It has to be said that the jury is still out on whether leaving or staying is the answer and it is likely to stay out. Many women regret wasting a lifetime in what has felt like a corrosive marriage. I know one women whose husband died and when she was asked if she would like to marry again her answer was – “no thank you. My days of slavery are done”. Other women like Anna are pleased that she chose to stay and believes that for her this was the right option. Herein lies the profound truth. One woman’s meat is another woman’s poison. There is no answer that applies across the board.
However there are guidelines that do apply across the board.
- You cannot live with one foot on either side of the fence.
If you have not left and are uncertain as to whether or not you should, you need to stay and attend to the marriage in the best way you know how. You will not be able to change him but you are able to change yourself and there are many happy people whose marriage is not the source of their happiness. They are happy because they have built lives that are meaningful. No meaningful life will grow from a failure to commit or an absence of diligent care. To be living in a marriage that you think you are leaving is to live in a no-man’s land bereft of belonging or significance.
Women talk about leaving as though they are testing the idea on themselves and their husbands. It is as though they are tasting the idea and seeing if they like the flavor. The abuser is a man for whom abandonment is critical. Talk of leaving will amplify the abuse not reduce it –even if in the initial few days he shows the necessary remorse you seek as re-assurance. Divorce talk will aggravate the symptoms.
Being divorced is not something you can practice or get used to. Talking about being pregnant won’t prepare you for pregnancy. Talking about being a mother won’t prepare you for being one. Talking about divorce won’t help you be better at it but it will aggravate your marriage.
The worst part of living in a marriage that you aren’t working at is that if you do get divorced you will never be sure that it was absolutely necessary. You risk having to live alongside the thought “what if I had tried harder?” If on the other hand you do live your commitment to your marriage and the idea that you may not be the problem but you are the solution, you will never have to ask yourself that question. If your best wasn’t good enough then there is no room for remorse of regret. With conviction you can embrace a divorce knowing that you had nothing more to give.
- A decision is not a life sentence.
If your decision is to stay then you have the option at a later stage to change your mind. It is better to decide to stay and live that decision than to stay betwixt and between. The decision to stay is not a decision for things to stay the same. If you stay you need to change – not because you are the problem but because you are the solution. Healing yourself will open up opportunities for you that you could never envisage and in the fullness of time you will be a person with a new set of life skills which will change the lens through which you see your life. You will no longer view the world through the lens of the woman who is afraid and feeling inadequate. Your whole approach to divorce will appear differently. You will no longer be escaping a horrible marriage but embracing a new future.
- If you have decided to leave but you are afraid then maybe you need to read the words of Clarissa Pinkola Estes who wrote “Women who run with Wolves”:
“The “Not readies” and “I need time” are understandable but only for a short while. The truth is that there is never a “completely ready”, there is never a “right time”. There is a time one simply hopes for the best, pinches one’s nose and jumps into the abyss. If this was not so we would not have needed to create the words heroine, hero and courage”.