The Wrong Break Up

Dear Dr. Darcy:

I have often thought of contacting you about questions I have in my life... But I haven't because I know what you will say! With many a curse word you would tell me to leave my husband and never look back... I just find it impossible to take the steps. I don't truly understand why I am so afraid. I have been in therapy which did not produce any results... I stayed there week after week trying to make myself feel what the therapist said I should feel.  It never worked... I decided to take a break. How do you make yourself divorce someone when you still want to be married?

ANSWER

Therapy actually did teach you how to end a relationship.  Unfortunately, the relationship you ended was with your shrink and not your husband.

If you’re saying that I’d tell you to pack your bags and never look back, I’m inclined to believe you.  What your therapist should have told you is that it’s ok that you don’t want to take the necessary action, but when your head is telling you to take action, you can choose to act regardless of how you feel.  We humans often rely on our feelings as a barometer for what to do in life.  If we feel fear, we hesitate.  But the reason why we feel fear may have nothing to do with what’s really going on.   One of our basic human needs is the need for certainty.  As a result of this need, anytime we’re about to embark on change, we feel fear and we hesitate.  Let me repeat: You can feel fear and act despite having that feeling.  Our ability to act in contradiction to how we feel is what separates us from animals.  And if this explanation isn’t compelling you to leave him, maybe this story will:

Like you, my mother knew early in her marriage that she should get out.  She was married to a man who was emotionally abusive to her and who humiliated her in front of the children, in front of our friends and even in front of strangers.  He cheated on my mother repeatedly.  He was underemployed and the burden of making money was always on my mother’s shoulders.  For years and years I harbored anger toward him for how he treated her.  He’s been dead now for many years and with his death came a few years of peace for me but that peace didn’t last very long.  It was soon replaced by resentment of my mother for not ending the marriage while there was still time to salvage my childhood.  It’s taken me decades to process through my anger, which is not to imply that I’m done.  It’s something that I’ll probably be working on forever.

By staying in that marriage, my mother taught me that women don’t deserve self-respect.  She taught me that it’s ok to be cheated on, to be lied to, and to be emotionally abused by the man you’re married to.  What effect do you think her marriage had on my adult relationships and on my self-esteem? Do your children deserve to admire their mother’s strength or will you relegate them to a lifetime of unfortunate childhood memories as I have?  It amazes me what discomfort we will endure to avoid dealing with change.  Therapy failed?  Maybe you have a friend who is a therapist who might be willing to support you through this.  All you have to do is ask.

Writer’s Stats: Female, Straight