Why Stay In A Bad Marriage?
What leads someone to stay in a marriage that is clearly earmarked for divorce?
The dramatic increase in average life expectancy during the 20th century is truly a marvel. I’m still taken back by my mom who, at 79, just retired and is going strong. If not for the passing of my dad in 1992, my parents would be celebrating their 56th wedding anniversary this year. Remarkable!
Increased life expectancy definitely has the potential to extend marriages. With longer unions and a radically different world from that of my parents, it’s not uncommon for today’s marriages to face many more challenges than ever before. For those married, many have faced the specter of walking away.
Death Do Us Part?
Death do us part is the stated marriage end game. It certainly was for me. I wanted a marriage like that of my parents–long and happy. Well, it ended at 24 years, and I still question whether we gave our marriage a legitimate shot.
However, there are many marriages that should obviously end. Take the marriage of Frank and Nancy. Married 19 years, Nancy thought that she would be Frank’s partner for life. Frank, however, had a different agenda.
Two years ago, Nancy discovered Frank’s first affair; she forgave him for the sake of the marriage and the children. Fast forward two years and Frank is caught again, this time with one of Nancy’s friends. Enough is enough. Nancy is looking for a divorce attorney, and that’s when I get “the call”.
Talking with Nancy was interesting. Even after all the issues with Frank, it was clear that Nancy was not staunch in her resolve to end the marriage. Quite the contrary, she was contemplating yet another reconciliation. I was floored and perplexed. What causes a person to act this way? What leads a woman, or man, to stay in a marriage that is clearly earmarked for divorce?
For my own sake, I wanted clarity, especially since this was not the first time a client exhibited such behavior. To help me answer these questions, I called upon my good friend, psychologist, Dr. Jerome Poliacoff. Jerry is a captivating storyteller. Speaking from his years of working with spouses like Nancy, Jerry explained the reasons in stories and vivid examples.
Jerry’s first point was that life leaves its mark on each and every one of us. “We are all a product of the influences during our upbringing,” Jerry tells me. “When it comes to divorce, people look at it through their unique lenses, which are shaped by their life experiences.”
According to Jerry, each of us has the capacity to justify a marriage, no matter how bad it is. The degree of this capacity depends on our experiences, both before and during the marriage. Based on his work, Jerry believes there are six primary justifications for not walking away from a bad marriage:
6 Reasons Why People Stay In A Bad Marriage
- Internalized Shame. It’s not unusual for someone to stay married as way of avoiding the stigma and shame associated with a failed marriage. While it’s hard to believe this would be the case in today’s society, for many the internalized shame keeps them from moving on.
- Lifestyle. For others, the lifestyle enjoyed during the marriage is too much to give up. Accepting a reduced standard of living after divorce is something some individuals cannot entertain.
- Fear of the Unknown. People are creatures of habit; change and the unfamiliar can be deathly scary to many. For these types of individuals, it’s easy to accept the known problem rather than risk an unknown solution.
- The Kids. Likely one of the worst reasons for staying in a bad marriage, many individuals don’t divorce believing that it’s best to stay married for the sake of the kids.
- Self-Esteem. Spouses with low self-esteem will stay in a bad marriage, no matter how bad it gets.
- Faith. Depending on the depth of their faith, for some people divorce is simply not an option.
Jerry also pointed out to me that these six factors are not mutually exclusive. In other words, the more factors that can be justified, the stronger the case someone will make for avoiding a divorce, and to stay in a bad marriage. Now, I began to understand what was going on with Nancy. The children, stigma and lifestyle were weighing heavily in favor of a third reconciliation.
Questions To Ask Yourself
Are you in a bad marriage? Should you stay or should you go? Are you guilty of using the reasons above to stay in a bad marriage? Breaking up is hard to do, but a bad marriage is even harder.
About The Big Kaboom
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Guest post by The Big Kaboom. The Big Kaboom and Mommy Mafia have teamed up to create a series of posts to help shed light on some of the most important aspects of divorce, including: child support, custody, visitation and alimony. In the first post of the series, a Mafia Mom bravely shared her personal divorce story and the lessons of divorce learned along the way. The second post of the series talks about the importance of being informed about the the many facets of the divorce process.
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