Have you felt pressure to stay in your relationship because that is what’s best for the kids? Have you had the thoughts that once the kids are grown and out of the house, THEN you can leave your partner/unhealthy relationship? If your partner is emotionally, physically, financially or spiritually abusive, or manipulative in any other way and you are unhappy and unfulfilled or even unsafe in your relationship I’d like to bust the myth that it’s better to stay for the kids.
I grew up in a family and religion that believes strongly in the sanctity of marriage and that once you are married you are with your partner in this life, and into the afterlife. That when you get married you have committed for all eternity that you will be with that one person only forever. When I first married at 24 years old that is the mindset in which I entered that marriage: I was there no matter what, for better or worse, and that I was creating my eternal family. However, I didn’t really know my husband well enough to make such a commitment. I thought I did, but we were young, had been dating about a year, and had never lived together or had sex. Looking back I think there was more I didn’t know about him, than what I did know. Still I was determined to make it work no matter what.
Fairly soon after we were married I discovered his pornography addiction. I was devastated. This was in 2005 and there were not as many resources about pornography addictions available then. As I had been taught my whole life, with issues such as this you took it to the leadership in our church. These were volunteer men who are not trained counselors, yet, we were taught to go to them as if they were. Over the next 8 years or so my husband and I met with many different church leaders. Many brushed it off as nothing more than a bad habit and didn’t offer any real help for my husband. I was given various bad advice like, keep the passwords to all of his devises and let him on to use it when he needed to. This was so problematic because we were in college and he had lots of papers to write and I had an infant and needed to sleep and care for her, so I couldn’t be his policeman all the time. When he would slip and look at porn I was then blamed for not doing a good enough job policing it. I was also told if I would have more sex with him that he wouldn’t want to look at porn. That is an absolute FALSE belief. Porn is not about sex, it is about numbing emotions they don’t want to feel and poor coping strategies. They get addicted to the rush of dopamine they get when they watch it. While it often causes sexual arousal, it is not a replacement for sex, and therefor sex is not a replacement for porn.
Perhaps the most damaging advice I was given by every single clergy member was, “this is your husband’s problem. You can talk to him about it, but do NOT talk to ANYONE ELSE about it.” Every single leader told this to me. It is silencing victims, and that rhetoric needs to stop! I was in so much emotional pain, yet I had no one to talk to about it, and felt so much shame when I thought about divorce. Especially when I thought about my kids. Surely it was better for me to stay and give the kids a 2 parent home, and if it was still this bad when they were 18, then I could think about leaving.
There are plenty of studies and information out there to back up the belief that having 2 parents is better than 1 for kids. What I want to throw out to you is: Having one HEALTHY and HAPPY parent is better than 2 unhealthy and dead inside parents in the same home. I finally got wise enough and decided that if this was what my life was like with a husband with a porn addition, constant lying to cover it up, feeling constant betrayal and worthlessness and him never working, I’d rather be single than be stuck with this for eternity. Joining a local women’s support group for wives of porn addicts was the first, big healing step I took. I finally was given permission to talk to other people about what was going on. So I will tell you dear warrior, if you do not feel like you have permission to talk to others, this is me giving YOU permission. You don’t need my permission, but if you feel like you need someone with authority to give it to you, here it is! Honestly it was in this group that for the first time I realized that what I was enduring was not just “inappropriate” as church leaders had been saying for years, it was in fact abusive. I learned about consent and marital rape and that I had the power to say yes or no even if I was married. Looking back I can’t believe I didn’t know those things, but I didn’t.
Once I grasped the degree in which I had been emotionally abused in my marriage something clicked and I knew I had to leave-FOR MY KIDS! I realized that if I stayed, I was telling my kids, by example, that no matter how unhappy you are, or how much advantage your spouse takes of you, or how unhealthy the relationship is, you should stay. I don’t want that for my kids, so why would I want that for me?!? I want my daughters to be treated with respect, and cherished. I want my son to know good, healthy love and I want them all to know that above all else, they deserve to be happy! And so I stopped staying for my kids, and decided to leave for them. Honestly, it is one of the best decisions I ever made. It was hard as hell, as most good and important things are, but I have not regretted it once.
Kids are so resilient! I know that phrase is probably over used, but it’s true. You know what else is true? YOU are incredibly resilient too! You have a track record of surviving 100% of your bad days so far. You are here, trying your very best to overcome what life has given you and there is so much hope! You and the kids are going to be ok. And I can say from my own experience, I believe one of the reasons my kids are thriving as well as they are (now after I’ve divorced twice-their dad and their stepdad), is because they are being shown the example of a mother who loves herself. I believe that my happiness is important, that I don’t have to stay in a bad marriage if I don’t want to, and that I don’t have to accept abuse and unkindness from anyone. My kids are learning to say no to things they don’t want to do, learning the power of self care and therapy. If you set the example to your kids of loving yourself no matter what, your kids will turn out just fine.
A wise friend of mine, Miranda F. has told me, “I’ve often said that I don’t believe that divorce rates rose over time because marriages are more unhappy; it’s because women have OPTIONS. Education, employment, assistance, etc. have made divorce a viable, and so often necessary, option. They have learned that God wouldn’t want them to stay for the sake of staying married. Any spouse, male or female, should never feel less than because of divorce.” I agree with her completely.
I’m not here to preach divorce. What I do want to preach is self love and intention. If you are staying in your marriage, great, but I want you to have a totally sure reason of exactly why you are staying that has to come from YOU. I want you to be really clear on what you will accept in your life as treatment from others and what you won’t accept. And I want everyone to know there are options. Don’t hide in the shame of worrying what others will think of you if you leave.
Women are often told they shouldn’t divorce because they will be breaking up the family. The truth is, divorce is not what broke up the family, abuse and betrayal broke it up long before someone files for divorce. As a whole, I think especially the Christian religious community, can do a lot better to talk about abuse, to support victims of abuse and remove the shame from divorce. We need to be loving more and blaming less.
All children need love and supportive parents. We think staying married is the only way we can provide that for our kids. Not only are there other ways to provide this love and stability for our kids, but staying might actually do more damage than any good, in the example it sets. If you are in this space where you are trying to decide if you should stay or leave, and you are worried about your kids, I highly suggest you work with a life coach or therapist who can help you untangle the thoughts in your mind and help you get clear on what you really want. I’d love to chat with you and show you how changing the thought patterns in your mind can help you create the life you want for yourself and your kids, whether you stay or divorce. You CAN create the life you truly want. Click HERE to schedule a FREE 30 minute call to see if life coaching with me is right for you.
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As always, these are my thoughts and my thoughts alone. My stories, nor the life coaching I do, ever replace a trained and licensed therapist.