I attended a women’s retreat recently, and one of the workshops was about what to do when you find yourself in an unfulfilling marriage. Several helpful tips and solutions were proffered, but nobody said anything about leaving until one woman asked in frustration, “When will a woman ever be told to just leave?” At that point, the pastor’s wife stood up and said something I had heard her say many times before: “If a woman is being abused in a marriage she should move out immediately.”
I’m thankful that today, more and more people understand that this is the thing to do. However, we encounter several shades of grey where there is no abuse. For many, merely being unhappy is no reason to leave a marriage. “Is he beating you?” Once the answer is no, the expectation is that you will stay and deal with whatever it is. For some women, marriage is an achievement they don’t want to be stripped of. To their way of thinking, it is better to be unhappily married than to be happily single. This unhealthy elevation of marriage, even above wellbeing and fulfillment of one’s purpose in life, keeps many women married and miserable.
Even for those who would like to leave but choose to stay, it’s often not black and white.
I once met a young, beautiful woman who told me without qualms that she loved the good life and could not on her own afford the lifestyle she had become accustomed to since she married her husband. So even though her marriage left much to be desired, she had to be practical in her decision making.
Another lady told me that the idea of getting another sex partner did not appeal to her one bit, and she wasn’t ready to live without sex, so she had made up her mind to stay in the marriage even though she was unfulfilled in several other ways. According to her, she didn’t have the energy to deal with the possibility of meeting someone who couldn’t perform, or was over-endowed, or had a sexually transmitted disease, or liked sexual activities she wasn’t comfortable with…the list went on and on. Classic case of “the devil you know”, especially when the “devil” is actually great in that department.
For yet another young woman, it is the stress of the divorce process that she considers herself “too lazy” to deal with. And can you blame her? These things can drag on for years, with several trips to court, not to mention squabbles over custody of the children and visitation rights. I feel you, sister.
Of course, there are women who “stay for the children” and the jury is still out on whether this is good for the children or detrimental to their wellbeing. Then there are women who just don’t want to grow old alone, and that’s okay too.
The truth is there are countless reasons to leave and to stay, and until you walk a mile in someone’s shoes it’s generally best to keep your opinions and advice to yourself unless she asks you.
Whatever we think about someone’s reasons for staying or leaving, empathy should be uppermost in our minds, not judgment.
If you’re the one considering staying, you may also want to think seriously about working at the marriage to make it better, instead of just “staying”.
Life is short. Live it as fully as you can.