My first marriage ended in divorce. I’d like to say we consciously uncoupled but the last few years of our union were filled with tension, lies, betrayal, arguments, name calling and sadness until utterly exhausted I threw my hands up. After two therapists, two years separated and with nothing changing, I called my ex and told him, “I’m going to call a lawyer. Unless you can think of something that I haven’t thought of or show me something I’m missing, I’m done. I can’t think of any other option.”
I stayed in my marriage far longer than arguably reasonable; I had all the information I needed years before. Heartbreak and the prospect of starting over coupled with fear of what divorce would mean for my kids together formed an invisible shield that kept me in place. I do understand how and why people stay in unhappy relationships.
What’s troubling is that many single moms, post divorce and dating, are even more reluctant to end subsequent bad relationships. After braving the worst (divorce) when they find themselves in familiar unhappy territory, fear of failure and embarrassment are keeping their feet planted in another unhappy coupling!
If you’re divorced, your supposed lifelong relationship failed on a spectacular level. Here’s the thing, failure’s a part of life and just because a relationship fails that doesn’t mean those involved are failures. People change and grow in different directions. Relationships that are great short term might not be built for the long haul. Some of us are too young with stars in our eyes to see what’s past the sparkle. Perhaps unexpected trauma enters into a marriage; shaking it so hard it’s foundation is forever broken. And sometimes we just make mistakes. Women are staying in poor second and third relationships, forgetting that everyone makes mistakes!
“I got into and stayed in an abusive relationship way too long after my divorce. One of the reasons I stayed was that it was so hard to admit defeat-again. I didn’t want to be that woman-the one who couldn’t make a relationship work.” – Anonymous
“I stayed in a relationship because I could not fail my child again. I already failed him divorcing his dad. Now I was going to fail his second chance of having the family we both had always dreamed of.” - Anonymous
Admitting mistakes and accepting that a relationship isn’t working, isn’t failing. Learning from your mistakes isn’t failing. Failing is staying, choosing known unhappiness and making the same mistake. Failing is modeling another bad relationship for children. Falling in love and making a commitment require bravery. Breaking up means you had the guts to love and the guts to call it quits when it wasn’t working.
What often supersedes our fear of failure? Embarrassment. Divorce shines a big spotlight onto our most private relationship. Friends, family, acquaintances and colleagues wonder what happened, share information, spread falsehoods and dish the dirt. I know how awkward and shameful it feels to live with the whispers that come with a fresh scarlet, capital “D” around your neck. One you’ve made it through, the last thing you want is to walk through it again. So when you wind up in another bad relationship you decide, “nope. I can’t handle another breakup. I’m just going to stay.” Your happiness is a lower priority than avoiding the embarrassment of another busted union.
Let’s turn this on its head. If you’ve been divorced, you’ve already been through hell. You’ve climbed to the top of Mt. Everest and survived. Settling for unhappiness just puts you right back at the bottom of the mountain. When I started dating after my divorce I decided I would only sustain a relationship that was happy, healthy and fulfilling. If I was going to stay in anything else, I might as well have stayed married to their father. I did not go through divorce and split my children’s lives in two only to wind up in an unhappy home with someone who isn’t their dad.
"I stayed in my last relationship way past the red flags because I believed I found the love I had been waiting for the second time around. We merged our lives together and in the end I was so emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted thinking how gut wrenching the unraveling process would be. I knew from my first divorce that the long run had to be the focus. I braced myself for the short run, which would bring embarrassment, defeat, heartbreak and complete sadness." - Anonymous
The ego is fragile and embarrassment sucks. OK. But you cannot choose unhappiness just to save face. People will gossip and then, they’ll move to whatever is next. Go ahead, move on too.