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One Very Good Reason To Not Stay In A Marriage

Sometimes you just have to know when to call it quits.

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wedding band and cracked engagement ring on a white background
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There is no doubt that when I got married at age 24, I loved the man I was marrying. Was I in love? Was he my soul mate? Was this love the deepest, greatest, most passionately magnetic attraction I would ever experience? Of course not. I was 24! How does anyone know anything when they’re 24? And that’s not to say that couples who get married young don’t have successful marriages, or that those people aren’t completely in love with each other for every day of the next 60-plus years of wedded bliss. Many, many are. I just wasn’t one of the lucky ones. We thought we loved each other, got married, were very happy … and then we weren’t.

When you’ve been in love with someone for most of your life — or at least, when you’ve been convinced that you’re in love with someone for most of your life — you become used to each other and used the belief that you are in love. I bought in. The idea of living apart was terrifying, and the thought of finding real, true love with someone new never crossed my mind. I figured, this is it. I thought I already knew what true love felt like. So, when things started to go south, I dug in my heels and my nails and anything else I had that could dig, and I held on as tight as I could for almost an entire decade. Because even though I’m now divorced, I believe in marriage.

And then there are the kids. When you’re in the middle of the disintegration of a long marriage, you honestly believe that living unhappily ever after will be better for your children than subjecting them to the trauma of divorce. I was terrified of trying to parent without a live-in partner. Even the thought of taking care of the dog on my own seemed overwhelming.

In fact, the idea of just being an adult on my own was daunting. When you’ve spent the majority of your adult life being married to someone, you’re certain that you are incapable of being a grownup just by yourself. As though having the other person there is what made me mature, capable, experienced and wise.

In the end I was just trading pain now for pain in the future. Forcing myself to stay in a marriage that was beyond saving just made the pain last much longer.

That’s why I stayed married, even when the marriage was clearly over. Fear. It’s probably the number one reason any couple continuously tries to mend a broken marriage. You work so hard, gluing and taping together the scraps of a torn relationship. In the end you just have a big mess to clean up. I have friends who have stayed married because of religious beliefs. Others can’t bear the thought of disappointing their friends and families. Some simply can’t afford it, and — mostly — there are those who stay together because they believe it’s what is best for the kids.

Divorce is a dirty word. So, we stay married for the sake of marriage.

But eventually no amount of tape, glue or couples counseling could save my relationship, and once I finally stepped off the edge of that cliff (or got forcibly pushed off), what I found on the other side wasn’t scary or lonely or overwhelming. In fact, what I found was a strength I always had but never believed in, and — even better — I found that deepest, greatest, most passionately magnetic attraction I never realized was missing. And my kids are not only fine, but happier than they were when they had to live with two miserable parents who fought all the time.

I’m not trying to be a proponent of divorce, or even a supporter. Because I believe in marriage. I won’t let the fact that mine didn’t work out perfectly stand in the way of that belief. Marriages are worth fighting for. Families are the most important thing in the world. But I want to offer some comfort to anyone who feels like I felt when I was staying in a marriage that clearly had ended, just for the sake of marriage. I felt miserable. Embarrassed. Stressed out. Angry. And so, so scared.

I wish I had listened to the people who told me it would be OK: My kids would survive; I wouldn’t go broke; I was perfectly capable of running my life and my home on my own; and I would even find out what it was to really fall in love with someone. I didn’t listen because I was so afraid, and fear is usually the loudest voice in the room.

I hope everyone reading this is in a happy marriage and that every couple will stay together —  even if it’s imperfect or takes a little work. But if you are staying unhappily married just for the sake of marriage, consider why you are making that choice — and have a little faith in yourself.