It has been shown that loss aversion is one of the most consistent human traits.  It means that you stay in jobs you don’t like or stick to bad investments (or put even more money into them!) in the hope that you won’t lose and that something will work itself out.  It is extremely hard to lose and have to admit you have made a mistake.

Is it time to cut your losses?

Guilt – Have I tried hard enough?

Many people feel guilty about leaving and wonder if they have tried hard enough.  This leads to getting caught in an endless loop of, trying “just one more time or just one more year”.

These 3 considerations might help you get out of the trap:

  1. Am I unhappy due to my marriage or due to something else? For example, if you are also unhappy due to not liking your job, are you blaming your marriage?  If you were to make other changes, would you still want to leave?  If the answer is “yes”, then you have your answer.

2. Am I being prevented from making changes due to your partner? If you would like to communicate differently, live your life differently, change jobs but your partner will not allow this, then you will remain unhappy for the foreseeable future.  If you have not tried, then tell your partner what you need (e.g. go out more, see more friends and have more sex). Make sure that you check what your partner wants too, as if he is saying yes just to keep you, then he will be unhappy.  After you have made the changes to your life, see whether this leads to an improvement.  You both need to be true to yourselves for this to work.

3. Have I ever really enjoyed being with my partner? Can you not stand them, possibly you struggle to remember times you ever really enjoyed?  It is surprisingly common that we marry people we do not actually enjoy being with, as we feel they would make a good father/mother, they are “nice”, your family like them etc.  If this is the case, you do not need to ponder too long.

Putting off the pain

It is the most normal thing in the world to want to avoid feeling and causing pain.  This means that you will find all kinds of reasons to delay your decision to leave, “I will wait until they finish school, until they have this interview, until their mother is better”…..Waiting for the perfect time is a dangerous game as this very rarely happens.

If and when you do leave, you will face a difficult time and it will be messy for you and several people around you.  Even if we can reduce and manage the pain and chaos, there is absolutely no way to eliminate it totally.  However, if you can accept it while moving towards your own life values, then the distress will eventually make space for more and more happiness.


The 2 choices you are actually facing

Once you have thought about what fears are holding you back (and I am sure this has been on repeat in your mind), you only really have 2 choices:

OPTION 1:   Stay in a relationship which is not making you happy and is unfulfilling, and that one day you may massively regret not having been true to yourself.  On the upside, it is the devil you know and is not too painful in the short term.

OPTION2:  Leave the relationship and immediately face an enormous amount of turmoil and uncertainty BUT you have the opportunity, for increased happiness.

BOTH options are stressful and both involve pain.

You are responsible for living your life and making your choices

People often convince themselves that they are trapped by their obligations and commitments; they cannot afford to divorce, that they cannot expect their partner to change or that their family will not be able to cope.  If you are in this bind, then others have become responsible for your life and you will feel trapped.

The truth is that you are responsible for feeling trapped as YOU ARE CHOOSING to accept the relative comfort of your decision, whether this is being better off or protecting your partner or family from any difficult change.

I have heard it described as making circumstances the jail and other people the jailor.

Who and what are you living your life for? 

Be true to yourself

The reason that you hear this line so often is because it contains a truth which is so fundamental to happiness.  If you are feeling trapped or that life is long and difficult these are major signs that you are living a life which is not satisfactory to you in some fundamental way.

If you could live your life as you would like to, what would you be doing? How would you be?

Nothing is more soul crushing than living a life according to someone else’s values.

You have one life, how will you choose to live it?


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